An understanding of shirt fabrics has become imperative to building out a gentleman’s wardrobe. In this guide to men’s dress shirt fabrics, we will cover basic terminology such as yarn / thread count, the different types of shirt fabrics and their appropriateness for different occasions, and the types of cotton one can use!
You’re all set for that presentation. In fact, it’s your first big presentation. Ever. You’ve been a year removed from college, and work in a casual environment. But this is a presentation – a potential career trajectory altering one – and so you lean into your wardrobe, looking for that perfect dress shirt. You rummage through and came across an old polyester college shirt. What the hell, you think, and slip it on. Only to realize it still bears resemblance to and stench of an epic rum infused night out from second semester senior year. And yes, that all important detail. It has a coating of Teflon – you know, the type that flicks off stains and booze, so that your shirt always looks ‘brand spanking new’. Damn, you think to yourself, only wishing you had brushed up on your wardrobe inspection a little earlier. After all, a polyester shirt with so much sheen that it would even scare off even Rico Suave is definitely shunned on the trodden path to success.
Dress Shirt Fabrics, while they may be considered trivial for your wardrobe, happen to be a vital ingredient in getting your wardrobe mix skewed towards correct. And correct, right or appropriate – whichever pseudonym you wish to use – is always better than flat out in inappropriate, bad, and quite frankly, shameful.
So what dress fabrics constitute a high quality shirt, so that you know you are always dressed up to par? One, where you look appropriate, whether it’s for more serious occasions such as a presentation or a wedding reception, or for more casual fare, such as an evening out with your friends at the local lounge that blares everything from Pearl Jam to Biggie Smalls. Here is our detailed guide to men's dress shirt fabrics.
Given that higher quality dress shirts are typically constructed of cotton, we would like to start with breaking down yarn / thread count designations.
Yarn Number – Describes the thickness of the yarn. While lower yarn numbers are indicative of a thicker yarn, higher yarn numbers are indicative of slimmer, finer yarns. Because thinner yarns can only be created from the smoothest, longest cotton fibers shirts made from higher yarns are generally more expensive.
Ply – Refers to the number of yarns used in the weaving process. Two ply indicates the twisting of two yarns in order to form a single yarn before weaving. Fabrics made from two ply yarn are of higher quality than those made from a single yarn. Because fabric is typically woven using yarns in two different directions (‘warp’ for vertical and ‘weft’ for horizontal), the following designations are often used:
- 2 x 2: Two-ply for both warp and weft
- 2 x 1: Two ply for one direction and single ply for the other
- 1 x 1: Single ply in both directions
Given we’ve established that cotton is the de facto choice for high quality dress shirts, what is it that elevates cotton above its peers?
Cotton fibers are highly porous, which makes the fabric light and breathable. This quality also enables cotton to be dyed easily, making it a natural choice for designers. Cotton doesn’t require the maintenance level of some fabrics such as silk as it does not need to be dry cleaned. However, because cotton fibers are porous, shrinking of the material is a possibility. At the end of this guide, we will discuss the different types of cotton.
Broadcloth, ideal for formal office wear, is a very popular type of dress shirt fabric. Broadcloth constitutes a lighter weight, smooth, flat looking fabric with no discernable pattern embedded in the weave of the fabric. Broadcloth constitutes a simple fabric weave, with warp and weft criss crossing over and under each other, one yarn at a time.
Given that broadcloth is comprised of lighter threads and a simple weave structure, the finish product has a smooth surface with little sheen to it, making it ideal for more formal settings such as work or a presentation. Higher quality broadcloth shirts are woven with two different colors of thread, typically comprising of white and another color. Given the tight weave of the fabric, the fabric appears as solid from afar.
Broadcloth dress shirts have enough weight to drape well and hold a crease, but still have a very light and smooth feel on the body, making them an expensive and coveted option.
Courtesy of www.propercloth.com
End On End
While alluded to above, End On End Broadcloth Dress Shirts are often given their own designation. These broadcloth shirts are woven with two different colors of thread, typically constructed of white and another color, with white in the warp (vertical) and colored thread in the weft (horizontal). These shirts look like a true solid from afar, but appear more textured when seen up close.
End On End is plain enough to be worn to daily work, but intriguing enough with perceived texture, to be strutted to more social settings!
Courtesy of www.perfectattire.com
Similar to Broadcloth, Poplin is a smooth, light weight and flat fabric. While poplin can be very similar to broadcloth, from a technical standpoint, it can be differentiated. While broadcloths typically have a symmetrical construction (e.g 100 / 2 x 100 /2 implies warp and weft of 100 2 ply’s), a poplin fabric weave could equate to 100 / 2x 80 / 1 implying warp of a 100 2 ply yarn and a weft of 80 single ply yarn (please see above for further explanation on thread counts).
Courtesy of www.tissura.com
A jacquard weave is created using a specific loom that is designed to produce patterned fabrics. This allows a mix of different weaves, as opposed to the more simplistic structures with the shirt fabrics above. Patterns can range from a more basic geometric pattern like a dot, to a windowpane or more complex paisley pattern. Jacquard shirts are an ideal way to add stylistic variation to your wardrobe. Often, the back side of jacquard is a mirror image of the front side of the fabric.
Dobby, considered a posh weave, like jacquard, also features unique geometric patterns that feel raised a touch. A special loom raises and lowers the warp threads allowing the weaver to create the dobby’s special patterns.
The key difference between dobby & jacquard resides in the types of looms that are used. In the case of a dobby loom, one can only control the warp yarn in groups moved by harnesses. When a harness goes up or down, all the warp yarns attached to it move with it. This, combined with the loom only being able to hold a certain number of harnesses, limits how complex a dobby pattern can be.
A jacquard look, however, can control the warp yarns individually, allowing for much more intricate and complex patterns.
