You can make or buy dresses as simple as a maxi dress for the beach or as complicated as a billowing wedding dress! With so many dress styles available, it makes sense that you also have a huge variety of fabric types to choose from. So, what is the best fabric for dresses?
The best fabric for dresses includes several popular types of cotton material like poplin, gingham jersey knit, and even corduroy and denim. For flowy dresses, rayon, nylon, polyester sheers, or linen all make good choices. For formal dresses, silk, satin, and velvet will look more luxurious.
In this article, you will find out how to pick the right fabric for your dress or sewing project. You will discover the seventeen most popular types of fabric for dresses. Finally, you will learn what fabric works for certain dresses, such as an A-line or a maxi dress.
- Best Fabric for Dresses: 18 Top Choices
- How to Choose the Right Fabric for Clothing
- What is the Most Common Dressmaking Fabric?
- What is the Best Cotton Fabric for a Dress?
- Best Fabric For:
- What is the Best Fabric to Use When Making a Dress?
Best Fabric for Dresses: 18 Top Choices
This quick overview of the seventeen best fabrics for dresses will help you pick just the right material.
Most of the time, lightweight fabric that drapes well, such as many types of cotton materials, works best for dresses. If you want a more structured dress, look for a heavier fabric like wool, corduroy, or satin.
1. Cotton LawnCotton lawn uses a plain weave structure made out of cotton threads. This means that the threads inside the fabric form the over-under crosshatch pattern you think of with basketweaving.
This lightweight fabric also uses fine threads with a high thread count, making it soft and extremely drapable.
But cotton lawn does remain opaque Cotton voile–its slightly thinner cousin–can become partially sheer and has an even more lightweight feel.
Cotton lawn makes a great choice for blouses, skirts, and summer dresses. It has a crisp texture and just enough body to provide a little structure while maintaining its light and soft feel.
2. KnitsKnit fabrics feature a special looped thread construction made on looms that knit or loop threads instead of weaving them traditionally. This creates a super flexible, slightly stretchy cloth.
Depending on the type of knitting used, you can get unique types of knitted materials. These include ribbing, which has distinctive raised lines o the surface of the cloth, terry clot that has fuzzy nubbins all over it, and jersey knit.
One thing to keep in mind with knit materials is that they can contain multiple different fabric fibers. For example, you can have knits made out of cotton, polyester, or out of a blend of two or three fibers.
Most maxi dresses use knit fabric. So do pretty much all t-shirts and plenty of other types of clothing!
3. Jersey KnitsThe most popular type of knit fabric for apparel is jersey knit. This material uses the most basic knitted structure, which akes loops and draws each new loop of thread through the previous loop.
This makes a flat, smooth material on both sides. If you look closely, you can see rows of loops in straight lines across the material. These lines are called wales.
This is the kind of cloth you will find in almost all t-shirts and maxi dresses, cardigans, and other types of informal dresses.
Jersey knits come in several different weights. Usually, dresses made from jersey knit will use a lightweight and thin version of the material that drapes softly.
4. PoplinPoplin features a plain weave structure that contains larger weft yarns and finer warp yarns. This creates a unique ribbed pattern on the surface of the fabric. Poplin is traditionally made out of cotton, though it does often contain polyester instead today.
You can also find many variations on poplin because it’s such a popular material. Thee include silk poplin, stretch poplin, and lycra stretch poplin.
The unique structure of this fabric makes it great for blouses, slightly stiffer dresses, and items like jackets.
5. GinghamGingham has a two-colored checked pattern. Think Dorothy’s dress in the Wizard of Oz or your grandma’s red and white tablecloth. This fabric uses two colors of yarn woven in a checked pattern that alternates squares of color.
Because of its basic plain-weave structure, you will see the same pattern when you flip over the cloth and look at the reverse side.
Gingham traditionally uses cotton but can also feature synthetic fibers today. This cheerful fabric can come in several weights, but you often see it in a dressmaking weight perfect for blouses and dresses.
6. ChambrayChambray features a plain weave structure containing differently colored warp and weft threads. Traditionally, chambray uses one blueish-grey thread and one white thread, but you can also find it in many colors today. In color, this material looks a bit like denim, but it does not have the characteristic twill weave structure used in denim material.
Chambray typically has a high thread count, a soft feel, and a lightweight weave. These factors all make it a great material for skirts and dresses.
7. CalicoCalico is a type of unfinished, unbleached cotton that originated in India. It goes through many of the same processing stages as other cotton fabrics but does not complete the levels of manufacturing that go into a material like denim or poplin.
