Master the fabrics in your wardrobe.
Fabric is the main ingredient in making a garment.
Like food, the better the ingredient, the better the quality.
And since clothes spend hours on your body, it's important to stick to the good stuff.
In general, you need to keep 3 things in mind when assessing fabric quality:
- How it was grown/raised
- How it was treated and dyed
- How it was manufactured
Don't be afraid to ask. And always check the garment tag to know the fabric that you are buying. Just like you do when you're grocery shopping.
There are many, many types of fabric and you've seen it all - the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Why should you care?
Building your wardrobe with different fabrics totally ups your fashion game. It builds character and texture into your outfit combinations and expands the variety from which you can build new looks.
As the market continues to flood with 'fast fashion', identifying quality becomes trickier. Some fashion houses cling to the discipline of quality. Many have started to compromise by introducing cheaper fabrics that help their profit margins. Knowing your fabrics helps you weed out the imposters from the good stuff, so your money is well spent.
Here's a short list to help you know the popular fabrics better, so you can make informed purchases:
Wool comes from sheep. Cashmere comes from goats. I personally think that the integrity and quality of the fabric is best maintained when it's not over-processed. When it comes to this fabric, look for undyed or naturally dyed cashmere sweater which better retains the beautiful character that the fabric brings to the clothing. Undyed cashmere is simply gorgeous, and totally timeless because it's not tied any trendy colour palette. If you like colour, make sure that the dyeing process has maintained the character of cashmere.
Silk is produced from silkworms and moth caterpillars, resulting in a beautiful natural fibre. The way it's treated and dyed is important to ensure it retains its natural properties against your skin. Silk is easily available. Silk that is well dyed or naturally dyed are a rare and delicious treat. It just depends on what you're in the mood for buying. I'd experiment with both styles as part of learning more and finding your style.
Cotton is timeless, and has long been identified with purity. There is one important thing to keep in mind: where it's not organically grown, it usually involves the use of many pesticides and chemicals. Some companies are going back to organic cotton to keep the purity alive. Less pesticide and chemical usage in clothing and food is better. Support purity with organic cotton. Just do it. Common derivatives of cotton are: Cotton Rayon, Jersey, Flannel (best for cold weather), and Denim
Love your jeans? Make sure that you understand how to care for this fabric, and what goes into producing and maintaining it.
Very simply, most people over-wash jeans.
Jeans need to be washed every 10 uses. If you're washing your favourite pair of jeans too regularly, you're reducing its life expectancy.
It's an elegant fabric, soft to the touch and drapes beautifully. Travel clothes using this fabric are awesome because it's naturally wrinkle-free! Naturally wrinkle-free clothing is best - beware of clothing that is chemically induced to be wrinkle-free - it's not always good for your skin health! Lyocell is a regenerated cellulose fiber (from the pulp of eucalyptus trees). It's a durable natural fibre, and generally produced with less chemicals and in a more sustainable way.
Both of these fabrics are great for warm weather, are natural and made of plants (flax = linen; hemp = hemp). Linen and hemp are classic fabrics for cool summer days, and you look incredible wearing them. As with wool and cashmere, avoid over-processed options. A natural coloured linen or hemp is gorgeous. Also watch out for imposters: if it's blended with a whole lot of other unnatural materials, then you're not buying the real deal.
Natural-based materials produced from cellulose of wood.
While I really love the natural origin of these fabrics, most production in this category uses the viscose method, which is a chemical cocktail nightmare.
Self-regulation within an industry like clothing manufacturing varies in rigour and requirements are simply not as strict as with food. It's also just a fact of life that sometimes there are gaps in scientific research to support informed consumer decisions. For now all we can do is check your label before you buy and decide for yourself.
The solvent used for processing these fabrics is generally carbon disulfide, a toxic chemical that has resulted in harm to garment workers that are exposed to it (report from the World Health Organization here). Several other chemicals (including formaldehyde) are used to finish the production.
Hopefully, there will be innovation in this space so we can enjoy this fabric without fear or guilt.
It's no secret - I don't like polyester. Most people don't. Polyester is made from petroleum; a byproduct of processing oil. Energy-intensive, lots of chemicals, nothing natural about it. It also doesn't let your skin breathe, so you'll just end up smelly and disappointed. For athletic readers who do like polyester for its quick drying properties, smart and social companies are using recycled polyester for clothing, and making polyester out of recycled plastics, which is much more sustainable. In general, avoid polyester where is not recycled.
More for my athletic readers, nylon is a happy medium between cotton and polyester in that it both absorbs sweat and dries quickly. For these reasons, I'd prefer it over polyester for active wear. Nylon is a product of refining oil, and thereby a synthetic fibre. I will give nylon credit for using less toxic chemicals though, and for being more efficient to wash and dry.
The way I feel about acrylic clothing is the way I feel about acrylic nails. Totally unnatural and my skin did not benefit from it, and itched way too much while wearing it. What a waste! Avoid like the plague.
My personal favourite. Generally reserved for special occasions and uses, satin is actually a type of weave, using silk. Commercially produced 'satin' is made of nylon and polyester which are total imposters. Do not buy satin that is not made from silk. But do buy some satin at some point in your life - the real deal is divine!
Buying fabric is a fantastic feeling.
I wish you well on your fashion adventures and hope this was informative.
It's time to be more informed consumers on the subject of fabrics.
For more on fabrics, check out this awesome book that I discovered on my recent trip to the Garment District, New York:
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