Dobby’s uniquely patterned nature and wrinkle resistant structure make them an ideal choice for work wear.
Twill is characterized by a diagonal weave and rich character. Twill fabrics will almost always have some sheen, though the degree can vary based on the weave, cotton and color used. Twill weave makes the fabrics very soft to the touch but it is heavier than broadcloth & poplin.
Twill fabrics weave twin horizontal threads under and over vertical threads to create a diagonal pattern. Twill fabrics can therefore create more detailed patterns such as herringbone, houndstooth or diagonal rib print (please see below).
Overall twill is a soft and thick fabric, crease-resistant and iron proof. Twill shirts drape well, making them an ideal go to shirt for daily wear, or for smart informals.
Herringbone shirts, a popular variant, feature a mirrored twill weave that creates a resemblance to the bones of a herringbone fish. Similar patterns in tile and brick have made this centuries old pattern a classic. The herringbone weave features all the benefits of a twill weave, and so herringbone fabrics drape well and are easy to iron. Like twill, herringbone has a smooth, textured feel and a slight sheen.
The added pattern makes herringbone a great crossover fabric, making it a feasible option for both dress and casual shirt needs.
Courtesy of www.philippeperzi.com
Another variation of twill, houndstooth is made from weaving two threads over and two threads under the warp. When applied to shirts, houndstooth pattern makes for an interesting style for semi formal and casual wear.
Courtesy of www.tessuti.com
Oxford Cloth, a highly popular shirting fabric, is best suited (no pun) for more casual attire. Oxford cloth is thicker than what would be typically considered a ‘fine’ dress shirt fabric, and has a feel that is both durable and wrinkle resistant.
Oxford cotton fabric is known as a basket weave, featuring multiple weft threads crossing over a corresponding number of warp threads. Typically, one single color thread is crossed with white to give oxford shirts its discernable checkered appearance.
Oxford fabric is tough and has a slightly bumpy texture. Oxford dress shirts were originally developed for sportswear, and hence not considered appropriate for office attire.
An oxford shirt is best worn with no tie and chinos / dark denim on an evening out or on the weekends! The thickness of Oxford dress shirts also makes it perfect to wear on a cooler day.
Courtesy of www.propercloth.com
Pinpoint, while similar in construction to Oxford dress shirts, uses a finer yarn, resulting in a dress shirt that is more formal than oxford but less formal than broadcloth , poplin or twill.
While pinpoint oxfords are not recommended for more formal events, these make for perfect daily work shirts. Due to their heavier construction (similar to oxfords basketweave, discussed above), Pinpoint Oxfords are fairly durable fabrics.
Pinpoint Oxford Fabrics are of a higher quality than your traditional Oxford Fabrics.
Looking for a dress shirt that fits the bill for all occasions? Cue the Royal Oxford. The royal oxford is comprised of a more complex 2-3-2 structure, which creates a dressy fabric with a discernable luster and texture.
Royal Oxford Dress Shirts can be used in both business casual and formal work settings.
Royal Oxford is the ultimate oxford dress shirt fabric. Courtesy of www.tessuti.com
Chambray, while constructed in the same manner as broadcloth or poplin, is comprised of heavier yarn, and is hence suited towards daily wear, as opposed to more formal settings that broadcloth and poplin are best suited to. Chambray fabric is woven with colored yarn in the warm and white yarn in the weft. Chambray is an ideal light weight alternative to denim, which is constructed using a heavier twill weave.
Courtesy of www.propercloth.com
Denim, while typically thought of as jeans fabric, can be used to create durable shirting fabric. Denim shirts are typically constructed with a twill weave, featuring colored threads crossing white threads. Denim colored yarns are often created using indigo dye.
Denim shirts are best worn during the fall & winter seasons.
Denim Shirt Fabrics.
Different Types Of Cotton
Egyptian cotton, with the longest fibers – 1 ½ inches or greater – is considered the finest cotton globally, and is hence the gold standard. Egyptian cotton is considered soft, silky and strong all at once. Today, Egypt is exporting lower grades of cotton in addition to the extra long fiber cotton that it has become known for.
Sea Island cotton is grown on islands off of South Carolina, Texas, Florida & The West Indies. This higher grade luxurious cotton is constructed from long, strong, thin fibers – making it the U.S equivalent of Egyptian Cotton.
Pima, while also a long length fiber cotton, is less expensive than Egyptian or Sea Island. Pima cotton is a generic label (honoring Pima Indians in the Southwest) given to extra long staple cotton. The primary producers of Pima Cotton are the U.S, Australia & Peru.
Please note that for added stretch, Lycra is commonly blended with cotton fabric. The cotton lycra blend typically works for shirts that are meant to be slim fit or body hugging.
Ok, so that was quite a bit of information to digest. We would focus on the following key points:
- When buying a dress shirt, assessing quality is of paramount importance. Besides knowing that Egyptian Cotton typically provides the finest shirts, higher yarn count with a two ply structure are also indicative of a high quality dress shirt. Please note that higher yarn count indicates a finer shirt, which may be more prone to wrinkling.
- For office wear and more formal occasions, broadcloth, end on end and poplin (the latter two are essentially variants of broadcloth) are your ideal choice. These shirts, given their construction and fabric breathability, are also ideal for spring & summer seasons.
- Other options for office wear include jacquard and dobby weaves.
- Shirts that are versatile, that can be worn across both daily work wear and more informal settings include twill, herringbone and houndstooth (the latter two are variants of twill).
- Shirts for less formal settings include oxford ‘dress’ shirts, but these can also be worn in business casual environments.
- For a more relaxed look, we would suggest chambray or denim shirts.
And that’s a wrap for this one! We hope that you have enjoyed reading this as much as we did writing it.
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