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Know Your Shirt Weaves

28 Jan, 2015 | Savile Row
If you’re buying business shirts online it pays to know your ‘weaves’. All of The Savile Row Company formal shirts are woven from the finest quality cotton. But it's the way in which that cotton is woven that plays the biggest part in giving each shirt its unique character. For example, a plain white twill shirt looks and feels very different from a plain white poplin shirt that’s cut in the same style. On screen, however, the disparity between the two may be much less apparent. Most men know exactly what they like when they see it. But not everybody knows the technical terms to look for when buying shirts for different seasons, looks and degrees of formality. The most popular shirt weaves for plain colour formal shirts are:
  • poplin
  • end-on-end
  • twill
  • herringbone
  • pinpoint
So here’s a quick unpicking of each of those weaves to help you choose your perfect shirt:

Poplin Shirt Weave

What is a poplin shirt? Poplin is the lightest shirt weave. So fine, even and smooth, it’s almost silky to the touch and very cool to wear. poplin_2_complete This silky smoothness comes from the way the fine threads are densely woven, evenly crossing under and over each other. Despite being so fine and light, poplin is a highly durable fabric. It’s not the easiest shirt fabric to iron, but when ironed it looks wonderfully sharp and crisp. A poplin shirt is perfect under suit jackets and blazers. Being so fine, it’s extremely breathable but, without a jacket or blazer, white poplin in particular could be a tad too transparent for anyone concerned about parading their chest hair.

End-on-End Shirt Weave

What is end-on-end cotton? End-on-end is just like poplin, except that it’s woven with one coloured thread and one white. end_on_end_2_complete As the threads are so fine, the white is only distinguishable when you’re up close. From a distance it creates a gentle ‘heathered‘ effect, softening the tone of the colour. So, for example, you’d always describe a blue end-on-end shirt as a ‘blue shirt’, not a ‘blue and white’ one. An end-on-end shirt, like a poplin one, looks fabulously crisp when ironed. It’s smooth to touch, cool to wear – and, given its fine-ness, a great deal more durable than you might expect. Unlike poplin, end-on-end is opaque. So no concerns about transparency here!

Twill Shirt Weave

What is a twill shirt? Twill is a beautiful, interesting and diverse weave: different threads yield dramatically different results. Technically, denim is a twill: take a close look at the inside of a pair of jeans and you’ll spot the characteristic diagonal pattern. And so is herringbone, another very popular shirt fabric (as described below.) twill_2_complete There’s a decidedly luxurious, elegant look to a fine twill shirt with its silky diagonal texture, lustrous sheen and gentle drape. (The ‘drape’ is the way a fabric hangs: so whilst poplin has its sharp, crisp look, twill hangs softly.) The fine-ness of twill derives from the fine-ness of the thread and the tightness of the weave. The fabric itself is more substantial than poplin, and highly durable. Being so soft, a twill shirt is easier to iron and more resistant to wrinkling.

Herringbone Shirt Weave

The name herringbone derives from the resemblance between the characteristic chevron pattern of this weave and … herring bones. It’s a traditional pattern that you see in other fabrics besides shirt cotton – particularly wool tweeds. herringbone_2_complete In shirt terms, however, a herringbone is a variety of twill weave. A fine herringbone has the same properties as a fine twill: luxurious elegance, lustrous sheen, gentle drape, wrinkle-resistance, softness and remarkable durability. But instead of a silky diagonal texture, it has a silky zigzag texture. If you want a ‘dressy’ shirt that will look fabulous worn with or without a jacket, you’ll never go wrong with a fine herringbone.

Pinpoint Shirt Weave

If poplin shirts are sharp and twills are luxurious, a pinpoint shirt will look as smart or as casual as you want it to. pinpoint_2_complete Pinpoint is a more substantial weave than poplin, but slightly finer than twill. In technical terms, pinpoint is a variety of ‘basket weave’, which means that equal numbers of ‘weft’ and ‘warp’ threads are crossed under and over each other. This gives the fabric a pleasing texture which has more character than the uniform smoothness of poplin, but is more subtle than twill. And has none of the twills’ lustre. Pinpoint is a soft fabric which breathes well, hangs softly – and marries ‘formal’ with ‘relaxed’ to perfection. Hence its frequent use to cut business shirts with button-down collars.

Poplin vs Twill

While there are some similarities in poplin and twill weaves, they are not woven in the same way. This creates different properties and distinct differences. Both weaves are soft and durable, but poplin is light, thin and smooth, whereas twill is thicker and heavier. They are strong materials, however poplin is often softer and more breathable. Poplin is generally better for the hotter months of the year, while twill will keep you warmer during winter.

What Shirt Weave is Best?

We’re tailors. We could talk warps and wefts, yarns and weaves till the proverbial cows come home. But the purpose of this guide is not to bore you rigid, or tell you which shirt weave you should choose. Instead, we simply hope to make your shirt-buying experience easier. So we hope the above is useful and you now know your shirt weaves. If you’d like to know more, just give us a call or leave a comment and we’ll do all we can to help. Shop our full collection of men's shirts, including a wide range of formal and casual designs. If you're not sure what shirt to buy, you can take a look at our guide to finding the right shirt every occasion.
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