We blog a lot about the importance of fit, but fabric is equally important, especially when it comes to dress shirts. Dress shirts occupy the most space in your outfit (assuming you’re not wearing a suit or sport coat), so it’s important to make sure that its fabric is sending the message you want to send.
To help you understand your sartorial shirt signals, we’ve defined and discussed the most popular dress shirt fabrics. Check it out:
Poplin is the classic dress shirt fabric. It is made of fine yarns woven tightly in a plain weave, which results in subtle texture and soft feel. Silhouette-wise, a poplin shirt is crisper than its peers, especially after pressing, so it’s ideal for black tie occasions.
Oxford is for your casual shirts. It features the same weave as poplin, but the fabric is made from rougher, larger yarns and is woven more loosely, which makes it look less formal. However, an oxford at the office is not unheard of—it just depends on the thread count. If the count is high, then the texture probably looks a little smoother. When in doubt, ask a trusted friend if it looks professional. Otherwise, an oxford shirt is great for a smart casual weekend outfit.
Pinpoint fabric is essentially oxford cloth (it has the same weave) but is made with finer yarns (like in poplin). Pinpoint shirts are great because loose weave-fine yarn combo makes for shirt that can be dressed up or down. A pinpoint shirt is what you want when you have to work from 9-5 on Friday, and then be at the bar by 7 p.m.
Twill may be the perfect dress shirt fabric. You can identify it easily by its diagonal weave or texture, and it tends to have a slight sheen (sometimes, in a higher thread count, twill can be mistaken for silk). Twill has a tad more heft than other shirt fabrics, but the diagonal weave makes it a bit softer and drapes more dramatically. It also wrinkles less, but conversely, it doesn’t look as crisp as say, poplin.
EGYPTIAN, PIMA, SUPIMA AND SEA ISLAND COTTON
Egyptian, Pima and Sea Island all refer to the same type of cotton, Gossypium barbadense. They are all woven the same, but they differ either in geography and/or fiber length. Specifically: 1) Pima cotton is grown in the Southwestern U.S. while Egyptian cotton is grown along the Nile River; 2) Supima is actually just a trademarked name for cotton with slightly longer fibers than Pima; and 3) Sea Island and is a trademarked name for cotton grown on islands off the southern coast of the U.S.
What makes these three cotton fabrics superior is that they are made up of extra long fibers (“staple” in industry-speak). A longer staple means the fiber can be threaded into finer, stronger threads. These threads, when woven with a high thread count, result in a silky smooth fabric. Sea Island has the longest staple, then Egyptian, then Pima.
WRINKLE FREE/NO IRON
Wrinkle free shirts are cotton 2.0. It’s infused with wrinkle free technology so you don’t have to press or starch it. If you feel the need, you can spritz it with some water and give it a gentle pull, but usually putting it on and waiting 20 minutes does the trick.
To make cotton wrinkle-free, it’s put through a highly scientific process in which it is artificially swelled so that its fibers become wider and most importantly, straight. This means that if you bend the fiber, it will return to its “natural” straight state.
Unfortunately, this process does require formaldehyde, but the quantity need has been reduced over the years. And some have estimated that the risk of a formaldehyde-coated shirt causing cancer is about the same as using your cellphone. Sooo…maybe we’ll take our chances if it means we never have to iron again…
Learn more about dress shirt fabrics from Harleys
To learn more about the many kinds of shirt fabrics, you must see them in person. Come into Harleys today and we’ll give you a tutorial. We'd love to show you shirts by Eton, Ermenegildo Zegna, and David Donahue.
We are located here. We look forward to seeing you.