Sunday, May 15, 2011

A shirt's a shirt...right? - Part One

Not really..........there is so much to choosing a shirt besides color.  What style is the collar, cuffs, what is the material, poly blend,  100% cotton?  I used to go into a store like the bay and go into the shirt section look for my size and then pick a shirt based on color, not really paying any attention to the cuffs or collar.  I didn't even look at the labels to see if it was cotton or a blend.  I just based it on the pattern/color, not really knowing that certain style of collars and cuffs were either more formal or business.  I'm going to start of this first part of the series by talking about the shirt fabric.

Cotton

The term cotton comes from the Arabic katun that means "conquered land" referring to the empire of Alexander the Great that promoted the diffusion of cotton in the Mediterranean area.

A vegetable fiber, it is obtained from the cotton plant, a shrub with lobe shaped leaves and large flowers of white, yellow or red. The dry fruit at maturity is a capsule that opens in five lobes revealing the seeds covered with thick white "wool" comprised of unicellular fibers of nearly pure cellulose. After the fibers are separated from the seeds the cotton is cleaned and combed to eliminate impurities.

Cotton is the fabric from which 90% of men's shirts are produced. This is due to the characteristics that make it well adapted to be in contact with the skin.  It is a fiber which is soft, light, allows the skin to breathe, has a good capacity to absorb and is capable of surviving many washings.  It takes color very easily and retains it well.  Run your finger over the shirt fabrics, the cotton should feel fine and soft to the touch. Colors are also more defined and brighter on high quality cotton as compared to synthetics. In fact, the best cotton, Sea Island Cotton, a brand name owned by cotton growers in the West Indies, feels similar to silk. See the following article by IM-Label for more information on Sea Island cotton.

In general, the smoother the cloth, the more formal and higher quality the shirt. The smoothness of the cloth also depends highly on the yarn numbers.  Yarn numbers range from 30s found in cheap department stores to the common 80s used by better ready to wear makers to the super 200s. However, thin yarns are but one indicator of quality. 

Long staple 140s woven on slow looms that neither stretch nor break the fibres are a better value than some of the 170s rushed to market off high speed looms.

The best cottons are grown in Egypt and the Caribbean and woven in Switzerland and Italy. The finer the cotton, the dressier the shirt. And the longer the fibre, the finer the cotton, because there are fewer knots binding the fibres together. The longest cotton fibres are about 1.5 - 2 inches.  You will often see dress shirt fabrics described numerically as 50's, 80's, 100's, 120s, 140s, 160s, etc. This number refers to the thickness of the yarn: the lower the number, the thicker the yarn; the higher the number, the finer the yarn.

In commerce cotton is classified based on the criteria for judging its quality which are the grade, the color, the length of the fiber and the character.

GRADE is the external appearance which is determined based on the luminosity of the fiber, major or minor, the white color more or less intense and on the minor or major presence of extraneous substances in the cotton.

COLOR varies greatly from a more or less immaculate white to a gray characteristic of cultivated cottons, but also colors tending toward red, chamois and yellow. The whiteness of the color determines the subsequent processing and the possibility of obtaining a quality yarn.

LENGTH of the cotton can be long fiber or short fiber; the first beginning at about 28 mm (1.01 in.) up to a length of 50 mm (2 in.) The others can have maximum length of 18 mm (0.71 in.). There exists also a category of cotton produced in the United States that reaches an intermediate length relative to the others and which constitutes the major part of the global cotton production.

CHARACTER is an attribute connected to the origin, variety and maturity. In practice, it is the robustness of the fibers, the resistance to traction and breaking, uniformity, coarseness and silkiness.
2-Ply Cotton
Usually the better shirt fabrics are two by two, or two ply.  Two ply cotton is made of two lengths of yarn intertwined looks superior to single ply cotton because its density and thickness adds lushness.  120's 140's 160's two-ply cottons are the most luxurious (and expensive) dress shirt fabrics. Individual yarns are even thinner, the weave even tighter and the thread count per inch even greater. The fabric is silky smooth and it holds color and pattern extremely well.  Although the price of a higher thread count dress shirt is usually twice that of its 80's counterpart, many men make that extra investment because they enjoy the softness and luster, as well as the finer tailoring details that typically are offered in this luxury shirt. 

100's two-ply broadcloth is a luxury fabric with a silky feel. It is very durable due to its two-ply thread (two individual threads are twisted together) and close weave. 

80's pinpoint oxford is another excellent two-ply fabric. It is also extremely durable, but has more texture (a weightier look) than a broadcloth fabric. 

Royal Oxford cloth possesses the durability of pinpoint oxford with more texture (in colored Royal Oxford fabric, you can see a small amount of white in the weave).

50's Egyptian Cotton, woven of single-ply thread, is a lightweight and durable cotton fabric at a great value.

