Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
When cotton shirts just aren’t enough, branch out with poplin, twill and broadcloth shirts to add a unique twist to your look. We’ll guide you through the ways to wear them to suit any style and occasion.
Buying a shirt is a pretty standard task for most guys. However, if you are like most men in Britain, (and probably everywhere else too!) you may not consider the fabric at all. Fabrics are the most overlooked aspect of clothing, even though they basically determine the cost, the look and the feel of the item. Because of this, it is essential to know about the fabric of your shirt before buying.
In this guide we will provide you with an overview of the different types of fabrics commonly used in dress shirts for men. By the end of this you will understand the different fabrics and you will for sure find your perfect shirt fabric that caters to all your individual needs!
How do you know which material is the best to wear? What’s the difference between these fabrics, and how important is it? Well the answer is very! Shirt fabrics, or “shirtings” as they are called by tailors, come in many different forms, and interestingly most fabric names refer to a particular method of weaving it.
Types of Shirt Fabric
There are many different types of shirt weaves from twill to poplin, denim to chambray and even dobby to flannel. As there are so many different types of fabric weaves, it would simply be an information overload for anyone! So, we have just cut it down to exploring three popular and common types of shirt weaves to make it easier for you to buy the best shirt for you.
We will provide an overview of three different types of fabrics commonly used in dress shirts. By understanding what the different weaves mean for a fabric you can be sure to find the ideal dress shirt fabric for your needs.
What is Poplin?
Poplin has been around since the 15th century, and was most commonly used to make winter appropriate dresses, making thin materials, like silk, sturdier and less likely to tear. It’s now an everyday staple weave and gives additional strength to various materials.
- Poplin is the most common fabric used in shirting!
- A poplin shirt is made from a plain weave of fine yarns, creating a thin, soft, smooth, long-lasting fabric
- Thin and breathable
- Can be slightly transparent due to its thinness
- Retains smoothness after being ironed
- Poplin fabric and Broadcloth fabric are extremely alike, and are sometimes equated to each other
Poplin vs Oxford
Oxford and poplin shirts are often seen as similar in style, but there are a few key differences that separate them from one another.
- Poplin shirts have a smoother, thinner finish than oxford shirts.
- Oxford shirts are composed of a symmetrical weave, whereas poplin has a plain, flat weave.
Poplin Shirt Style
Poplin shirts are very soft and comfortable, and this fabric is great for casual shirts! Colours find themselves easily at home here, and it takes sporty patterns and colour especially well.
The slim, long sleeve shirt shown below has a clean pocketless design. To complete the streamlined look pair with straight cut trousers and a pair of bright white plimsolls. You could also throw on a staple leather biker jacket to create an alternative edge to classic look.
Poplin is fairly light, durable and crisp which makes it ideal for formal occasions as well as casual. Its resistance to wrinkling has made it the classic choice for dress shirts, as it can maintain its ironed shape without too much maintenance.
Although a poplin shirt can be worn with anything and to anything, a plain white poplin shirt is ideal for formal occasions and can be dressed up with anything. Light coloured poplin shirts in blue and pink are slightly more casual but are still suit-appropriate, and are a good alternative to the standard white.
What is Twill?
Twill is probably one of the oldest weaves around, with its tight structure and ability to create strong, durable pieces gaining popularity in various temperamental climates. It’s still a popular weave, with well known variations such as houndstooth and herringbone still widely available today.
- Distinctive diagonal weave or texture
- Twills also have a bit of a shine to them, although it can depend on the colour too
- Soft, and a bit thicker and warmer than poplin
- The twill dress shirt has a tendency to wrinkle easily
- Not as breathable as poplin
- Can be difficult to remove stains (even though getting twill dirty is harder than other fabrics)
- Twill fabrics are a very tight weave that usually comes in exceptionally high thread counts.
Twill vs Poplin
Twill and poplin shirts are about a different as you can get, with the two weaves creating drastically different styles due to their weave.
- Twill has a tight weave with a high thread count, whereas poplin has a smoother, thin weave.
- Twill generally creates thicker, sturdy fabrics, while poplin is used for thinner, sleeker fabrics.
Twill Shirt Style
Twill is thought as the most versatile fabric as there are so many types of twill to choose from. Flannel, pick-and-pick and even denim are all twill weaves. Flannel is basically brushed twill that is less shiny and softer, which makes it casual and easy to incorporate into your wardrobe, while denim is a rougher, sturdier form of twill, perfect for jackets and over shirts. You can go for the look below and match your twill shirt with some tapered jeans and trainers for an all round look that can easily be accessorised for smarter or more casual occasions.
What is Broadcloth?
Going back to the medieval times, broadcloth was often use with wool to create tightly woven, hardwearing fabrics that were ideal for water resistant workwear. It’s popularity has remained, and it’s still used today, but to create thinner, more manageable fabrics.
PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest
- A tightly woven fabric with a very simple over-under weave and very little sheen
- This material is generally a thinner, lighter fabric
- Particularly, white broadcloth fabrics can be slightly transparent
- The smoothest out of all weaves thanks to their lack of texture
- Can also be the most prone to wrinkling
Broadcloth vs Oxford
Back to the oxford again, but it’s the one to measure up against. There are quite a few differences between these two weaves, and both create unique fabrics.
- Broadcloth tends to have a light, thin fabric, while oxford creates a rougher texture.
- Broadcloth has a tight weave that creates a flat, smooth fabric, while oxford has a looser weave along with a heavier thread.
Broadcloth Shirt Style
Broadcloth is thought of as the Cadillac car among shirtings. This means it is smart, classic and utterly stylish! A broadcloth shirt is ideal for men searching for as little texture as possible in order to create a smooth, clean addition to their outfit. This shirt is one of the most formal shirting for day-to-day wear, and is ideal paired with a suit and some classic patent leather shoes.
You’re not just constricted to formal wear with your broadcloth shirt though, and you can easily create a clean, stylised casual look by pairing it with a some straight leg slim fit jeans, lace up boots and a suede bomber jacket. Experiment with different textures when incorporating your broadcloth shirt into an outfit, as the subtle look of it means it’s easy to match with a variety of materials.
What Are Yarn Numbers & Ply?
- Yarn– Many brands and companies advertise their available fabrics with a yarn number as an indication of quality. A yarn number only tells you one thing: the diameter of the yarn used in the fabric. Thick fabric has a lower yarn number, because the yarn used to make the shirt is wider. Thinner fabric has a higher number. So while some dress shirts carry higher numbers some, equal in quality but just different in feel, shirts carry lower.
- Ply– Ply is a term used to describe the number of yarns that are spun together in the shirt fabric. Two ply means that two different yarns are twisted together before the shirting fabric is woven.
- Fabric– Fabric is created by weaving two sets of threads together. The “warp” threads run vertically on the shirt. “Weft” threads run horizontally. And some fabric uses two ply in one set of threads, and one ply in the other. Basically, not all two ply fabric is created equally.
Let’s Take a Look Back: Shirt History
The first shirt was described as a “highly sophisticated” linen shirt from a First Dynasty Egyptian tomb at Tarkan, c. 3000 BC!
Moving on to the Middle Ages, the shirt actually only existed as underwear for men! Back then they had no collar or cuffs, only a hem that could be tightened. These shirts didn’t look like what we’re use to today- no! There was no buttons and the shirt was placed on by pulling it over your head. The shirt was usually made out of linen and sometimes silk.
In the 18th century, the shirt went through an amazing transformation! It wasn’t worn as underwear anymore, but instead the collar grew into huge proportions and was decorated with frills, lace and even embroidery! But this massive snazzy collar only lasted for this time and soon shrunk back to what we’re use to seeing today.
During the golden days of tailoring in the 19th century, the shirt adapted again, but this time men only got their shirts from tailors, and the more common man wore shirts made by his wife. Here, the shirt was tailored more to the shape of the body, and it started to show more colourful designs. Interestingly, the white shirt, until the end of the 19th century, was considered to be a vital attribute of prosperity!
By the end of the First World War, the shirt again transformed- it incorporated buttons all the way down the front (much like what we’re use to seeing today)! And in the 1960’s the chest pocket was introduced due to the vest under the suit jacket becoming more and more uncommon.
Not only has shirts had a place in history, but it also has a place in politics!
Interestingly, during the 1920s and the 1930s parties use to distinguish themselves by the colour of their shirt. Brownshirts were worn by German Nazis of the SA and even the party leaders of Dravidar Kazhagam in India use to wear black shirts to symbolise atheism.
Your Guide to Poplin, Twill and Broadcloth Shirts, Cheat Sheet
- Poplin is the most common weave and create a thin, smooth and breathable fabric that’s ideal for dress shirts as well as casual ones.
- Twill has a high thread count and creates a thick, durable cloth that’s good for autumn and winter shirts as well as over shirts.
- Broadcloth has a thinner, mat finish which makes it ideal for dress shirts, and is the smoothest out of the three due to its lack of texture.
Well there you have it! Shirt fabrics are a very important aspect of the style, fit and the shirt itself and should be carefully deliberated! There are a huge range of different fabrics out there, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. It may seem overwhelming at first but don’t worry- experience is key!
As you try on different shirts with different fabrics you will soon understand and learn what works best for you, and the type of fabric you love. You’ll eventually develop a pretty instinctive touch for quality and develop your own favourite. From there you can begin to experiment and play with the patterns in different fabrics like a pro!