Guide to Dress Shirt Fabric - Poplin, Chambray and more



An Overview of Dress Shirt Fabric:

Textiles are a science—you can even get a PHd in it! When it comes to dress shirt fabric, there is a lot information circulating out there.

No matter what a brand claims about its fabric, it’s good to keep in mind that 80% of all woven fabrics are plain weaves. In plain weave construction, 50% of the warp yarns are exposed on the surface and 50% of the weft (fill) yarns are exposed on the surface.

If you have ever wondered, ALL of the following textiles are considered 'plain weave':

    1. Broadcloth/Poplin
    2. Oxford Cloth (sort of...keep reading)
    3. Chambray
    4. End on End
    5. Canvas
    6. Gauze
    7. Calico
    8. Muslin
    9. Taffeta
    10. Percale

Poplin:

poplin shirt fabric

For our shirts, we chose to use a poplin fabric (described interchangeably as broadcloth) because we favor its qualities as an all-around cotton dress shirt. Here’s a brief explanation why:

Lets start with the fact that poplin is a plain weave fabric with a single yarn construction. This weave symmetry means two important things:

    1. Even color: without excessive lustre, or shininess (this can change depending on the fiber selected). This is because the weave is plain, and the warp and weft are the same color.
    2. Compatibility and Breathability: Few fabrics span the divide from beefy casual fabrics like khaki and denim while also looking great with dress clothing- no matter what the season. The symmetrical, single yarn construction of poplin fabric makes air flow optimal and reduces your chances of “pitting out” (you know what this means) during wear. In this way, we think poplin is the perfect, overall textile for shirting, not tipping the scales too much on the dressy side or on the casual side of things.

Twill 

twill shirt fabric

a) Right hand twill
b) Left hand twill
c) Herringbone twill

Twill is an asymmetric construction with limitless variance. The most common varieties are right-handed, left-handed and herringbone. Twills can classify many different kinds of eccentric weaves, however.

Twill textiles are generally known for their shiny lustre and heavier, silky hand. The weight of twill depends entirely on the fiber and yarns from which those fibers are spun, but generally twill is a thicker fabric that doesn’t breathe as much as others. On the other hand, twill has a heavier drape which can be quite flattering.

Dobby

dobby shirt fabric

(Note: #1 in the above diagram is broadcloth for comparison)

Fabric milled on a “dobby loom” that has an even construction broken up by small, regularly repeating geometric patterns. Warp and weft threads can be different colors and different threads are sometimes woven in to heighten the three-dimensionality of the geometric patterns. As the diagram shows above, dobby textiles can get pretty complex in construction.

If you’ve ever worn a polo shirt, you’ve worn a variety of dobby fabric (that type of dobby fabric is referred to as pique).

End on end

The same construction as poplin and broadcloth, except the warp and weft yarns alternate between being darker and lighter with each pick of the loom. The result is a more mottled depth of color in the textile that really lets you see the contrast between warp and weft yarns. 

Chambray

The same as a poplin or broadcloth, but usually loomed with the same yarns as denim. This means the warp yarns are [usually] yarn dyed indigo, and the weft yarns are [usually] white filler, just like your jeans. And also like your jeans, you’ll often see little “slubs” or imperfections running along this fabric, depending on how it was loomed. 

Oxford Cloth

oxford cloth

A variation on plain weave. Earlier we included Oxford cloth on our plain weave list, which is technically a true statement. In Oxford cloth, 50% of the warp yarns are exposed and 50% of the weft yarns are exposed. It looks the same on both sides of the textile (a ‘faceless’ textile).

However, if you look up 'oxford cloth' online, most people are going to tout it as a basket weave, which is also correct! If you look at the diagram above, you’ll see that basketweave is a symmetrical 2x2 yarn weave (where poplin is a 1x1). As a function of this construction, oxford has a “nubby” hand which is highly prized by the cloth’s devotees.

In terms of practicality, oxford cloth is extremely durable and can be successfully worn in many “dress” situations, and any “casual” situation.

This cloth’s main problem is that its usually made from thickly-spun yarns which hamper its breathability (especially in warmer months).

This is a classic textile which will always have its place in the heart of “trad” lovers everywhere, and shines as a fall-early spring weight shirting textile. 

Many of the best dress shirts in the world are offered in one or more of these fabrics but if you just judge a shirt on its fabric you may miss important features. Our guide to the 5 Components of a High Quality Dress Shirt goes into detail on interlining (another fabric) and the many features that define the best shirts. 

Think we’ve made a mistake? Send us an email at questions@sebastianward.com or comment below, we’d be happy to make an update.


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