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Dress Shirt Fabrics : How to Pick The Right One

High quality dress shirt fabrics, or shirtings, are most often made from natural fibres.  This includes cotton, linen and cotton/linen blends.  Silk, a soft fibre with a high sheen that is made from the cocoons of silk worms, is sometimes used for dress shirts, though in general it is too soft and does not produce a crisp appearance.  Silk can be blended with cotton to produce dress shirt fabrics with a lustrous sheen.

Many mass-produced dress shirts are made from cotton blends that include polyester, viscose or other synthetic fibres.  These blends cannot achieve the look and feel of natural fibres.  Because synthetic fibres are more stiff and don’t breathe like cotton and linen, shirts made from synthetic blends are not as comfortable.  Natural materials will produce a softer, more comfortable, better-fitting dress shirt.

The best cotton for dress shirt fabrics is premium 100% Egyptian cotton, which is considered to be the finest cotton fibre in the world.  Grown primarily in the Nile Delta, this type of cotton has the longest, silkiest and strongest fibres.  The rich soil and humid climate in the Nile River Valley produce cotton that in high demand for luxury goods worldwide.

In addition to the origin of its fibre, the quality of cotton dress shirt fabrics is judged by the thread count.  The thread count refers to the number of lengthwise threads (known as the warp) and widthwise threads (known as the weft) used in an inch of woven fabric.  The general rule for cotton shirting is the higher the thread count, the more luxurious the shirting.

A variety of names are used to describe cotton dress shirt fabrics.  These are derived from the way the cotton fibres are woven to produce the fabric.  Some of the most popular weaves include:

100% Cotton Dress Shirts

dress shirt fabrics

The superior qualities of 100% cotton fabric make it the most common choice for high-quality dress shirts.  Cotton is a comfortable shirting fabric that breathes well and can be tailored for a perfect fit.  It is durable, yet softens and becomes more comfortable with repeated washings.  The finest shirting is acknowledged to be 2-ply Egyptian cotton produced in the Nile River Valley.

Several different methods are used to weave cotton for dress shirts, creating a variety of different weights and effects.  The weave and thread count of cotton shirting (that is, the number of lengthwise and widthwise threads per inch) determines the best application for the fabric.  In general, smoother weaves and higher thread counts are used for more formal dress shirts.

 

Cotton Blend Dress Shirts

dress shirt fabrics

Cotton blend dress shirts are created from cotton fibres that are blended with another fibre.  Natural fibres such as linen and silk are sometimes blended with cotton to add texture or sheen.  Synthetic fibres, including polyester, rayon and viscose, may also be blended with cotton.  This is commonly done with mass-produced shirts to create a more wrinkle-resistant fabric.  Most bespoke dress shirts do not use synthetic dress shirt fabrics since they do not breathe as well as cotton, are stiffer and are more difficult to tailor.  For a softer, tailored dress shirt, 100% cotton or cotton blended with a natural fibre is the best choice.

 

 

 

Linen Dress Shirts

dress shirt fabrics

Linen fabric, produced from the fibres of the flax plant, has a long history dating back to ancient Egypt.  At one time, all dress shirts and undergarments were made from linen.  Today, the labour-intensive process required to create linen makes it an expensive dress shirt fabric that is produced in much smaller quantities than cotton.  Linen is sometimes used for warm weather casual dress shirts.  It is a highly absorbent fabric that conducts heat and moisture away from the body.  Linen’s finish is smooth and has a high natural lustre.  It has a tendency to wrinkle that is considered by fashion experts to be part of its charm.

 

 

 

Oxford Dress Shirts

dress shirt fabrics

Oxford is the roughest weave used for cotton dress shirts, but is still lightweight, soft and comfortable.  When examined closely, oxford dress shirt fabrics have a basket-weave appearance that comes from differently-sized lengthwise and widthwise threads.  In coloured and patterned oxford shirting, the weave is emphasized by the use of alternating white and coloured threads.  Plain oxford dress shirt fabrics have no sheen and are traditionally used for casual dress shirts with button-down collars.  Pinpoint oxford, which is woven from finer threads and has a smoother and more formal appearance, is used for casual and business dress shirts.  Royal oxford is smoother still and is appropriate for business and formal dress shirts.

 

 

 

Twill Dress Shirts

dress shirt fabrics

Twill dress shirt fabric is similar to oxford shirting in its use of a multiple or different-sized widthwise threads in the weave of the fabric.  In twill, however, the number of widthwise threads passed over and under the lengthwise threads is varied in order to create a diagonal pattern on the face of the fabric.  Twill shirting is strong and durable and typically has a more lustrous finish than oxford.  The diagonal pattern in the weave of twill adds interesting texture to solid-coloured and white shirts.  Twill with a high thread count has a crisp quality that makes it ideal for formal dress shirts.

 

 

 

Herringbone Dress Shirts

dress shirt fabrics

Herringbone shirting is similar to twill, featuring a diagonal effect created by variations in how the widthwise threads of the fabric are wrapped around the lengthwise threads.  In the case of herringbone, the direction of the diagonals reverses every few stitches, providing even more texture.  The result is a distinctive V-shaped pattern in the weave.  The name “herringbone” is derived from the herring fish, since the pattern resembles the skeleton of a fish.   Herringbone shirting has a subtle striped effect that shown to best effect when the fabric is white or a solid colour.  Depending on thread count, herringbone dress shirt fabrics can be used for either casual or more formal dress shirts.

 

 

 

Poplin/Broadcloth Dress Shirts

dress shirt fabrics

Poplin dress shirting, also known as broadcloth, is a lightweight fabric with a tight weave and lustrous finish.  The weave used in poplin is plain, with the fabric’s cross threads passing over and under the lengthwise threads in a regular pattern.  Poplin’s smooth texture comes from the use of a heavier thread or double thread in one direction of the weave.  Poplin is a comfortable, durable dress shirt fabric that is suitable for a variety of dress shirt options, from casual to more formal (depending on the thread count).  The smooth finish of poplin and broadcloth shows colour well and is ideal for printed patterns and woven stripes.

 

 

 

Pinpoint Dress Shirts

dress shirt fabrics

Pinpoint dress shirt fabric is a form of oxford fabric.  It features the basket-weave that characterizes oxford fabric, but is made from finer thread that gives it a more formal and smoother appearance.  Pinpoint oxford fabric typically has a higher thread count and is lighter than plain oxford, making it ideal for more formal shirts.  It is slightly heavier than broadcloth or poplin.  While plain oxford is usually reserved for casual button-down dress shirts, pinpoint is suited for business or formal wear.  The versatility, lustrous surface and interesting texture of pinpoint fabric make it a popular choice for dress shirts.

 

 

 

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