Since 2016

May 2014

What's the Best Fabric For Your Shirt

A wide range of fabrics is available for branded shirtsApparel is available these days in the widest range of choices ever. So the right one for your needs may be wildly different from someone else's. Before we even get into the style and color arena, let's start with just the fabric choices.

Fabrics can all be divided into two categories: natural or synthetic. Natural fibers come from plant or animal sources, while synthetics are manufactured from chemicals, plastics, petroleum, and more. Natural fibers have a long-standing reputation for being soft and luxurious, but that reputation is not always deserved. Manmade fibers are engineered for a specific property of function. They've come a long way since the scratchy, leisure-suit polyester of the 1970's. Today's synthetic fabrics can be every bit as soft as natural fibers.

Blends bring together the best features of different fabrics. The most common blend is cotton with polyester. You may want a resilient fabric with wrinkle resistence and stain protection, but still having absorbency and comfort. Polyester, due to its petroleum-based polymers, delivers the former, while cotton brings the latter. Percentages of each fabric in the blend can vary, depending on which factor is most important to the wearer.

Other popular blends include wool/polyester, for shape retention and drapability with wrinkle resistance, both desirable for uniforms. If strength and wind-resistance is important, consider a nylon/polyester blend. All-natural blends are found as well, along with tri-fiber blends for special needs.

The next factor to consider is weight. The average T-shirt is 4-5 oz, but they range from a heavy 6 oz to super light weight 2.2 oz. Lighter weight fabrics are very popular, especially for trendy, clinging drape. Softness is derived from the diameter of the yarn, referred to as “singles”. Surprisingly, a higher number indicates a thinner yarn. A standard T-shirt might be 18 singles, while a 30 or 40 singles tee would be considered very soft and luxurious.

The feel of a garment is also affected by its weave, which influences its strength and stretchability. So 40 singles, ringspun cotton tee will be very soft, but will not stretch like an 18 singles open end cotton shirt. An even more important factor is woven-vs.-knitted. Knit fabrics (think polos as well as T-shirts) are created by looping a yarn through itself repeatedly, creating rows of “braids.” Thus the fabric can stretch in all directions. However, woven fabrics are created on large looms that interlace multiple threads at right angles to create a sort of basket effect. Woven fabrics typically do not stretch easily, unless a flexible fiber is included.

The term “performance fiber” generally implies moisture wicking, although there are other factors that are considered important. The earliest performance fabrics were microfibers — 3 times thinner than cotton, 8 times thinner than wool, and 100 times thinner than a human hair. Water resistance is often added by applying Teflon to the fabric. An interesting recent innovation is TempControl, based of the principal in polar bear fur. Each strand is actually hollow, with air trapped inside. In cold conditions, the air warms; in heat, the air cools. These threads provide insulation that is effective in both directions, resulting in a very comfortable shirt.

Four Popular Blends

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