For someone who revels in fashion on the daily, I know very little about construction and fabric.
My only knowledge comes from tangible testing—rubbing fabrics between my thumb and fingers, trying on for feel, and wearing over many years.
Some pieces in my closet have become consistent, comfortable favorites, while others languish, unworn.
Much of this comes down to fit and fabric. I buy just a few key colors year after year, but enjoy explore cuts and fabrics.
Once upon a time, I’m pretty sure “poly blend” was a sartorial four-letter word. But today—are there any rules?
Personally, I love synthetics. Many can do things like resist odors and some are incredibly durable. My older lululemon shirts and shorts have held up to hundreds of washes, and still look new, even in dark hues. (I can’t say the same for the brand’s current offerings.)
On the other hand, synthetics used in undergarment applications tend to irritate my skin or feel less than easy and breezy. And synthetic fabric towels are awful. They may be fluffy, but they don’t absorb the same way cotton does. Avoid.
Last night, I debuted a striped tee, which is 100% viscose. It is ultra lightweight, and feels great on humid, hot evenings where a thicker, less breathable fabric would feel sticky and suffocating.
Linen is another favorite of mine, and is popular in Florida for the summer months. It is lighter weight than cotton, and breathes nicely. It is hard to keep looking polished, though. You can’t really pack or fold linen without getting lines. A handheld steamer works well to release creasing in a pinch.
In cooler weather, wool is standard, but can feel scratchy. Cashmere is the preferred soft, warm fabric, though it can be expensive. Both are dry-clean only, unless you want to get into special care at home.
Cotton is the fabric of our lives, really and truly. I’m amazed at its range of applications, from diapers to bedding to denim jeans. Two consistent truths about cotton I’ve found are that it (1) feels the coolest of the fabrics—why it is good for pillowcases and underwear, and (2) it degrades over time, which can be good (it gets softer, looks vintage) and bad (it will fall apart ultimately).
Take a look at many of your clothing tags, and you’ll see that many items are a blend of fabrics. Rayon seems to be a common additive, along with elastane. The former is a semi-synthetic (made from cellulose), of which viscose and modal are subsets. Elastane is also known as spandex, and adds stretch.
Fabric-related pitfalls are numerous for clothing. 100% cotton can easily stretch out in wear, or shrink in awkward ways in washing.
Piqué cotton, common in polo shirts and one of many treatment variations of cotton, is especially bad for warping. Most of my properly Medium-sized shirts eventually bow out in the front and back, to where I look pregnant or shapeless. Or, they shrink all over, and I inadvertently show my bare midriff.
Some fabrics pill easily, and others have a penchant for static electricity. If you wear aluminum-based antiperspirant, and you sweat in the armpit region, you are likely to get hard yellow stains over time. To avoid that and for health reasons, I have switched to non-aluminum deodorants, that don’t work as well but also don’t stain (a considerable point of past anxiety).
Ultimately, I preach to anyone who will listen that most fabrics have a value, but it is up to you individually to decide what is worth the asking price. If it warps, stretches, or pills after a month, will you feel duped? It’s why I don’t buy polo shirts at full price.
On the other hand, even if it isn’t a limited-supply, precious natural material (i.e. cashmere), is the execution or construction worth enough because it flatters your shape, or you won’t be sweating all night?
Final truth: you get what you pay for.
Many luxuries are worth the splurge, considering they touch your body. Think: high thread-count cotton sheets, a cashmere scarf, preferably Scottish, and linen shirts for a global warming summer.