Becky dropped this into the Suggestion Box:
I found your discussion of ponte very useful and I’m wondering what other fibers you seek out and/or avoid. For example, I’ve noticed that many brands label certain rayon blends as machine washable but said garments quickly fade and pill, even on the delicate cycle. I’ve learned the hard way to avoid buying them. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that some (usually natural) fibers/fabrics that are labeled “dry clean only” actually hold up well to machine washing on the delicate cycle (and air drying). … Do you have any fiber-related rules of thumb that you follow when selecting clothes?
Fibers are surprisingly personal, I’ve found. With sensitivities, allergies, budgetary concerns, and upkeep all playing into fiber choices, we’ve all got our own favorites and nemeses. My favorite fibers depend heavily on which area of my body I’m clothing, so I’ll break it down for ya:
Silk: As I’ve said approximately 23 trillion times, silk is a magical fiber that will keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. People tell me it comes from silkworms, but I’m inclined to believe that it comes from A MAGICAL FAIRYLAND. My house is old and drafty, but even on finger-freezingly cold days, winding a silk scarf around my neck warms me instantly. Silk is my ideal scarf fiber because it is a 4-season option: Silk scarves in summer feel weightless and breezy, look effortless and chic.
Cashmere: I’m cold most of the time, but I DO refrain from wearing my cashmere scarves in August. However, this fiber is second only to silk in warming properties and just as soft. It’s got more loft, too, if you’d prefer something weighty or bulky for proportional reasons. I vastly prefer sweater-knit cashmere scarves, as they feel softer against the skin and trap body heat more effectively.
Cotton: I sweat constantly and hate dry cleaning. Therefore flattering, versatile cotton tops are my Holy Top Grails. I am most comfortable in cotton because I can wear it without worry: If I pit out my top, it’ll just get thrown into the laundry. If I spill something on it, I can glob some Palmolive onto it, wait a few days, and wash. Cotton with a hit of spandex can look a bit more sleek and polished than 100%, so blends work, too.
Merino wool: This fiber comes in a distant second. Very distant, in fact. But if I’m considering a non-cotton option, I gravitate toward the graceful drape and soft knit of Merino in cardigans and pullovers alike. It’s definitely warm, but in thinner weaves can work year-round, especially if you work in Icebox Office conditions during the summer.
Stretch twill: Every office job I ever held had a “business casual” dress code, so I never had to invest in lined wool or drapey crepe dress pants. And that means I’ve been faithful to stretch twill since my early twenties. It’s just polished enough to work in most office environments, but just casual enough to transition beautifully to weekend wear.
Ponte: Well, I’ve got a whole love letter to ponte written right here! At this point in my style evolution, the majority of my pants are slim-fitting, and my ponte pairs are stretchy and comfortable yet still look more structured and polished than regular leggings.
Wool blends: For many years, my favorite skirt in the whole wide world was a wool blend Banana Republic full skirt. Skirts are, by nature, extremely well ventilated so wool can be done in all but the hottest, most humid weather. And I’ve found that smooth-knit wool blends are durable, heavy, relatively wrinkle resistant, and work well in both formal and casual contexts. Of course “smooth-knit” is essential: Thick, fluffy wool weaves will look a bit odd on a hot July weekend.
Jersey knit: I’ve come to love the drape and elegance of a jersey maxi skirt, and have a few that are arty and asymmetric, too. This is definitely a casual fiber for skirts, but it works for my lifestyle.
Polyester: Oh, I know. But I’m just being honest. Polyester/spandex blends are comfortable, drape beautifully, refuse to wrinkle even at gunpoint, and are eternally washable. Vintage polyester seems to have more stink-retaining properties than the stuff you’ll find on the racks at Target.
Cotton blends: Straight-up cotton dresses seldom work for me. Voile is such a lovely idea, but in practice it wads, wrinkles, and attracts absolutely appalling amounts of lint. Cotton blends, however, seem to be less linty. Most of my dresses are cotton/spandex blends, but cotton mixes well with silk, linen, and many other fibers, too. And so long as it remains both absorbent and washable, it’s A-OK by me.
Rayon: Most of my twirly, floaty dresses are crafted from rayon, which has some of the fluidity of silk but is (generally) machine washable. Rayon is generally pretty thin, so this group of dresses is worn in warm weather.
Fibers that I avoid
Linen: Unless it’s a linen KNIT, I avoid this fiber altogether. I am too tightly wound to deal with the rumpled look that goes hand in hand with linen. It feels great on my body, but the wrinkling drives me batso.
Silk tops: Unless it’s a silk KNIT, I avoid buying and wearing silk tops. They’ve got the warm in winter/cool in summer thing going on, sure, but they also excel at showing pit stains. I’d feel more self-conscious in a long-sleeved silk blouse than I would in a cotton blend tube top. No lie.
Straight-up wool: I’ve got a few garments, including a sweater dress purchased in Iceland, and they are marvelously warm. They are also so unbearably itchy that I can hardly sit still. I stick to softer blends and weaves.
Becky also had some questions about care instructions, and I am very loathe to generalize since disobeying those cryptic little symbols on the garment tag can lead to disaster. So here’s what I’ll say: Always follow garment care instructions if you have any doubts at all, if a garment is delicate or valuable, or if you cannot risk any shape shifting or damage whatsoever. Just do what the tag says and rest easy.
If you’re willing to experiment a bit and live with potentially ruinous results, the basic rule of thumb is that natural fibers can be hand-washed in cold water and hung/laid flat to dry. This treatment is unlikely to destroy anything cotton, linen, wool, cashmere, silk, rayon, or other plant- or animal-derived material. Most polyester is washable, too, despite care instructions UNLESS it is blended with something exotic, has loads of embellishment, or any other mitigating factors.
And that is my extremely wussy advice on garment care instruction rebellion!
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