The Fabric & Materials Guide
Don't know your shearling from your seersucker? Learn about the types and qualities of different fabrics and other materials used in modern menswear.
1. Argyle - While the argyle pattern originated in the 17th-century Scottish Highlands, it’s certainly not old-fashioned. Taken from the traditional tartan of Clan Campbell, the pattern features repeating diamond shapes with intersecting diagonal lines and comes in a variety of colours and sizes. Long associated with the golf course, it looks great on your socks and sweaters off the links, too.
2. Brass - An alloy of copper and zinc, brass can often be used as an imitation of gold or as a semi-precious metal in its own right. Brass is often quite shiny, and it most frequently appears in a man’s wardrobe for his buttons, belt buckles, shoe buckles, tie bars, cufflinks and other jewelry. It must be regularly polished to maintain its bright gleam.
3. Calfskin Leather - Calfskin, or calf leather, is a leather or membrane produced from the hide of a calf, or juvenile domestic cattle. Particularly valuable because of its softness and fine grain, calfskin is also known for its durability. Often, just the word "calf" is used.
4. Cashmere - Cashmere, woven from the wool of khel goats, is gathered by a combing technique. Combed cashmere creates the finest and best quality wool. Because the individual hairs of a cashmere goat are very thin, they produce a soft and lightweight material that provides excellent insulation. Cashmere sweaters make an excellent layering piece because of this, and are exceptionally comfortable against the skin.
5. Cotton - Still one of the most versatile and widely used textiles today, cotton is a natural fibre. Cotton plants grow in tropical and subtropical climates around the world, with long-staple cotton being the most valuable. The material can be woven into a huge range of fabrics suitable for shirts, socks, underwear, jeans, chinos, sweaters, jackets and T-shirts.
6. Coyote Fur - As a trim for hoods and collars, coyote fur traps warm air and protects the wearer's face from extreme cold. While much fur comes from coyote farms, some companies such as Canada Goose will only use fur from wild animals trapped in the far North (in hunts that are strictly regulated and that support Native Canadian communities).
7. Deerskin Leather - Deerskin refers to a garment made from the hide of a deer. Used for decades in clothing and shoes, it is renowned for its extremely soft feel and for the superior insulation it provides.
8. Denim - Denim, which is made from cotton twill or cotton-synthetic blends, is primarily used for making the jeans we know and love – which originated in 18th century France for sailor’s trousers. Now that designer jeans are big business, a new vocabulary has come with it: raw denim, meaning unwashed after the dyeing process; selvedge, a type of weave that prevents fraying or unravelling; and sulfur dyeing, which produces jeans in a rainbow of colours.
9. Down - Birds use their undercoat of down feathers to stay warm, and so do we. These insulating feathers make wonderfully warm and lightweight coats. Most down comes from ducks or geese, with goose down as the superior product because of its higher fill power. Fill power refers to the amount of down that can be crammed in per cubic inch. The more down used, the warmer the insulation.
10. Enamel - A decorative finish, porcelain enamel lends colour to many men’s accessories, including cufflinks, tie bars and money clips. Made by melting powdered glass, enamel as it hardens adheres to metal, creating a hard, shiny coating. This technique is used not only for jewellery but in painting and other artwork as well.
11. Flannel - A napped woolen or worsted cloth, flannel takes its name from the Welsh word for the fabric, gwlanen. It is best known in the context of grey flannel pants, one of the traditionally smarter accompaniments to a navy blazer. But be careful if you go shopping for “a pair of flannels” in England; there, flannel also means “facecloth.” Cotton flannel, prized for its breathability, is usually reserved for sportsmen’s shirts and trousers.
12. Fur - This country was founded on the trade of beaver pelts, and we’ve been swaddling ourselves in fur ever since. Soft, warm and luxurious, fur linings and trimmings for coats, gloves and hats are unparalleled for men on chilly winter days.
13. Lambskin Leather - Softness is a distinctive trait of leather made from the dressed hide of a lamb (young sheep). Easily made into suede and nubuck leathers, lambskin benefits from regular treatment for its upkeep.
14. Linen - A strong fabric woven from flax, linen has a history that goes back even further than biblical times. Smooth and at least twice as strong as cotton, it is delightfully cool in hot weather when made into shirts, jackets, pants or suits. Its one drawback is a tendency to crease and wrinkle, though men who take pleasure in their linen summer gear have been known to remark that this merely adds character.
