Fabrics today are a very complex and need to be highly considered when you shop, but it isn't always easy to know what is good quality or not....
You shop from what you believe are nice stores, but don't know if the brand or fabric is actually quality, and then you wash something you spent your hard earned money on and it looks 5 years old after that one wash...and that sucks!! Trust me, I know that frustrating feeling!
In order to buy real quality, you need to be able to recognize it easily while you shop without it feeling like you have to take it through a science experiment in the middle of the mall.
A major issue out there is that most people are unknowingly tricked by the trendy, cute silhouettes that flood our feeds and hang through out the stores we shop. Cheap, fast fashion companies know that their low prices and 'cute on the hanger' clothes will sell, because the buyer is focused on looks - and doesn't really know to look further than that. So you just being aware of that can make a big difference for you.
Price doesn't mean everything either, so you can't rely on the price to determine if something is made of quality fabrics or is even well made, so beware!
Buy better the first time, take care of it and it will save you money & make you feel better in the long run.
To start understanding fabrics you need to decide what you currently find frustrating in your own wardrobe and where you are willing to invest and where you aren't. Go in and look over your clothes - this doesn't have to be an ordeal - just go through the masses and look at at the types of fabrics you already own, how you like them, how they feel on your skin and how they are holding up. Do they look dingy? Pily? Faded? Have you been ignoring the care tag suggestions? Once you can see what you already love and don't love to wear and the patterns of condition of your clothes you can can get the basic understanding of it all down, and use that info for future purchases.
NO matter how cute an item is, or even how well it is made - if the fabric doesn't fit you well or is itchy or scratchy at all, it will not serve you like it should, you wont wear it, and it will end up over-loading your closet so you run into the ol' "I have nothing to wear!" (even though your closet is stuffed issue!
Sooooo! Lets get you to a place where you better understand some technical info about fabrics & some intuitive tips you can take on your next shopping trip. Then you can pick and choose with ease for more thoughtful purchases in the future!
LETS GET THE UNDERSTANDING OF BASICS OUT OF THE WAY REAL QUICK:
Fabric is a very complex thing to understand because synthetics and cheap fabrics have gotten so advanced looking that they can even feel and look like higher-end (natural) fabrics which makes it even more confusing to navigate.
So, here is a simple breakdown of what is what:
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FABRIC:
All fabrics are made up of fibers and yarns and are bonded together by either spinning, heat, mechanical or chemical treatments. This will be important to understand so you can recognize what you are looking at and wearing.
#1: WOVENS - Cross over yarns make up the whole body of the fabric. There are all sorts of weave types. Woven fabrics are not usually stretchy unless cut on the bias during design/construction/production or are blended to create stretch
#2: KNITS - Looped together yarns make up the whole body of the fabric. Usually used to make sweaters, t-shirts, stretchy items. Naturally has stretch to it usually
#3: NON-WOVENS - Felt, leathers, suedes (made of natural/animal by-product or synthetic plastics)
- Cotton - Shoot for thickness and softness - nothing too thin and flimsy or pily. When you shop inexpensive stores, shoot for finding the full cotton (thick) gems
- Silk - Comes in more forms than just that silky satin we all think of. Silk can be surprisingly very durable and comfortable and looks/is high-end. Needs more TLC than polyester copy cats, but is SOOO much better and worth the effort
- Wool - Isn't always itchy! Lasts a long time, durable.
- Cashmere - Feels fragile sometimes, but also feels like heaven and lasts a long time if cared for properly. Higher maintenance and price point but very worth it. Looks so much better than synthetic versions of knits and once you go cashmere, you never go back!
- Linen - Durable, soft, breaks in well and looks good wrinkled - what's better than that?! Can get permanent fold creases so always hang to avoid that
- Hemp - Kinda feels like linen/cotton at times, veryyy strong and not used enough in our everyday wear, can be on the pricer side. Durable and nice
- Bamboo - Soft, flows/drapes nicely and resembles rayon and even silk sometimes
- Alpaca - Soft, but can seem itchy to some people. Durable and can last a long time
- Acrylic - I avoid at all costs. It is fake soft, gets nasty quickly and when you start wearing more natural fibers like cashmere, you can feeellll the plasticky grossness (yes, that is a technical term right there)
- Polyester - Choosy about this one - recycled poly or poly for performance wear or winter gear is ok with me, personally - even though I struggle with it being ok or not still. I buy fleece and workout gear made of it, but don't buy poly sweaters, blouses and dresses - they aren't breathable, but do wash well usually
- Acetate and triacetate - Those just sound bad.. I always avoid these
- Nylon - Quality nylon can be nice and I do wear it but avoid it in high percentages
- Lycra aka elastane or spandex - Blends well with natural fibers and is often seen in jeans. 2%-5% in jeans or jackets. I need and like spandex in my bottoms
- Viscose - Better alternative to poly, at least in my personal opinion. It feels better and last longer and looks more expensive - from my experience, but it is a case by case fabric
- Rayon - Breathable cellulose fabric that can be awesome OR terrible. This is a tricky one because when it is cheap - then it is thin, frays easily, has a loose weave and often has cheap prints on it, but feels nice to the touch. This is really a case by case fabric too, because it can resemble the feel of cotton and even silk sometimes. Is attractive and feels good, but can loose its form easily. So just be picky with this
- Modal - Interesting fabric that is cool to the touch, has a luxurious feel to it and kinda has silk vibes going on. It is a type of rayon - but usually better quality and last longer since it doesn't fade or pill as easily. Can tend to stain easily, but is more breathable than some fabrics
- Tencel - Also a type of rayon that is easy to maintain, soft and wrinkle resistant
- Lyocell - Also a type of rayon. It is soft against the skin and has a nice drape and is breathable like most rayon fabrics are
TRY TO WEAR NATURAL FIBERS OVER SYNTHETIC AS OFTEN POSSIBLE!
