Shirt fabrics or “Shirtings”, as they are called by those in the industry, come in a wide variety of weave types. They are made from a range of fibers, with cotton being the most common. Most fabric names refer to the particular method in which it underlying fibers were woven. We won’t go into it here, but be aware that the thickness and characteristics of the cotton fiber (shape, cleanliness, length) come into play when determining the quality and function of the total product.
Oxford cloth is the coarsest shirting; it is nonetheless quite soft and comfortable. A casual fabric, it is naturally found on the button-down collar shirt, but in the US is perfectly acceptable for most business occasions. In colored and patterned Oxford shirts only the threads running in one direction are dyed, with the other threads being left white. This gives it a basket-weave, meaning the fabric’s warp and weft threads cross each other in pairs. It has a characteristic textured appearance (which lends to its casual feel). Pinpoint oxford is woven likewise but of finer yarn and is smoother and more formal. Royal Oxford is finer still and can blend seamlessly with a fine wool suit and expensive tie.
Poplin bears a smoother texture than oxford, but similar weight. This is the result of a fine yarn running one way with a thicker one interweaving it. Poplin shirt fabric is soft and comfortable and often used in casual shirts. Colors find themselves easily at home here, and it takes sporty patterns especially well.
Cotton twill has a shimmery diagonal weave and makes for richly textured shirts that can still be considered professional wear. In herringbone twill, the direction of the diagonals switches back and forth every quarter inch, giving the fabric more depth. When the occasion calls for a out of the ordinary solid shirt, twill plays the role with panache by creating texture and an up close display of detail.
Broadcloth shirt fabric is a weave is very similar to broadcloth except more densely packed, is one of the most formal shirting for day-to-day wear. End-on-end broadcloth is that made by interweaving threads of alternating colors for a visual texture so subtle it appears solid from an arm’s length away. Thanks to its tight weave, this cloth displays patterns with exquisite precision.
A plain one-on-one weave, this fabric traditionally uses white with another color to create a subtle check effect and texture. Occasionally, two colors are used to create a “double shot” of color. The liberal use of pattern and the eye catching weave peg this fabric as casual wear, but with the right collar and tie this fabric weave could find itself in even the most conservative banker’s closet.
Formal Shirt Fabrics
Formal shirts are made of white piqué cotton, which boasts a rich, woven texture. This is the only shirt proper for black tie or white tie, and it is not appropriate for anything else. You will know this fabric by the fineness of its weave, lack of visible pattern, and smoothness of its feel.
Cotton versus Blends – The debate continues
Besides pure cotton, all the fabrics above can be found in cotton/man made fiber blends. The pros and cons of each are many, but in my opinion there is no right or wrong answer here. It all depends on what you need and how price sensitive you are. Also realize that with blends you have a wide range of percent combinations and sometimes more than two fiber types are blended. A 90% cotton shirt will have characteristics very different to one made with only 40% cotton.
Cotton Shirt Fabrics The Good – Cotton is breathable and a good conductor of heat (great for hot climates) It has a very attractive appearance, is natural, and cotton is the standard by which other shirt fabrics are judged.
The Bad – Cotton wrinkles easily, it can be expensive, it generally loses heat quickly, and cotton is susceptible to mildew and acid/bleach damage.
Blended Shirt Fabrics
The Good – Blends are often wrinkle resistant, less expensive, have a nice appearance, and are warmer than a 100% cotton shirts.
The Bad – Too much man-made fiber in a fabric can make it non-breathable, thus uncomfortable to wear on a hot day or under conditions where you perspire. In addition, they can appear shiny and are more susceptible to heat damage from an iron.
This article is only a start. It is important for a man to have a foundation in the art of men’s classic style. What you wear covers 90% of your body, and is what most people use to judge who you are. In a world of presentation, appearances are critical to successful interaction with other.