Tired of wearing t-shirts and wanting to graduate to button-up shirts? That’s an excellent milestone to reach in your style journey because it opens up so many options for personal style. However, shopping for a button-up shirt isn’t as simple as shopping for t-shirts.
What’s an oxford shirt? Poplin? Broadcloth? Twill? Is it really necessary to know the differences? Can’t you just grab a shirt off the rack and wear it if you like? Of course, you can. But if you want to not only look your best but feel your best, it’s important to know why you shouldn’t wear an oxford shirt to an executive meeting or why you shouldn’t wear chambray in the winter.
What Is a Shirt Fabric?
Men’s clothing is often made from three main materials: cotton, linen, and wool. Cheaper brands may blend polyester with their cotton or wool to cut costs; specialized brands may incorporate other synthetic materials like nylon and spandex. Since the majority of men’s shirts are made from cotton, we’ll focus on cotton-based fabrics in this article.
Cotton is turned into yarn, which is like a spool of cotton thread at a certain thickness. Fabric is created by taking two yarns and weaving them together. Depending on the weaving pattern and the thicknesses of the yarns woven together, you get different fabrics that have different appearances and feel different to the touch.
When shopping for shirts, especially in higher-end stores like Brooks Brothers or Banana Republic, you may find yarn numbers on the label. The yarn number indicates the thickness (diameter) of the yarn used in the fabric; a lower yarn number is thicker while a higher yarn number is thinner. There is no correlation between yarn number and shirt quality.
Oxford cloth is thick but soft, making it a casual fabric that’s comfortable to wear. Because of their casual nature, they often come with button-down collars. (Learn more about shirts with button-down collars.) In non-white oxford shirts, only one of the two yarns is dyed while the other is left white, resulting in a pleasing textured appearance even in solid colors.
Pinpoint oxford cloth is the same except with finer yarns, giving a smoother feel with less texture, allowing for a more formal look. Royal oxford cloth is even finer than pinpoint oxford and the most formal of oxford shirts, reserved for wear with expensive suits.
In the US, poplin is synonymous with broadcloth.
Poplin weaves a fine yarn with a thicker yarn, resulting in a smooth and soft fabric that’s comfortable to wear. Unlike oxford cloth, both yarns are dyed when making patterned poplin shirts, so the colors appear richer and more vibrant. Poplin is more often found in business and business casual shirts for office settings.
When the two yarns used in poplin have contrasting colors that produce a heathered effect, it’s called end-on-end. Structurally, an end-on-end shirt is the same as a poplin shirt.
Chambray is a type of poplin that’s made with thicker yarn. It’s woven with one white yarn and one colored yarn—often a light blue color—resulting in a fabric that looks and feels like lightweight denim. Chambray shirts are extremely comfortable and best worn in the summer and fall.
Twill fabric is immediately recognizable by its diagonal weave structure. Whereas the threads on most shirt fabrics run up and down, twill shirts are woven in a pattern that creates a 45-degree visual appearance. Twill is thicker and warmer than poplin but not as breathable, and tends to wrinkle easily. Best worn in the colder months in business settings.
Herringbone is a variation of twill, except the diagonals are woven in columns with alternating directions. This gives it a distinctive zigzag pattern like no other fabric. The width of the alternating columns can vary from shirt to shirt. Otherwise, it has all the same properties as twill.