Gentlemen’s Fabrics 101 – Cotton

Cotton fibre is much more than the fluff that allows the seeds to disperse from the plant genus Gossypium; it is the most useful plant material humans have had for the past 8 000 years (that we can’t eat). Both the New and Old worlds separately learned to cultivate wild cotton shrubs and take the fibre from the seed capsule, or boll, and spin it into yarn or thread creating a versatile fabric and a $12 billion a year industry.

Cotton in a Flannel Weave
Cotton in a Flannel Weave

There are two different ways to organize types of cotton; its source plant and the type of processing the cotton fibre has undergone. The plant sources of cotton fibre fall into two categories; upland and Pima cotton. Upland cotton is a more versatile plant but produces an inferior fibre quality that is not as high as Pima. Pima (also called ELS) produces the high quality cotton fibres used to make high fashion fabric. ELS stands for Extra Long Staple. It references to the length of the cotton fibre, the longer, the stronger the fibre. Egyptian cotton is an ELS cotton grown in Egypt.

Cotton in a Poplin Weave
Cotton in a Poplin Weave

The different methods used to process cotton into a cloth fabric create twill, damask, velvet, velour and poplin among many others. Of interest to the properly attired gentleman are the following types:

  • Terry Cloth : A cotton fabric with moisture-absorbing loop pile covering the entire surface on one or both sides. They make excellent robes for use pool-side.
  • Jersey : A single-knit, plain-stitched fabric with a face side that is distinctly different from the back side. Jersey is used to make undershirts.
  • Sateen : A satin weave fabric with a smooth, lustrous surface.
  • Broadcloth : A tightly woven lustrous cotton cloth with fine embedded crosswide ribs. It is used to make shirts.
  • Damask : A patterned cotton fabric made on a jacquard loom. It is used to make decorative fabrics.
  • Combed Cotton : The combing process removes the short fibers and any debris that might be in the cotton fibre. A cleaner, more uniform and lustrous yarn results.
  • Velvet : A warp-pile fabric with short, densely woven cut pile, giving the fabric a soft, rich texture.
  • Twill : Identified by the diagonal lines on its face. It is an incredibly versatile fabric.
  • Interlock : A double-knit, plain-stitched fabric that looks the same on both sides. Used in polo shirts.
Cotton in an Oxford Weave
Cotton in an Oxford Weave
  • Cambric or chambray : First used in Cambrai, France, as early as 1595, It is a closely woven, firm fabric with a slight glossy surface produced by calendering. A plain-weave fabric made of color warp yarn and white fill yarn. Used in making
  • Duck : Also known as canvas. A rugged plain-weave cloth used in workwear and outdoor clothing.
  • Oxford : A group of cotton fabrics, including pinpoint, made with a modified plain or basket weave. Used primarily for shirts.
  • Seersucker : A lightweight cotton fabric with a woven crinkle achieved by altering tension in the warp yarns. Seersucker is synonymous with the classic summer suit.
  • Poplin : A fabric with a fine horizontal rib effect on the surface because of a warp yarn finer than the filling yarn; usually a high-thread-count cloth. High-quality shirts use Poplin.
  • Flannel : A plain-weave cloth heavily brushed for softness.
  • Corduroy : A ribbed, pile fabric. Comes in various weights and weaves.
  • Denim : A rugged, durable twill fabric that is most popular in indigo blue.
  • Velour : A term applied to cut pile cloths in general. Velour is soft, luxurious and widely used.
Cotton in a Twill Weave
Cotton in a Twill Weave

Cotton is the staple of a gentleman’s wardrobe. Shirts, jackets, trousers, trench coats, and suits all present themselves in the various flavours of cotton. I will examine these, and more about cotton in coming posts.

Published by The Kingpin

Kingpin's Hideaway is a gentlemens outfitter specializing in designer and vintage clothing and accessories. Getting men to dress like grownups since 1986. Kingpin Chic is gentlemenswear. With balls.

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