Instead, it remains somewhat coarse, rough, and very sturdy. In fact, some calico fabric still has cotton seeds stuck inside its weave!
Because of its cheaper and less finished condition, calico typically comes in its plain, unbleached state. It makes great mock-ups for dresses if you like to sew your own clothes. Because it’s so cheap, you can also find a lot of dyed calico bags, aprons, and other items on sale!
Dresses made out of calico often have a rustic or whimsical look because of the coarser nature of the fabric’s weave.
8. DenimDenim fabric contains cotton yarns in a dual-colored twill weave. Traditionally, this fabric uses warp threads dyed indigo blue and weft threads left undyed. This creates the blue-grey denim color made so popular by blue jeans.
A twill weave creates rows of diagonal threads, or ribs, on the surface of the fabric. This happens because every warp thread crosses over two or more weft threads in this type of weaving structure. Apparel like jeans often uses medium-weight denim, but skirts and dresses will usually feature lightweight denim with a little more drape.
9. PolyesterPolyester is the most widely used material for clothing in the world. This synthetic material comes from highly processed petroleum by-products and is cheaper to manufacture than a natural material like cotton. You can find polyester versions of almost every fabric imaginable, ranging from sheers to velvets to plain-weave printed cloth.
The good thing about using polyester fabric for a dress is that it will cost less. The bad thing is that polyester may contribute to plastic pollution in the environment. It also feels less breathable than a natural material like cotton.
The best way to find out if a dress contains polyester is to check the manufacturer’s label inside the garment or read the product description online. If you want to buy fabric by the yard to make a dress, you will quickly realize that many of the bolts of material at your favorite sewing store contain 100% polyester fibers!
10. LinenLinen comes from flax plants and has an all-natural, loose, breathable nature. It typically has a loose or slubbed weave and is often used undyed to celebrate its natural beauty.
Linen costs more than cotton to produce, but it does create a fabulous fabric. It has high absorbency, remains extremely breathable, and feels very soft. It also takes a lot less water to grow linen than cotton, so this material is more eco-friendly as well.
For dresses, linen creates a casual, elegant kind of dress. Linen does wrinkle easily, though, so it requires some special care.
11. Organza/SheersOrganza often weighs barely more than a feather and has a sheer, plain weave structure. It looks slightly shimmery because the individual threads get twisted into a spiral before weaving them together.
If you look at it very closely, you can see tiny holes in the weave. More holes generally mean a higher-quality, even more, see-through organza.
In the early days of its production, this material contained expensive silk. Today, almost all organza contains affordable polyester and comes in every shade and color imaginable.
Besides fluffy dresses, organza sees a lot of use in sheer curtain inserts, wedding veils, and stage costumes. You can also find all kinds of variations on organza, such as embroidered organza, crushed organza, and shot organza which uses two different colors of threads in its weave.
12. RayonRayon is one of the most popular dress fabrics in the world due to its affordable synthetic nature and silky texture. Technically, rayon is semi-synthetic. It comes from the cellulose inside various kinds of wood or bamboo, but the plant fibers become highly processed through several chemical treatments after that.
Rayon feels soft, smooth, and has a shiny appearance, much like silk. It almost always comes in a very lightweight weave, too.
You can find rayon in different types of weave, such as a satin weave instead of a plain weave. But most often, you see it in a semi-sheer plain weave with all kinds of fun designs printed on it.
Rayon works very well for any drapey or floaty dress. It also offers quite a lot of breathability and absorbs moisture so well that it also gets used in some types of sportswear.
13. NylonLike polyester, nylon is a fully synthetic fabric made from petrochemicals. Scientists created this material during WWII as a silk substitute because soldiers desperately needed silk for parachutes! Today, nylon is used for sportswear and waterproof items such as jackets and tents.
On its own, nylon feels kind of plasticky. Manufacturers often blend it with other fibers like polyester to create more wearable garments.
Rayon has somewhat replaced the popularity of nylon in dressy clothing. You still see nylon in its silky form used quite often for stockings and dresses, too.
14. SilkSilk comes from the cocoons made by silkworms–it takes 2,500 silkworms to create enough thread for just one pound of silk! This ancient textile remains one of the most loved and most expensive types of cloth for making dresses even after thousands of years.
Perhaps more than any other kind of fabric, silk has a unique and special nature. It famously has something called a luster or sheen, meaning that it has a special shimmer when you look at it. It also holds rich colors and feels soft and smooth to the touch.
