Shirt materials: What should your shirt be made of?

13 February 2017

"When it comes to men’s shirting, there’s plenty more to consider than meets the eye."

Purchasing a shirt seems simple enough. Most men’s shops, be it online or bricks-and-mortar, carefully separate selections of men’s shirts. At first glance it seems that you only need to know your size and colour preference to make the right decision. However, one aspect of men’s shirting that’s often overlooked or carelessly chosen is fabrication. What your shirt is made of matters greatly, especially when you factor in seasonality.

Cotton
Cotton is the most common shirt fabric you’ll find on the market. It’s the rare cloth that works year-round. It’s breathable, comfortable and easy to care for. In men’s shirting, Egyptian and sea island are common cotton blends used. Both are derived from the Gossypium Barbadense plant and lend themselves to sturdy, durable shirts.

Linen
Linen has a leg up on cotton when it comes to breathability. It’s created from the flax plant and tends to be more sheer than cotton. However, unlike cotton, it’s specifically geared toward warmer months. Cotton/linen blends work well in professional environments, but 100% linen shirting is usually reserved for casual occasions, largely due to its creasing easily.

Weaves
Though cotton and linen are the most popular shirting fabrics, there’s a multitude of weaves. This is where things can get confusing, so it’s worth understanding the differences. Poplin has a silky feel. Often referred to as broadcloth, the poplin weave is created with threads crossing over and under each other alternately. Twill fabrics exhibit a weave that runs both over and under multiple threads. Twill weaving is used for textured patterns like houndstooth and herringbone.

Oxford is a basket weave made of a single colour. It’s typically thicker and can be worn in several different settings. The dobby weave utilises a special loom to create geometric patterns. End-on-end weaves are similar to poplin weaves, though, they use one white thread and one coloured thread in the process. 

With printed shirts, the designs are printed directly onto the shirt fabric instead of woven. This can take place using a hand blocking process or the more efficient screen-printing method.

Body Type Consideration
Cotton shirts work well for all body types though larger men may want to purchase a shirt with some type of stretch. The same goes for linen yet this fabric is unique in that you’ll have to pay close attention to the cut to find the perfect one. Concerning weaves, oxford is best for bigger guys because the rigidity of the fabric flatters the body shape regardless of the shirt fit. Slimmer or more athletic guys look great in softer weaves like poplin and twill.

When it comes to men’s shirting, there’s plenty more to consider than meets the eye. Fabrication is a matter of your functional needs. If you live in a cold climate, you’ll want a cotton shirt with an Oxford weave for maximum protection. If you spend a great deal of time in warmer climates, linen shirts with a simple poplin weave are ideal. The final result is a matter of personal preference, but you need to understand the different fabrics and weaves before making a decision.

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