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Know Your Shirt Fabrics

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Section: Building Your Wardrobe - Blog

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If you think choosing a colour is the only concern with regards to your choice of shirt, then you’ve probably never gone shirt shopping before.

Style, fit, collars, and even buttons are aspects we must consider each time we choose a new dress shirt. But perhaps the most important aspect, and one you must get right from the off, is your choice of fabric.

We now live in a world where consumers demand a variety of options for every purchase they make. And thankfully when it comes to shirt fabrics and materials, we’re quite spoiled for choice.

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Cotton

Cotton is the most common fabric in clothing and with good reason. It’s the one fabric that works for year-round wear, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. It’s breathable, comfortable, and extremely easy to take care of. It’s also one of those fabrics that holds dye very well making it the obvious choice for dress shirts with their wide range of shades and hues.

Cotton is also a durable fabric that is easy to repair and one that when pressed, usually stays smooth and crease free.

Linen

One of the most breathable fabrics around, linen is quite common for hot weather climates. Think linen beach suits, and you’ll understand why. Most consider it a casual fabric, and this is undoubtedly due to the fact that it creases like tissue paper under the slightest bit of stress.

Linen is sheerer than cotton and depending on the weave; this may be one of the reasons it feels cooler on the body. But aside from the breathability factor pure linen isn’t the most ideal of fabric choices for the office or any formal or even semi-formal occasion. This is why cloth makers quite often blend it with cotton.

Silk

While there are certain schools of thought that maintain that they are quite the stylish option, we’re not sure we can handle so much silk in an outfit. Honestly, we’re not knocking them, but we will say we’re not fans.

Weaves

Now, this is where it gets interesting. While cotton and linen (but definitely not silk) are common enough fabrics in the world of shirts, it’s not always just a simple matter of picking up one or the other from your local men’s department store. You’ll also have to decide on a weave.

There are many weaves in shirting fabrics, and if being asked if you prefer Poplin or Twill means nothing to you, then your trip to the shops might get a little confusing. So let’s take a look at each of the most popular weaves in turn.

Oxford

This is the coarsest shirt fabric but nonetheless is still quite a soft and comfortable option. Considered a more casual fabric, you’ll find that many button down collar shirts are Oxford weave.

When choosing a colour other than white, you’ll notice the shirt has a very textured appearance. This is because threads that are running in one direction are dyed while the other are left white. It’s a clever trick that gives this fabric its characteristic textured appearance.

Variations of Oxford weave include Pinpoint, which uses a finer yarn, and Royal which is finer still. Both of these weaves are considerably smoother and give a more formal business-like appearance.

Poplin

This weave has a smoother texture than Oxford but is of a similar weight. This is due to the use of a fine yarn running in one direction and a thicker one interweaving it. The use of the fine yarn makes it a more comfortable option than Oxford.

It’s just as durable as Oxford though and is quite often the first choice for casual shirts. It takes colours very well, and so is a great choice for shirts that use multi-coloured patterns.

Twill

This richly textured weave is shimmery in appearance, and the diagonal direction of the intertwining threads offers a subtle yet significant difference to both Poplin and Oxford. The subtlety of this weave is key as it allows the wearer to use it in formal or business shirts without drawing too much attention to the change in fabric.

The diagonal weave will switch back and forth every quarter of an inch or thereabouts, and while this may sound like a car crash weave, it actually works incredibly well.

Herringbone

Named for the distinctive v-shape weave running throughout the fabric that resembles the bones of a herring, this fabric is sometimes confused with twill. Some stores and tailors believe that both belong in the same family, which is true in a way, but they are most definitely different weaves.

This weave, while common enough in shirts, is actually more popular in wool suits and a variety of other outerwear.

Broadcloth

Although its name might suggest otherwise, this fabric is one of the finest weaves in shirting. It’s one of the most formal choices of shirt fabric for everyday wear because it often seems to gleam and shine.

Like Oxford, this weave makes use of threads of two colours running against each other. However, because the threads are so fine and the weave so tight, from a short distance, it looks like one solid colour. This intertwining of different colour threads in an incredibly tight weave is what give it a shimmery appearance.

Now that you know your Poplins from your Twills, you’ll find that shirt shopping is a more pleasant experience. In fact, incorporating a variety of weaves into your everyday wear can add subtle changes to your appearance that will have your colleagues wondering just what it is that’s different about you today.

Of course, there’s more to learn, so if you’re in the market for a few new dress or casual shirts, then pop into to the showroom for a crash course in shirt fabrics.

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