15. Mother-of-Pearl - Also known as nacre, mother-of-pearl is made from the inner shell layer of pearl oysters and mussels, the same substance that makes the layers of a pearl. It is very strong and its luminosity makes it desirable for a variety of men’s accessories, such as inlay on shaving sets, cufflinks, tie bars and buttons.
16. Patent Leather - Patent leather goes back to 1818, when Seth Boyden of Newark invented a high-gloss finish using linseed oil. Virtually waterproof and exceptionally shiny, the leather immediately was favoured for formal shoes. The labour-intensive process meant that only the wealthy could afford them, which further increased their value. Today, high-gloss resin has replaced linseed oil, yet the patent leather shoe remains a symbol of formality.
17. Piqué - Created by a unique weaving process, piqué fabric is generally made of cotton. Piqué is famous for being the fabric of choice for polo shirts as well as the formal white-tie dress shirt. Microscopic holes in the fabric keep the wearer cool and wick away moisture, which is why many polo shirts use this fabric.
18. Rhodium Plated - Rhodium is a member of the platinum family that is used to form a scratch-resistant coating to jewellery. Often, white gold is rhodium plated because it imparts a shiny finish to the gold and helps it to appear whiter. Found on most white metal jewellery for these reasons, rhodium plating is a great option for wedding bands and watches and any jewellery that is worn on a regular basis.
19. Seersucker - A lightweight fabric with crinkled stripes, seersucker is created during the weaving process. The British discovered it in India, admired its light weight and breathability, and began to weave it out of cotton, using it for jackets and suits that felt welcomingly cool in the subcontinental climate. An unlined seersucker jacket is still one of the most comfortable things to wear on a summer’s day.
20. Shearling - Shearling is a skin from a recently sheared sheep or lamb that has been tanned and dressed with the clipped wool left on. It has a suede surface on one side and a wool surface on the other. Usually the suede side is worn outward.
21. Silk - One of the most luxurious fabrics in the world, silk is woven from the cocoon threads of silkworms and other cocoon-producing insects. Silk was first developed in China as early as 3500 BC, and silk trading began in the Han Dynasty, 200 BC. Today the fabric plays an important part in a man’s wardrobe in ties, pocket squares and silk-wool blends for suits and sweaters.
22. Sterling Silver - Silver is classified as sterling when it is an alloy of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper or other metals. Because pure silver is too soft to create functional objects, the sterling alloy is used to create fine silver products. Often It is used in money clips, tie clips, cufflinks and other accessories.
23. Storm System® - Storm System is a trademarked technology developed by the Italian designers and fabric experts Loro Piana. The process makes natural fibres such as wool and wool-cashmere blends thoroughly waterproof and wind-resistant. Part of the secret lies in the thin, extremely light and transparent micro-molecular membrane applied to the back of the fabric, which protects the body while leaving it free to breathe.
24. Suede - Suede is a material usually made from napped leather, most commonly from the hides of lambs. Used for jackets, shirts and outerwear, suede may be most prominently featured in a man’s shoe wardrobe, usually in the form of desert boots. It is a more delicate material than leather, and must be treated and cared for on a regular basis.
25. Tweed - Tweed is a rough, hard-wearing woollen fabric originally made in various areas of Scotland from the Cheviots to the Western Isles. Its weight and durability made it ideal for outdoor clothing while the many different colours woven into the fabric lent it a measure of camouflage that sportsmen found useful. The word tweed is derived from the word tweel, the Scottish word for twill. Tweed comes in a wide and merry range of patterns and colours, many of which have been borrowed by designers and used for much lighter fabrications.
26. Velvet - A type of woven tufted fabric in which the cut threads are evenly distributed, velvet has a short dense pile, giving it a distinctive soft feel. By extension, the word velvety means "smooth like velvet." Velvet can be made from either synthetic or natural fibers.
27. Wool - Made from the hair or fur of a variety of animals, wool is most commonly made by shearing the coat of sheep and spinning it into yarn, which can then be knitted or woven. A wool's quality is measured by the fineness of the individual hairs. The thinnest wool from merino sheep produces the softest and most luxurious woollen sweaters and suit fabrics. Coarser wool can be used for outerwear.