Fabric-Up Close: A Fashion Fabrics Glossary
Quality. That’s what I really want from clothing, and I’ve no doubt the same goes for you too. Sure, I want it to be beautiful and stylish, but if it feels horrible to wear and/or falls apart within months, what’s the point?
Now if you’re into fast disposable fashion, then poor quality garments is something you’re accepting of. But I want pieces that last, both in terms of style and quality, which is why I’d prefer to spend more on a few pieces than little on many. And that played a large part in selecting the pieces for The-Bias-Cut.com's limited-edition first collection.
Problem is, how do you know what you’re buying is actually decent? Of course you can feel an item in store but what about online? So until the astounding tech glove that transmits ‘touch’ over the internet becomes available for commercial use (yes, one really does exist), I’ve put together a small guide, complete with advantages and disadvantages of different clothing fabrics as well as tips, to help you know exactly what you’re buying:
Advantages: Breathable, light and soft so very comfortable to wear. It is also strong, durable, abrasion resistant and dyes well. Good for those with sensitive or allergies as it’s hypoallergenic
Disadvantages: Can wrinkle or shrink when washed, as well as lose colour and shape. Also can be damaged by mildew and sunlight, and pills (balls)
2. Modal (a cellulose fiber that can be a substitute for cotton)
Advantages: Resistant to shrinking and fading. Smooth, soft, light, good at draping and retains it shape after getting wet. More durable and 50% more water-absorbent than cotton
Disadvantages: Stretches and pills easily
Advantages: high strength, durable, highly absorbent, retains shape, silky in texture, antistatic
Disadvantages: requires care when washing, creases easily, limited variety of colours
Advantages: Doesn’t crease easily, is light, drapes well, absorbs moisture, dyes well, feels soft and luxurious. Also hypoallergenic
Disadvantages: Yellows with age, leaves water spots, dry cleaning often required
Advantages: Very resilient when dry, drapes well, good at returning to its original shape, abrasion resistant, warm, absorbs water slowly allowing the wearer to feel dry
Disadvantages: Weak when wet, heavy, can irritate skin, pills, poor luster, can shrink if not handled correctly (so dry cleaning is recommended). It can also be damaged by mildew and sunlight.
Advantages: Soft, lightweight, luxurious to touch and wear
Disadvantages: Prone to moths, can be expensive
Advantages: Soft, easy to dye, light, absorbs moisture, doesn’t crease, durable
Disadvantages: Can be a skin irritant
Advantages: hard-wearing, very light, warm, soft, wearer maintains a comfortable body temperature regardless of weather
Disadvantages: often can only be dry cleaned, can pill
8. Camel hair
Advantages: thermostatic properties, believed contain anti-rheumatic and anit-arthitic properties, dyes well, waterproof, doesn't pill or loose shape
Semi-synthetic: Viscose Rayon
Viscose rayon is a silk-like semi-synthetic fabric made from wood pulp that goes through several industrial processes. Its cellulosic base allows it to have similar properties to those of cotton as well as several other benefits:
Advantages: Excellent drape, retains rich bright colours, more moisture absorbent than cotton, breathable, comfortable
Disadvantages: Flammable, creases easily, pills, looses strength when wet so stretches and shrinks easily
Should we really be avoiding polyester?
Traditionally speaking polyester is something you’d think you should avoid. It can be uncomfortable to wear, doesn’t breath and can have a fabric shine that’s unattractive (if it’s not the look you’re going for). But it has come on a long way over the years. There have been recent innovative developments in fibre and fabric, resulting in it often being used by creative designers to make beautifully structured 'intelligent' pieces. Moreover, high quality polyester can be soft and luxurious to touch and look at (almost like satin). It also also provides many other benefits:
Doesn’t wrinkle or shrink
Holds colour well
So it’s not as simple as having a no polyester blanket ban. Don’t reject it until you’ve considered its benefits, why it might be the most suitable fabric choice for a particular garment and use, if it has a different lining (see below) and, more generally, the standard of the label/retailer you’re buying from. It may be a good buy, whilst at other times it really won’t be.
Advantages: Durable, soft, lightweight, has good elasticity and strength, warm, excellent resistance to sunlight and weathering
Disadvantages: Can stretch and shrink, prone to static and pilling, decomposes and discolours when exposed to high heat
Advantages: durable, easy to care for, resistant to mildew, doesn’t wrinkle, lightweight, good elasticity
Disadvantages: Low absorbency, can have an unattractive sheen, prone to static, damaged by sun exposure
Advantages: Stretchy, lightweight, durable, soft and tough. Doesn’t easily wear out as isn’t damaged by sunlight, sweat or detergents
Disadvantages: Doesn’t breath well (which can be a problem especially with underwear)
Garments don’t need to be 100% of one fibre to be beautiful quality, and mixes can be better than the individual fibres, allowing their good qualities to shine whilst minimizing their poorer ones.
Soft and delicate, more durable than silk alone
More breathable and lighter than cashmere, but not as soft
Silky and luxurious to touch whilst more durable than silk. Especially good for light weight jackets or suits
4. Linen – silk
Drapes better than linen alone and doesn’t wrinkle as readily
Good cotton jeans often feature a small amount of elastane to allow for stretch
Blending a semi- or synthetic fibre with a natural one allows you to enjoy comfort as well as easy care and strength.
1. Viscose – cotton
More soft and has a greater lustre than cotton
2. Polyester – cotton
One of the most common blended fabrics. It’s comfortable and absorbent whilst being resistant to wrinkles and will retain its colour and shape after many washes
3. Elastane – cotton
Is stretchy and durable whilst allowing your skin to breath. Especially good for skinny jeans and sports clothing
4. Polyester – wool
Wrinkle resistant and has excellent crease retention, helping it retain its shape regardless of the weather. It is also stronger than wool, whilst still being warm, drapable and breathable (how much so depending on the ratio). Especially good for year-round and winter coats
5. Cotton - Polyester – Viscose
Has the benefits of polyester-cotton, as well as an added silkiness and drape
6. Polyester Viscose Rayon
Durable, resilient and has good shape retention, whilst being absorbent, soft to touch and available in a wide variety of colours
Linings are Important
Make sure you check what the linings of the garments you buy are (if they have one of course). All the benefits/disadvantages of the material it is made from will be reduced if a different lining is used. So, for example, polyester trousers lined with silk will still feel soft and be comfortable. Alternatively, a wool coat lined with polyester will be hot and stuffy to wear.
Obviously you’re not going to know exactly how great the garment is until you see and feel it. But I hope this guide helps when deciding to buy clothing online and makes it even more worthwhile.
For further reading I highly recommend: Fabric For Fashion: The Complete Guide by Clive Hallett and Amanda Johnston (RRP £28)