You can find silk woven in several different ways. Plainweave silk is lovely all on its own, but you can also find silk in a thicker, shinier satin weave, in special patterns, or even in embroidered styles. Because it is so expensive, you see silk used often in wedding gowns or formal wear.
15. SatinTechnically, satin is a special kind of weave, not a particular type of cloth. But we use the term “satin” to mean a shiny, often heavy, type of fancy cloth as well! Properly speaking, though, satin weave means a thread structure in which at least four weft threads cross over just one warp thread.
This special weave makes a soft, shiny surface on the top of the cloth and a rougher surface on the underside of the material.
Originally, satin usually contained silk, but that became prohibitively expensive. Today, most satin contains polyester fibers. Satin has a shiny and soft surface, drapes well, and has very good durability due to its unique weave.
You can find almost a dozen different types of satin. These include Duchess satin, which has a stiff feel and less sheen, charmeuse satin, which has a very lightweight weave, and antique satin, which uses unevenly spun threads to create a slightly imperfect surface.
You see satin most often in formal dresses or wedding gowns.
16. VelvetVelvet has a thick, deep pile on its surface which feels soft and looks lustrous. This gorgeous, heavier material comes from a special weaving technique.
Velvet is made on a double loom, which weaves two pieces of cloth together at the same time in a sort of fabric sandwich. Then a special knife slices through the middle of the sandwich, separating the two pieces of velvet and leaving the thick, soft pile on the surface of both!
A long time ago, velvet usually contained silk fibers. Today, almost 100% of the velvet sold around the world contains polyester instead, as this costs much, much less to produce! Velvet still costs quite a bit because it requires that special double weave technique.
You can find many different kinds of velvet, such as velour or stretch velvet, crushed velvet that has a crumpled surface, or embossed velvet that has designs stamped into it with hot metal plates.
Because it usually has a slightly heavier feel, velvet makes excellent cool-weather formal clothes.
17. WoolWool is a protein-based fabric that comes from fleecy animals like sheep, goats, and even alpacas! Wool offers all kinds of benefits, such as warmth, breathability, moisture repulsion, and a soft texture.
You can find many different types of wool based on the animal the fibers come from, such as merino wool from merino sheep or angora wool that comes from angora goats. You can also find wool made using multiple different weaving techniques, like plain weave and twill weave.
Because it provides so much warmth, wool dresses usually work best in cold climates or during the winter. Wool works great for both formal and casual dresses and sees a lot of use in dress pants, socks, and coats.
18. CorduroyCorduroy fabric makes stiffer, more sculpted dresses with a unique ribbed appearance. Corduroy comes from weaving cotton or polyester threads in a special twill weave structure that creates thick ribs on the surface of the material. This fabric usually has a heavier weight and makes excellent cool-weather dresses and blazers.
The different thicknesses of the ribs on the surface of the fabric are called “wales.” When you buy corduroy, it will come with a description of how many wales per square inch it contains–bigger ribs mean fewer wales, while smaller ribs mean more wales per square inch.
How to Choose the Right Fabric for Clothing
Picking the perfect dress for the occasion or the perfect material for your next sewing project gets easier when you consider the key characteristics of the cloth. These factors include the fabric’s durability, weight, and thread count.
The durability of a kind of fabric means how well it can keep its shape, structure, and appearance after use and washing. In general, synthetic fabrics tend to have higher durability than natural fabrics. Other factors that can determine the durability of fabric include the tensile strength of the fibers in the weave and the abrasion resistance of the material.
Most dress fabrics do not have super high durability. This is because you often want a lightweight, drapable fabric for a dress, and this kind of material does not have great abrasion resistance or tensile strength!
That said, certain materials like polyester usually allow machine washing and will reclaim their shape after going through the washer and dryer. Cotton dresses may require cold water washing and air drying, while silk or wool dresses need dry cleaning.
Colorfastness describes the ability of the fabric to maintain its color without dye bleeding away during washing. Most modern textiles have great colorfastness, but some natural fabrics may require special washing. Make sure you read the care label inside a store-bought garment before washing it for the first time!
Colorfastness can also describe how well a fabric resists fading. Generally speaking, synthetic materials like polyester have excellent colorfastness since they undergo a special synthetic dyeing process that chemically bonds dye particles deep inside the polyester fibers. Cotton and other water-absorbent materials typically use water-soluble dyes, which may not remain colorfast.
