This is the official Ash & Erie guide on shirt fabrics. There are many considerations to make when creating a high-quality men’s shirt including the fabric weave, thread count, ply, mill, and quality of the cotton itself. It can be overwhelming to understand the differences when evaluating shirt options! We’ve curated this guide to help you feel confident in your next shirt purchase.
First, the weave. A shirt’s weave refers to the way in which these threads of cotton called warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) are woven together to make the fabric. Different weaving techniques give these fabrics different properties. By understanding the weaves and their properties, you can make the best decision about which shirt and weave works best for you and your needs!
Poplin, otherwise known as broadcloth, is tightly woven with an over and under weave. These fabrics typically feel the smoothest thanks to their simple weave and lack of texture. Poplin fabric is thin and breathable. White poplin fabrics can be slightly transparent. These shirts are more prone to wrinkling but maintain their smoothness when ironed. These fabrics are typical for more formal occasions and are what you think of as a classic crisp fabric.
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Twill is made by weaving each warp and weft threads over and under two vertical threads to create a diagonal pattern. It is a softer and thicker fabric than poplin. It is warmer than poplin and therefore not as breathable. The fine weave makes wrinkling more of a problem when wearing twill and stains more difficult to remove. Twill drapes well and is very easy to iron.
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Oxford is a basket weave where multiple weft threads are crossed over an equal number of warp threads. Whereas the poplin is an over and under weave with one piece of yarn, the oxford uses multiple pieces of yarm. Many times, one color of the weft is crossed with a white warp resulting in a two-tone appearance. This two-by-two weave is a thicker and rougher texture, but very warm. These fabrics are very popular for more casual shirts, but still can be worn to the office.
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Oxford Cloth, or pique, is similar to the pinpoint oxford although it uses a slightly heavier thread and looser weave. It has a slightly rougher texture but is more durable than most fabrics. It’s composed of a symmetrical basketweave where one yarn may cross two yarns. It’s the least dressy and a staple in polo shirts. Oxford cloth does not easily wrinkle.
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Flannels are most often a brushed twill or brushed poplin fabric. The brushed fabric gives the flannels their warm, fuzzy, thicker feel. They’re mostly 100% cotton but can sometimes come in cotton/wool or cotton/cashmere blends for added warmth.
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Melange or heathered fabrics come in every sort of weave, including poplin, twill, and royal oxford, and are woven using multi-colored yarns. Each yarn will be dyed this way, most often with 2-3 hues. This allows shirts to look more organically inconsistent.
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The higher the thread count, the smoother and silkier (and more expensive!) the fabric. Thread count is often referred to with a number like 50s, 80s, 100s, 120s, 140s, and so on up to 330s. These numbers refer to the yarn size. Typically, a thread count above 100 will imply a 2-ply fabric. For example, a 180s yarn will likely be two 90s yarns twisted together.
Ply is how many yarns are twisted together to make a single thread. Shirts are generally two-ply or one-ply, with two-ply shirts being more durable and therefore superior to one-ply fabrics.