*Try to buy organic, recycled & fair trade when you can
WHY SHOULD SYNTHETICS BE AVOIDED AT ALL IF THEY HAVE A PURPOSE?
Every type of fabric has its purpose and even has its advantages or disadvantages (naturals included) so this is kinda dependent on your needs, wants, life ect.
I do think it is important to note though that a lot of the synthetic fabrics out there are often full of toxins (not that all naturals are always exempt from this, but synthetics naturally come from a place full of toxins and chemicals since they are made of them)
Honestly, I felt conflicted adding this part into the post because it is so complicated and scary that I didn't want it to take over the purpose of this post, but also felt like I had to at least acknowledge it here..so take the info in and decide what you want to do with it.
The USA, among other places doesn't have very strict regulations on what chemicals or materials are used in our textiles and it is not well understood what is bad or ok for us. There are cases out there of fabric making people sick or causing rashes. This is scary and kinda a whole other topic and issue, but at least you can understand that just because that synthetic material was made into a cute jacket or dress does not mean that it is not harmful for you, so just try to not onlyyy wear synthetics and shoot for as much "natural" as you can, when you can.
Some of our staples are made of synthetic materials and even feel like a necessity to us today. Workout gear, leggings, underwear, outerwear are all commonly made from synthetics which makes these materials very difficult to 100% avoid. I have not found the perfect solution to avoiding these fabrics completely yet, but just work to avoid as much I can and shop for the best quality, recycled synthetics that fit within my budget.
If you live somewhere warm year round, yeaaaa you can get away with wearing linen frocks all day and I envy that, but when you live in a place like New England where fleece, sweaters, waterproof winter coats ect are everyday comforts and necessities, it can feel just near impossible to avoid synthetic fabrics/materials all together, especially on a budget.
Shop better quality and try to keep base layers that your wear against your body like underwear, tanks and socks ect made of mostly or all natural fibers as much as possible.
NEGATIVES ABOUT SYNTHETICS:
The list of fabrics below are commonly used in our everyday clothes, especially from fast fashion stores such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara ect.
The fabrics below are full of toxic chemicals that harm our bodies, can sometimes cause cancer and highly contribute to the alarming amount of plastic that pollutes our water ways/ocean. Although the damage these fabrics cause feels subtle it is quite pervasive. A single wash of laundry can release hundreds of thousands of tiny plastic fibers into our water ways which eventually ends up into our food.
1. Acrylic - Most cute trendy sweaters and tops are made from this material but it is not breathable and is made from polycrylonitriles and could cause cancer, according to the EPA
2. Polyester - This is a bad one and this has become the most common material for anything and everything made of textile in our home. It is very hard to avoid, but should be as often as possible for everyday clothes that don't NEED to be made from it (example: a sheer blouse is made from this to keep it cheap, shoot for silk instead! Second hand is a great place to get silk on a budget) Poly is made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid.
Plus, polyester is a cheap alternative that doesn't let your skin breath, isn't very comfortable, and it often looks cheap in trendy silhouettes...ekkk
3. Acetate and Triacetate - Made from wood fibers called cellulose and undergo extensive chemical processing to produce the finished product.
4. Nylon - Made from petroleum and is often given a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful.
5. Anything static resistant, stain resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof or moth repellent. Many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon. These chemicals can not be good for you and I work to avoid these!
Okkkkk so yea those are all pretty bad, and there are even more materials (I don't even wanna call them fabrics) out there that act as textile fibers in our clothes and that can be super bad for us, uncomfortable and not last very long so just be aware of how much of this sits on your body everyday.
WHAT ABOUT BLENDED FABRICS?
A lot of the time our clothes today are made up of blended materials. This is done to save money for production to keep costs down and to make the fabric move, lay or perform in a specific manner.
I would suggest going for 70/30 make up whenever possible. Example: 70% Natural fiber 30% synthetic & even more broken down: 70% Natural fiber and 20% Rayon 10% nylon (or other fibers, just try to have at least 70% be natural)
If all of the ingredients are natural, such as cotton and linen, I would say 50/50 or 70/30 ect. would be okay here. Cotton will help make the linen less wrinkly and won't create unwanted friction like natural against synthetic often does.
