Selecting Fabrics and Fibers for Your Wardrobe
Great style means little unless you start with great fabric. Choosing the right fiber for the season and purpose is the key to buying a garment that becomes a wardrobe favorite. Here is a basic guide to your fiber options.
Cotton, linen, and hemp all start with a plant. The fibers are spun into yarn and woven or knit into fabrics that can keep you cool and comfortable. All these natural fibers are breathable and absorbent. Cotton knit is ideal for T-shirts, panties, and other garments worn next to the skin. Cotton is also woven into denim for jeans and batiste or broadcloth for blouses. Linen ranges from fine handkerchief linen to heavier fabrics used for summer pants and jackets. Hemp makes a fabric similar to linen, but coarser.
While these fabrics are comfortable, they also are prone to wrinkle easily unless blended with some polyester. Plant-based fabrics also take longer to dry than synthetics, so they can leave you chilly if they get damp from a workout or sudden rain.
Wool, alpaca, cashmere, and other wool or hair fibers offer many of the same benefits to humans as they provide their animal sources. These fibers are warm even when wet, making wool yarn popular for winter socks. In lighter weights, some wool fabrics can be worn almost year round due to their breathable properties. Alpaca is warmer than wool and cashmere is much warmer than alpaca, making them good choices for lightweight warmth in cold climates.
Silk is also an animal fiber, from the cocoon of the silkworm. The caterpillar spins the fibers which are unwound by human engineering and used to create silk fabrics. A silk thread is stronger than a steel thread of the same diameter. It is also luxuriously soft and lustrous, and can be dyed easily in bright colors. Silk is great for special lingerie, blouses, and dresses.
Synthetic fibers such as nylon, rayon, acrylic, and polyester are created through chemical processes and engineered to imitate natural fibers. Synthetics are generally less expensive than natural fibers. They are also less breathable and absorbent, but wrinkle less and dry faster. Many clothing fabrics use blends of natural and synthetic fibers to take advantage of the best properties of each.