It’s really quite simple. No other fabric looks like cotton,no other fabric feels like cotton, and no other fabric wears like cotton.
Cotton Incorporated, who coined the trademark phrase “The Fabric of Our Lives,” explains cotton’s superiority in terms of four characteristics: softness, breath ability, absorbency and durability.
Sometimes we do wear other fabrics, but for day in, day out good looks and comfort, nothing comes close to King Cotton.
It provides all the characteristics we want. Cotton has a naturally textured surface that seems to get softer with each use. Cotton breathes — it’s cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Cotton has absorbency qualities that lift the moisture from the skin and up into the air. It is receptive to fabric treatments such as dyeing, and it retains color beautifully. Its interlocking fibers give it strength and durability, and with proper care it will last a long time while maintaining its original luster.
Why wear anything else?
Cotton is the soft, fibrous substance covering the seeds of the cotton plant. Its substance is pure cellulose.
When you think of cotton, you probably think of the South, and with good reason. The Southern states of the U.S.are still among the most productive cotton growing areas in the entire world.
Cotton cultivation, however, is far older than the United States. The place it all started, so far as we can tell, was India. In the 5th century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus, after a trip to India, told stories of natives who made cloth from fleece that came from plants. After wending its way through India and on into Persia, cotton first made its way into Western civilization the same way that quite a few other Asiatic discoveries did — via the returning troops of Alexander the Great in about 325 B.C.
And, while we may think of cotton as an everyday fabric,it certainly wasn’t back then. The fabric was immediately prized for its strength, durability, versatility and luxurious look and feel. Because of the difficulty involved in its manufacture, it was among the most expensive of all textiles,and remained so for quite a long time.
It wasn’t until English manufacturers took advantage of the techniques made possible by the Industrial Revolution that cotton really came into the widespread popularity it enjoys today.
Different types of cotton have different fiber lengths. The longer-fiber cloths are usually considered the best cottons.
Types of Cotton and Cotton Terms
(Special thanks here to Gerald Valery of Var test Laboratories in New York City, who has helped us make this sometimes confusing subject a little clearer.)
American Upland is the world’s most popular variety.Originally developed in the South, it can now be found anywhere cotton is cultivated. Fiber length runs from 3
/4" to 1".This cotton is used in less expensive shirting because it has a shorter staple, which spins into heavier yarns.
Broadcloth is a general term for fine, smooth cotton fabric used in making shirts. It is a tightly woven fabric with a very light crosswise rib, similar to poplin, but finer.
Broadcloth fabrics are used in dress and formal shirts.
The term broadcloth comes from the use of wide looms to make fine fabrics which were of similar construction to ribbons produced on narrow looms.
Chambray is a cotton shirting fabric with a frosted effect produced by weaving white warp threads lengthwise with dyed ones (usually blue) crosswise or in the filling direction.
Egyptian Cotton is a long staple cotton, fine and silky,and is usually found in ultra-fine broadcloth dress shirts.Primarily produced in Egypt, it is now grown in many parts of the world. Fiber staple length averages 13/4".
End-on-End is a madras cotton in one color with a frosted or muted effect produced by weaving together white “end” (or lengthwise) threads with pastel-colored crosswise ones; the result is similar to chambray. Again, the most popular color used is blue.
Long Staple cotton is the professional term for the natural length of the fiber, which ranges from 11/4" to 21/4". The longer the staple length of cotton, the stronger and more luxurious it will eventually become when woven in the
form of a shirting fabric. Pima, Egyptian and Sea Island are the cottons with the longest staple lengths.
The finer the yarn, the more difficult and expensive it is to make. The manufacturing process includes a process called combing, which removes all fibers below 1/2" in length.There are many yarns used in shirting fabrics, but the finest qualities are plied together to make a two-ply yarn.
Oxford Cloth conjures up visions of old, ivy-covered buildings, and professors in rumpled, comfortable button down shirts. Quite appropriate, too, because most of those shirts are oxfords.
An oxford is a cotton shirting fabric with a small basket weave surface. It has a full texture. It is soft and comfortable,and usually comes in white, pastel shades, or colored stripes on white. Less lustrous than broadcloth and considered less formal, it is nevertheless one of the most popular shirting fabrics.
Single-ply Oxford is usually done in button-down styles.This heavy, beefy cotton is able to take more abuse than the lighter, finer weaves. This is why it has the reputation of being taken by the wife to be used as a nightshirt when the husband is done with it. When she is through, she will turn it over to the children to be used as a smock for art class. It gets softer and softer as it gets older.
