The Fall Fabrics You Need to Know (and Have)
Fall is around the corner here in Shorewood, Wisconsin, and that means so is fall fashion. We want you to look and feel your best this season, so here is a guide to the fabrics you'll want in your wardrobe during the colder months. It's a little bit of style and a wee bit of history. Enjoy:
Before we even get into specific fabrics, it is important to know about thread count, especially when considering fabrics that are woven, like cotton. Thread count refers to the number of threads woven together in one square inch of fabric. Thread count is best explained by example, so, let's say you have a 200 thread count sheet. That means there are 100 threads woven horizontally and 100 threads woven vertically (together) per square inch of your sheet. Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the fabric. Really fine fabrics, like silk, allow for more threads per square inch, so the result is a luxuriously soft, smooth fabric.
Are we good here? OK, let's move on to specific fabrics:
Pima cotton is a great year-round fabric, but is ideal for the colder months. It's lightweight but extremely warm, so you can layer up without feeling bulky. Pima cotton is most often used to make high-quality shirts and socks.
This cotton originated in Peru, but gets it name from the Pima Indians, who were the first people to harvest this type of cotton in the United States. Also, you might hear pima cotton called extra-long staple, or ELS. It's more of an industry insider term (most of us regular folk just call it pima cotton) but regardless, it's called ELS because its fibers are longer than most other cottons. This allows it to be woven more heavily, which creates a softer, more lustrous fabric. The thick weaving also makes it really warm.
Cashmere is my favorite cool-to-cold weather fabric. It's wool, but it's top-shelf wool. We love it so much we wrote a blog post about it here a while back.
So, what makes cashmere so great? First, it comes from a goat, not a sheep. Cashmere goats live in the coldest parts of the world, and so to stay warm, they have a really fine undercoat covered by a denser top coat. Cashmere is made from the finer undercoat, and as a result, it's unbelievable light and soft, and yet unbelievably warm. Cashmere is rarer than sheep's wool and harder to process, ergo why it can be pricier. But it is worth every penny.
Alpaca is cashmere's hypoallergenic cousin. It contains no lanolin--a yellowish, waxy grease found in sheep's wool--to which many people are sensitive. Alpaca fabric comes from the coat of an alpaca, a llama-looking animal originating from South America, and known for being intelligent and friendly (it's true. Random story: I once house sat for a family that owned alpacas, and they were some of the sweetest, smartest creatures I'd ever met).
Alpaca is primarily used as a dress fabric. Like cashmere, alpaca is extremely plush and naturally very warm. If you've never owned an alpaca sweater, you need to get one this season. It ranks off the charts on the feel test, looks great, and will keep you toasty and warm.
Now, let's switch gears from plush and light to coarse and heavy (but a good coarse and heavy, we promise)...Tweed, like we said in an earlier blog post, is cashmere's coarser, maybe a little brash, Scottish cousin. The two may feel completely different, but both will keep you warm on a chilly Wisconsin day.
Tweed is unfinished wool and it is thought to have originated in Scotland and Ireland, where farmers wore it to battle the cold, damp chill that is notorious in those parts of the world. They found that the coarse, unfinished wool was resistant to water and wind, and exceptionally warm. It became popular hunting and sporting attire among British aristocrats in the late 1800s. Today, tweed is an emblem of British fashion.
In America, tweed used to be what dowdy English professors wore, but this no longer the case. Tweed can exude a look of both American prep and European sophistication. For instance, paired with dark-washed jeans, a dress shirt and a light sweater, a tweed blazer is perfect for fall dinner attire.
We suppose we have hipsters to thank for bringing flannel back (groan). But, it's OK because hipsters didn't really bring flannel back, they brought plaid--the pattern most often associated with flannel--back.
So, what makes flannel...flannel? To start, it's a loosely woven wool, cotton or synthetic fiber, and has a napped finished. A napped finish refers to when the fibers of a fabric have been drawn away from the threads, so the fabric has a raised, fuzzy surface, kind of like a carpet (other napped fabrics include felt, velvet, and velour). You can tell a fabric is napped if you brush your hand across it and the fibers change direction. It's like when you vacuum and your vacuum cleaner leaves lines in the carpet.
Fashion experts and historians estimate flannel came about in the 17th century in Wales. It was worn by farmers to guard against an often cold, damp climate. Flannel was popularized in the U.S. by Hamilton Carhartt, who designed and made clothes for America's railroad workers.
Flannel is a must-have fabric for fall. It's warm, easy to wear, and comes in a wide variety of colors and styles. It's casual and cool, a little on the trendy side, but that's OK. It looks and feels so good we can forget that.
Come see us at Harleys in Shorewood, Wisconsin for our high-quality fall fabrics and apparel. Find us here.