Fabrics are one of the most overlooked aspects of clothing for beginners—fabrics play a huge role in the aesthetics, use, and cost of clothing. When buying clothes (or having them made), knowing about fabrics is essential.
For beginners, fabrics can be a rather broad concept. Fabrics play a significant role in the cost, user, and aesthetics of clothing. Having knowledge about fabrics will give you an edge in finding the best clothes for you.
Before we go in-depth, let’s get a quick understanding of the basic fabric terminology. This will improve your “fashion knowledge” and give you a quick overview of how each shirt is described in stores.
So let’s get started!
Thread count is the number of yarns per square inch. Simply, it’s a measure of yarn density. A higher thread count results in a tighter weave (i.e., bedsheets), while a lower thread count will have a more open weave (i.e., burlap).
The raw material is spun into yarn, which is then woven into a fabric.
Fabrics are made through this simple process:
“Raw Material > Yarn > Fabric”
The raw material is found and then spun into yarn. Once a considerable amount of yarn is made, it’s woven into a fabric.
The ply number accounts for the number of threads used during the weaving process.
1-ply = one thread has been used for the weaving process.
Labeling wise, 2-ply = two threads are twisted together then woven into the pattern.
Usually, 2-ply shirts are longer, more resistant to wear, and stronger.
Yarn number is more important than the thread count when it comes to shirting. Yarns can vary in how rough or smooth they are. A higher yarn count indicates that the threads are finer, which makes designer shirts smooth in texture.
Lower yarn numbers are for fabrics that are coarser and thicker.
This is where the yarn placed vertically is called the “warp,” while the yarn placed vertically is seen as the “weft.” Some advertisers use 2-ply shirts but cut costs by only having 2-ply on the warp and not the weft of the shirt. If you find a shirt that’s 100/2×2, that means that the shirt is a true 2-ply shirt.
The weave is important as it affects the fabric quality more than anything else. Here is a list of the most common fabric types that are available.
Broadcloth and Poplin
This is the most common type of fabric used for shirting. Design-wise it creates an “over and under” pattern between the weft (horizontal yarn) and warp (vertical yarn).
This results in a light yet crisp weave that can be used for formal occasions. Since it resists wrinkling, it has become the classic choice for business casual dress shirts. Understand that the differences in the yarn number, raw cotton quality, and plys, will result in a large range of quality.
The End-on-end uses the same weave above but uses multiple colored yarns within the fabric’s pattern. This results in a shirt that’s more unique and fashionable yet has broadcloth/poplin’s characteristics to make it desirable.
This is similar to chambray, except that chambray weave goes through a finishing process where it is pressed by high-temperature rollers. Some people assume that denim and chambray are the same things, but they are different based on their process and final result.
Oxford cloth is a basket weave that uses the “over and under pattern.” But it takes another floating yarn passed across the shirt. Usually, oxford use more thick and coarse yarns (low yarn number).
Both the weaving nature and the rougher yarn makes up the texture. Because oxfords are rich in texture, they are more seen in casual wear; the floating yarn leaves it open to snags and its wrinkle easy.
Some of this fabric’s disadvantages are what makes it a great shirt type; having an OCBD that’s been used to hell has a soft texture and a beautiful appearance (similar to patina on leather and fading on raw denim).
This has the same weave type as standard oxfords but uses thinner yarns that are woven tighter (like the ones used for poplin/broadcloth). Look at it as a hybrid between an oxford and a poplin/broadcloth. It’s a versatile weave that keeps its rich texture while having a more professional look and can be worn under a suit.
Royal Oxfords have to do with pinpoint or oxford fabrics because it uses four yarns and an elaborate weave. This results in something with substantial texture and is very shiny. When looking at it from a different angle, it appears to have a glimmer.
Twill is a diagonal weave pattern made by yarns woven at the opposite over-under weave. It adds a bit of subtle texture to your outfit, and it has a weave that’s heavy, easy to iron, and soft to the touch.
The disadvantages are that stains are difficult to remove; it doesn’t have as crisp of a look as broadcloth/poplin does. This is perhaps the most versatile fabric because of the different forms of Twill available.
For example, there are luxury dress shirts that use high thread count twill patterns. Flannel shirts are brushed twill that is substantial in weight, but its less shiny and softer, giving it a more casual appearance. If you look at your chinos or denim, you’ll notice they are crafted out of twill weave.
Pick-and-Pick was the suit fabric used on James Bond to give him his iconic look without using colors. It doesn’t have the same appearance as other twills because it’s made out of alternating colors within its “zig-zags.” This results in something that looks like a
Birdseye or Nailhead
Birdseye and nailhead weave are beautiful and are rarely seen in department stores. Some custom suit makers use this weave; you just have to shop around.
You have a variety to choose from when it comes to fabrics – each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Multiple factors play in the fabric’s quality, such as how it’s woven, the quality of the raw material, and how the fabric yarn is spun. ,
While fabrics can sound overwhelming at first, try on different shirts to determine what works best for you and the type of fabric that’s used. You’ll start to develop an instinct for quality and buy fabrics based on your own taste. At that point, you can play around with the patterns and fabrics (plaid, stripes, gingham, etc.).