*These numbers wont always be this exact here, but this gives you the idea of what to look for and what to stay within when you shop blended fabrics.
WHAT ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE GARMENT?
It is important to pay attention to the quality of the construction just as much as the fibers/threads that make it up. The construction is also important to the quality since how it is put together can determine how it will withhold wearing, washing and simply just living in.
Look over the hems, seams, pockets, lining ect to determine if they feel substantial.
When the construction and fabric work well together, you will be on your way to a better wardrobe!
PAY ATTENTION TO HOW THE DESIGN IS RELATED TO THE FABRIC IT IS MADE OF AS WELL!
Designers will often play with this concept and can choose unconventional fabrics thoughtfully and intentionally BUT when you go into cheap, fast fashion stores and they are trying to sell a puffy bomber jacket out of a polyester satin with heavy metal zippers that is a bad sign?
WHY? Those materials were not well thought out, but instead picked to be trendy and eye catching without the garments life really being considered. The weight of that heavy zipper against that satin poly is going to naturally pull the fabric, cause friction and create tension and unwanted holes. Plus, a jacket or coat should be made of durable fabric for a versatile wardrobe, so something like this just doesn't really make sense for a wardrobe that is intended to be lived in.
So always make sure the design and fabric make sense together!
*Now, this is one that is SUPER important to pay attention to, but you also want to make sure that you can recognize when it is a QUALITY design trait and NOT a TREND driven design trait. If the designer or maker used an unconventional fabric for something, but it is done in a thoughtful quality manner, then that is a different story.
WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN SHOPPING:
- If the fabric feels even slightly itchy, put it down and walk away!
- If stretchy fabric is thin and has a slight sheen while also having a light layer of pill-iness to it when you look closely to the weave that is a key sign it is low quality and wont wear or wash well.
- If the fabric already looks nubby (has any sign of pilling) in the store, it isn't going to look any better at home. Drop it and back away - no matter how cute it may be!
- Pay attention to construction! Look at seams and hems and how they are sewn. If they look loose or threads are poking out of the hems/seams or the seams are loose - that is a bad sign.
- If you slightly pull stretchy fabric or knits and they feel weak, flimsy or don't spring back that is a bad sign
- Hold fabrics up to a light - if you can make objects out through the fabric (and it is NOT a sheer) then it is probably not good quality and should be put back
- If there is a small space between the yarns that make up the garment instead of being tightly knit or woven, that is a bad sign
- Is any part of the inside or out look wonky or poorly sewn? (mass produced items being wonky is a bad sign. If something is made by a small artist or designer, please note that there might be handmade qualities to it)
- Focus on the feel of it. Try to look past the initial softness of the synthetics and think about what will happen to that fabric once it is worn, washed, sweat in. If you can picture it getting course or loosing its softness or shape, then it probably will.
#1: Always check the label, ALWAYS! What is it made of? Is this what you want?
#2 Wash less and wash with care. ALWAYS avoid the dryer (post on that coming soon!)
#3: Don't buy what you wont take care of...but do buy better and try to suck it up and just take care of it properly.
#4: How does it feel!? Don't get tricked into buying cheap, synthetics just cus they feel soft to the touch in the store! They wont last and compared to natural gems like cashmere you will realize they aren't really soft either. Quality fabrics and natural fibers that get softer over time will make you happier.
#5: Look into your current closet and take a peek at the tags of which pieces look dingy, warped, pily or faded? Take note of the materials in these and be aware that the fabrics. (bad laundry habits may play a role here as well, blog post coming on that soon!) Choose better once you know what isn't working here.
#6: Put your money where your staples are. Staples like leggings, t-shirts, jeans, sweaters ect should be made of quality fabrics that you can really live in, that won't shrink 3 sizes, get wonky or get nubby after one wear. You should always shoot for quality no matter what, but if you shop at places like H&M, Target ect. you gotta shoot for statement pieces here, and NOT basics. I repeat, NOT BASICS! When you shop from inexpensive places that are full of low quality items, shoot for thicker fabric items that rarely or never have to be put in the washing machine like statement jackets and shoot for natural fibers that are thick, lined well and feel substantial. Invest in your jeans, shoes ect.
#7: Don't skimp on athletic or performance wear. The higher price of nicer workout or outdoor wear may make you cringe, but can be very worth it. When you are wearing athletic wear that was really considered for the activity you are doing (and not just because it is cute) you can focus on the activity, your comfort and not the clothing. It needs to be your most durable part of your wardrobe.
#8: Think of your wardrobe as a place of investment and growth. Don't let trends drive you or make you, discover your style and stick to it. Once you have a versatile wardrobe you will have the flexibility to get creative with it.
Being mindful of what you put into it matters, and thinking about how each item you add to it affects the entire wardrobe is essential!
Thanks for reading! Hope this helps you and your shopping efforts! If you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out via social media or email
Georgia Caroline // RUBA RUBA