What Are You Wearing? A Look into the Materials in Your Clothes
You walk into a store to peruse the latest tops and dresses on the racks. But as you're looking through, what makes you decide whether you want something? For most of us -- besides the obvious factors of price and design -- it's simply how the fabric feels and looks. So how much do you really know about the most popular fabrics being used today?
Here's a breakdown of the 7 most common natural and synthetic fabrics in your clothing -- from what they're made of, to why we love them, and why we don't.
Cotton is the best-selling fabric in the United States, and one of the best-selling in the world. It's naturally derived from the cotton plant, which is exceptionally durable. It can travel thousands -- yes, thousands -- of miles by wind, even across the ocean. As a result, it is a common fabric all across the globe. Fun fact: did you know that cotton is used in the production of U.S. money (75% of the bill!), and also gunpowder?
Why we love it: Cotton is literally the "fabric of our lives." It's durable, soft and comfortable. It breathes well and is a part of our daily lives. It's extremely easy to take care of and good for the environment.
What we're not crazy about: Cotton will wear down over time, losing shape and color after a certain number of washes.
Linen is a natural fabric derived from the flax plant -- similar to flax seeds. It has been used for thousands of years, traced back to the Ancient Egyptians who used it for wrapping mummies.
Why we love it: It's cool and lightweight, perfect for summer months. It breathes well and while it's casual, has a certain elegance about it.
What we're not crazy about: Have you ever worn linen that didn't wrinkle in about 30 seconds? If so, please tell us your secret. This fabric wrinkles so fast that it's literally alarming. Whenever possible, hang your linen clothes, don't fold!
Polyester was created in 1951, and was hailed as a miracle textile. It's technically composed of polyethylene terephthalate, in which condensation polymers combine to create synthetic fibers. It's made through the linking of several esters, which are formed by a reaction between alcohol and carboxylic acid. It is generally manufactured from petroleum.
Why we love it: It's extremely durable, and can be worn over and over again without losing its color or shape. As a synthetic fabric, it's easy to care for and doesn't easily wrinkle.
What we're not crazy about: It doesn't "breathe" like cotton or linen, and can be itchy. It's also not biodegradable -- so those who are environmentally-conscious will want to steer clear.
Silk is a natural fiber derived from the Chinese silkworm. The fibers of the cocoon of the silkworm are typically in two forms: mulberry silk (in which the worms feed on mulberry leaves) and wild silk (also known as Tussah silk, wherein they feed on oak leaves). The worms build their cocoons before turning into a moth, and this is where the fiber lies: so the cocoons are boiled and spun into silk.
Why we love it: Silk is luxurious and soft, reflecting light so it has a beautiful sheen. It's a natural fabric.
What we're not crazy about: It's definitely not vegan, and controversial to many. Not only is the fabric expensive and hard to care for, but it involves killing the silkworm in the process. Many are against silk for these reasons.
Nylon was initially created as an alternative to silk, and is often referred to as a polyamide. It's synthetic, having been created in the 1930s. It replaced silk for stockings, which is what gave them the name "nylons." Part of a family of synthetic polymers, it is one of the most common polymers, a thermoplastic, silky material made of repeating units linked by amide bonds.
Why we love it: Nylon is strong, inexpensive and versatile. It's a good option for those who are against silk for its controversial properties.
What we're not crazy about: Too much washing and drying can make the fabric pill, and it will melt at high temperatures.
Wool is derived from the hair of sheep, and has been used for thousands of years. Other common forms are cashmere, from the Indian Cashmere Goat, mohair from the North African Angora Goat, and angora from the Angora Rabbit. It's different from other common animal hair because the individual strands are coated with scales and are tightly crimped, also coated with a wax known as lanolin.
Why we love it: wool is hypoallergenic and super duper warm (even when wet!). It is soft (especially when it's cashmere) and it doesn't pass electricity easily -- great for those of us who HATE static electricity.
What we're not crazy about: It can sometimes be itchy, and some are against it because it comes from animals. If you wash it at a high temperature, it's bound to shrink... a lot.
Rayon is a fabric that can mimic silk, linen or cotton and is manufactured by regenerating cellulose fibers. It's made from "naturally occurring polymers," but is manufactured, so it's not technically synthetic or natural.
Why we love it: It's soft, smooth and comfortable, draping well and holding color very well.
What we're not crazy about: It decays faster than cotton, so does not age well. Also, manufacturing rayon produces a lot of waste.
Photo Credit: Inti St. Clair/Getty Images, Ian Trower/Getty Images