Blended Fabrics
Besides pure cotton, all the fabrics above can be found in cotton/polyester blends.
These are less expensive, and while they do not look as rich or feel as smooth, they can often be worn without ironing. No-iron 100% cotton shirts offer the rich look of natural fiber with the ease of synthetics, but the good ones are very expensive and the cheap ones irritate the skin.
Synthetics fibers get itchy and uncomfortable in extreme heat, i.e. over 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cottons are classified in these ways:

Fil-A-Fil
A light fabric suited to all seasons; Its characteristic comes from the working of the different types of cotton of which it is composed.

Twill
A fabric also well suited to all seasons; it is characterized by a texture which is perceived as diagonal lines which may emerge to varying degrees.

Below is a picture:



Oxford
Characterized by a weave of one line of texture for every two of warp; the effect looking at this fabric is of very small points of white emerging from a colored background. It can have three different versions:
• FINE with a distinct softness can be worn both in the summer in winter.
• MEDIUM suited for garments more informal and sporty
• HEAVY with a notably granular texture, however still soft

Below is a picture of a typical oxford style:








English Look
Characterized by a texture of alternating bands of white and colored fibers. It presents itself as an exclusive fabric.

Pinpoint
A fabric derived from an evolution of Oxford, the effect is that of a fairly granular fabric but with a texture that seems to be formed by many tiny pin points.

Poplin
A smooth light fabric characterized by finer lines of warp than those of the texture.


Below is a picture:





Voile
A very light fabric nearly as impalpable as silk.

End on End
End-on-end cotton is made by weaving two lengthwise yarns together - typically alternating dyed and undyed (or white) ends.  The idea is to give the shirt fabrics a richer texture than you'd get from a solid colour.  End-on-end cotton is used in just about anything made out of woven fabrics. 

Below is a picture:

 

Herringbone
Herringbone describes a distinctive V-shape weaving pattern usually found in shirt fabrics, often within the twill shirts.  The pattern is called herringbone because it looks like the skeleton of a herring fish.  Herringbone patterned fabric is usually wool, and is one of the most popular cloths used for suits and outerwear.
 
Below is a picture of the fabric:



Broadcloth
Is a fine yarn woven so tightly that it gleams.  This is the most formal shirt for day to day wearing.  End-on-end broadcloth is made by interweaving threads of alternating colors for a visual texture so subtle, that it appears solid from an arm's length away.  Due to it's tight weave, this fabric displays patterns with exquisite precision.

Below is a picture of a strip pattern broadcloth:


  
 
Other types of yarn: 

Silk
Silk is a textile fiber of animal origin that is obtained from the cocoons of the Bombyx Mori (silk worm). The silk worm is born as an insect that eats only mulberry leaves. Over the course of three or four weeks it becomes an adult and begins to prepare a cocoon, for which it requires three or four days. Inside of the cocoon the worm transforms itself into a chrysalis and then a butterfly. When the butterfly leaves the cocoon it lives only long enough to conceive and lay eggs, and then dies.

These cocoons are unraveled in one continuous string, which when done well, can reach a length of approximately 1200 meters (nearly 4000 ft.). They are then immersed in hot water to dissolve the gummy substance. The foam helps form a natural silk fiber which can be made immediately into fabric or undergo treatment to be tinted.

There exist three types of silk:
- Domesticated silk which is the most uniform;
- Tussah silk obtained from worms which live in their natural state, characterized by threads which are large and irregular
- Double or shantung silk which comes from a natural phenomenon where two silk worms spin the same cocoon together.

Silk is the softest and most subtle of fibers, cool in the summer and warm in the winter and characterized by a special luminosity.

Linen
The cultivation of linen is very ancient and in fact seems to have been the first textile fiber used by man. It is extracted from the plant linum usitatissimum that is ground after shredding.

It is a grassy plant of the Linacee family with pale blue flowers and encapsulated fruit. The dry stalk is soaked in water for several days to harvest the textile fiber.

Linen, after silk, is the longest fiber. It's yarn is not particularly subtle and is irregular to the touch, however it is cool and pleasing on the skin.


Wool
Wool is a textile fiber obtained from coat of sheep and other mammals such as vicunas, camels, mohair goats and angora cats. The fiber most commonly used is that of sheep.

Sheep's wool can be differentiated by various types according to the species of animal and the part of the body from which it is taken.
Its capacity to be spun into yarn is influenced primarily by the length, the curl, the elasticity and the fineness. The quality instead is influenced by the species, the breeding and the color.

Shearing is followed by the separation of the flocks of wool from the back, sides and the neck, more fine and uniform than that which comes from the legs which is less valuable. The flocks are beaten to remove impurities and then washed. After drying the wads of wool are examined, carded, spun into yarns and made into fabric. The type of fabric depends on the yarn used and can be combed or carded. The longest fibers are used for combed fabrics and the shorter for carded.

The best quality wool comes from Australia (Merinos, Southdown), Argentina and Uruguay. From Europe comes the Spanish Merinos.

Wool offers many qualities of which one is the capacity to absorb. It has the ability to absorb humidity without feeling wet. It is also a non-conductor and a great insulator from cold and heat; it has a good capacity to resist wrinkling, is elastic and is difficult to tear. It is found in shirts only for particular sports and winter uses.


This will end the first part of my post, the second part will continue with typical shirt styles for cuffs & collars.