Friday, August 16, 2013

A Short Guide To Fabrics -- How to Buy Comfortable And Durable Clothes





  Whether you are thrifting or shopping in a regular store, choosing the right fabrics will ensure that you look more polished, that your clothes will last longer and that you will stay appropriately warm or cool.
   Knowing your fabrics can especially help when navigating cheaper clothing stores -- the label can tell you whether the item will fall apart after two wears or still look as amazing after years. The same goes for online shopping. The tips below have been gleaned by me from years of checking labels on my clothes and comparing items on comfort and durability. I encourage you to take a look at the labels of the stuff hanging in your wardrobe and then fingering the fabrics to get a feel for them -- you will probably find that you tend to like certain fabrics and not others.

   I'll cover a couple of fabrics that I know well and seek out (or avoid).

Knitwear (Wool, Polyester, Cashmere and co.) :

    When shopping for sweaters, cardigans and co., I always avoid pure polyester/acrylic. It looks and feels cheap, it looks even worse after a few washes and it doesn't keep you warm at all. Cotton knitwear tends to look dull and isn't very soft, whereas pure sheep's wool can be very scratchy. I always look for cashmere, angora and lambswool when I buy sweaters. If you pass your hand along the sweater rack in a thrift shop, these yarns will jump out at you: they feel soft, fluffy and luxurious to the touch. They also look good (and keep on looking good with time) and are very pleasant to wear. Blends containing these yarns are also ok, sometimes even just 10% angora can transform a cotton or polyester sweater into something lovely.
    I also love alpaca and pashmina, which I picked up really cheaply on my travels. Don't ever be tempted to buy shahtoosh (if you have that kind of money to blow), since the poor little deer are killed for their wool.

Cotton, knitted and woven:

     The most important thing about cotton is understanding knits and wovens and their pros and cons. In short, a woven is a fabric where the threads go from up to down and from left to right, this kind of fabric is stable and doesn't loose it's shape. The best is when a woven cotton fabric has a touch of lycra in it. I like wovens because they look good even after years of wear, and because they skim the figure instead of clinging to it.
   If you examine a knit fabric, you will see that the threads form loops, it looks like a miniature version of knitting. Knits are very stretchy, and often cling to the body in an unflattering way. I avoid knits if they are very thin (like a lot of the tops in HandM) because they look like a rag after a few washes. Actually they look cheap even when brand new. Heavier (thicker) knits can be more durable as well as flattering, especially if they are not figure-hugging.
    I almost always prefer cotton over synthetics when it comes to blouses and shirts, especially for the summer. You probably also know that cotton underpants are healthier than synthetics, because of the ventilation thing.

Linen and linen blends:

    While I love the rough aesthetic and the coolness of linen, I never buy anything that is 100% linen because it creases like mad. After a few hours of wear the item looks like something a cow chewed. However, linen combined with spandex, rayon or even cotton can really cut down on the creasing while retaining the aesthetics.

Denim:

       I always go for denim with lycra (spandex) in it, because if it's not stretchy it's not comfortable. However this is a personal preference -- I sit cross-legged a lot of the time. I also never buy new sand-blasted denim because it is unethical.

Polyester:

     I avoid pure polyester most of the time because it looks cheap and feels awful. However, it can have it's place in a blend. When mixed with rayon, wool, viscose or spandex; polyester can look and feel nice. Sometimes I do find great pieces in polyester though, so I haven't crossed this fabric completely off my list yet.

Viscose / Rayon:

   This is probably my favourite fabric. It's a combination of natural and synthetic fibres, it can breathe like cotton, but has a slight sheen to it and drapes wonderfully. It also feels a little heavier than it looks and doesn't cling to the body.

Chiffon / Georgette:

   Chiffon is a name of a weave, it is usually made of many different fabrics, the most common being polyester. It is very light and floaty, usually sheer. I love chiffon in floaty skirts and dresses, as well as light scarves or light summery blouses.

Silk:

    Silk is beautiful and feels lovely on the skin, however it wrinkles a lot and ironing is my least favourite thing in the world, and moisture often leaves temporary stains on it. Plus, even though I thrift almost everything, I don't really feel comfortable buying silk because I can't help visualising thousands of cocooned silkworms being boiled alive.



    Obviously there is also the question of which fabrics are more green and sustainable. I don't concern myself with this so much because I almost always buy second-hand, and buying second-hand is the greenest option there is. Almost all the items that haven't been gifted to me come either from thrift shops, online second-hand stores or clothing swaps. However if you prefer to buy new, I strongly recommend researching the topic -- and remember that it's not just about the fabric but about the conditions the workers work in, the dyes used and what the company does with unsold clothes. Finally, don't forget that when it comes to being green, buying pieces that will last a long time (I'm talking both about durability and timelessness here) is always a better choice.


   So, any awesome fabrics that I have let out? Let me know! What is your personal favourite fabric?




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