Pinpoint is two-ply oxford. It is dressier than single-ply and usually is done in 80’s two-ply fabric.
French Oxford, another two-ply oxford, is sometimes called a pinpoint with a weave. The weave resembles the pattern of pique used on formal shirts. It is silkier than solid pinpoint and, depending on the style of collar and cuff, can be dressed up or down.
All oxfords will wear faster at the friction points (collars and cuffs) than broad cloths.
Piece dyeing applies color to woven fabric and converts it from its colorless “greige” state after scouring. Finishing follows, which stabilizes the fabric and minimizes the amount of residual shrinkage in the fabric. Singeing and mercerizing can be included in the finishing process to give a lustrous appearance and silky feel to fine cotton fabrics.
Pima cotton is a high-grade, very strong medium-staple cotton developed in Pima County, Arizona, and used for fine broadcloth shirts. It is now woven all over the world. It is characterized by long silky fibers, ranging to 11/2" in length.
Pique is fabric woven into a waffle-weave. It is usually used in formal attire.
Plying is the process by which two yarns, after they are spun, are twisted together before weaving.
Single-ply refers to a weave of two single yarns. For example, a “50 singles” fabric is woven from one-ply 50’s yarn.
“Two by one” or “two on one” (or 2 x 1) refers to the weave of a single yarn with two yarns that have been applied
“Two by two” (or 2 x 2) refers to the weave of two plied yarns. For example, “2 x 2 100’s” means that both warp (lengthwise yarns) and weft or filling (crosswise yarns) are two-ply 100’s yarn. Another way of describing this is “two-ply both ways.”
Sea Island Cotton is the finest long-staple cotton, found in top-quality shirtings. It once came only from Sea Island and other islands off the Georgia and South Carolina coast, but it’s now grown in the Caribbean and other regions of the
world. Staple length can be 11/2" to 21/4". Usually this is made into combed two-ply yarn in very high thread counts.
Thread count is the number of threads per square inch.The higher the thread count, the finer the cloth.yards per pound.
Voile is a fine, high-twist, plain, open-mesh-weave cotton cloth. A crisp fabric of great strength for its weight. Popular in the hot summer months and for evening wear.
Yarn dyeing applies color to spun yarns or threads before they are woven into fabric. Most fine shirtings are yarn-dyed. Yarn-dyed fabrics tend to hold color better than piece-dyed fabrics.
Yarn size is based on the number of yards of yarn per pound in units of 840 yards. For example, 50’s singles will have 42,000 yards per pound; 100’s singles will have 84,000
Choosing the Right Fabric
Before making your next shirt purchase, touch the fabric carefully. The “hand,” or feel, of the fabric should be the most important factor determining your choice. Each of
the weaves has its own qualities and everyone has his own
preferences. The smooth, silky feel of the broad cloths, the softer heavier qualities of the oxfords, the open texture of the end-on-end — each has its adherents.
It is not always the most expensive weave that will satisfy you. For example, if you like your shirt crisp and starched, you will not like the more expensive Sea Island weaves. They are too tightly woven to hold the starch. They are meant to be soft and silky. They will also wrinkle the most.
Because of their heavier yarns, oxfords will become stiffer than broad cloths when starched. The single-ply oxford, with its beefy weight, will be the stiffest of all.Broad cloths will also starch well, if they are not as tight as the Sea Islands, and they will still remain lighter in feel and silkier in hand.
The oxfords are also less translucent than broad cloths.This feature guides many men in deciding on oxfords,especially in a white shirt, because it hides chest hair and undershirts.
Broad cloths are much dressier than oxfords. They are acceptable in most business and social environments.
Broad cloths stripes and patterns are much crisper in color than the oxfords. In oxfords, the cross-weave of color in the cloth always diminishes the color of even the deepest stripe. If you are still in doubt, buy one of each and test
them. After wearing and laundering, you’ll find the cottons
that are just right for you.
For a well-rounded wardrobe, you’ll need a combination of fabrics so that you will be able to change the look of your suit and, therefore, expand your wardrobe quite inexpensively.
Wrinkles — we all hate them. We pay lots of money to take them off our clothes; even more to take them off our faces.And those darn cotton shirts just seem to wrinkle almost as soon as you put them on in the morning. Isn’t that terrible?
No, actually that’s quite good. The wrinkles in a fine cotton shirt are a natural quality of the fabric. They’re a result of the same properties that make cotton look and feel so good.So, remember, when you’re in a room full of people all dressed in white shirts and ties, it’s quite easy to find the well-dressed (and quite possibly the real decision-making) men in the group... they’re the ones with the wrinkles.