Some fabric types shrink more easily than others when exposed to heat, friction, and moisture. Once again, natural materials like cotton and wool can shrink quite badly, especially in the washing machine! Synthetic materials typically do not shrink easily.
That said, most cotton clothing goes through a preshrinking process during manufacturing. This means that you can safely wash your jeans and tees without worrying about them shrinking in the dryer!
Wool, silk, and delicate materials should never go in the dryer. These fabrics typically require dry cleaning to avoid shrinking.
Color and Style
Of course, the color and style of the material will play a big role in helping you select the right fabric, too! You will want to pick a material that looks and feels right for the occasion. For a formal event, you may want a heavier, silkier, or shiner fabric.
For an everyday occasion, you probably want to focus on a lighter, more comfortable fabric that breathes well and is easy to clean.
Some types of dresses have traditional materials associated with them. For instance, a maxi dress always uses knit fabric. A wedding dress almost always uses white satin.
The weight of a fabric describes its weight and thickness. The tricky thing with fabric weights is that different types of materials use different weight systems. For example, denim is almost always weighed in ounces per square yard. Silk uses something called a momme, which is a complicated way of measuring the weight and density of the cloth.
On top of that, most of the world, except for the United States, uses the metric system, so you may also see fabric measured in GSM or grams per square meter.
But no matter which weight system your material uses, a higher weight tells you that the fabric uses larger yarns and will have a thicker or denser weave. It will feel heavier in your hand than cloth with a lower weight!
Choosing the right fabric weight will make sure that your dress either has structure or drapes fluidly. Lighter weight fabrics usually drape more, while medium or heavy weight fabrics will provide more dimension and structure in a dress.
Thread count tells you how many threads one square inch of fabric contains. This can provide really helpful information because it also indicates the fineness of the yarns in the material.
For example, a thread count of two hundred means that two hundred threads take up the space of one square inch when woven together. But a thread count of 400 means that twice as many threads fit into the same space, meaning that the weaver used finer threads that will feel softer.
You often think about thread count more when selecting sheets and bedding than picking a dress material. But thread count will also help you understand how soft a dress will feel.
Finally, you also want to consider the cleanability of a fabric before you pick it for your dress. The easiest way to find out how to care for a ready-made dress is to check the care label inside. This will tell you if you can wash the dress or if it needs dry cleaning or any other special treatment.
If you plan to use fabric by the yard, you can usually find this information stamped onto the end of the cardboard inside the bolt or in the product description for an online sale.
What is the Most Common Dressmaking Fabric?
Cotton and polyester are the two most commonly used types of dressmaking fabric. Cotton materials like jersey knit, cotton lawn, and poplin make up many casual dresses sold. One of the reasons cotton remains so popular is that it is lightweight and breathable, making it super comfortable for casual dresses.
You can find almost any material made out of polyester, including formal fabrics like satin and velvet or informal fabrics like jersey knit. Polyester costs much less to produce than many other types of cloth. This makes it extremely popular in ready-made clothing.
What is the Best Cotton Fabric for a Dress?
The best cotton fabric for a dress depends on the style you want, such as a maxi or an A-line dress.
In general, lightweight cotton such as lawn, voile, or some knits works best for dresses. They can drape or hang easily, while stiffer, thicker cotton holds more shape and does not drape as well.
In some cases, you may want a dress with a clear shape, such as a skirt that hangs in a particular manner. You may want to use poplin, denim, or corduroy for this kind of dress.
Best Fabric For:
If you know what kind of dress you want, it may help to know which fabrics work best for that type of garment. If you plan to buy fabric by the yard to sew your gown, make sure you read the fabric recommendations on the back of the pattern. This will suggest the best type and weight of fabric for the project.
The key factor to consider when buying or making a summer dress is the fabric’s breathability. You do not want to feel stiflingly hot and trapped in your own sweat inside your lovely outfit!
Any fabric made out of cotton will provide excellent breathability. Gingham, lawn, or light knits will all feel cool and comfortable. Rayon also breathes well and has a silky, lightweight feel that can allow you to wear fancier clothes without feeling overheated.
The main thing to look for in a flowy dress is a lightweight or even sheer fabric. Lighter fabrics tend to drape fluidly, creating a soft, flowy outline.
A few fabrics that drape well include chiffon, voile, lawn, and silk. Heavier material like velvet also drapes well.
Maxi dresses almost always feature knit fabric. Typically, a lightweight jersey knit makes the best material for a maxi dress because it feels soft and does not hang too heavily off you. Other popular choices include lycra knit material that has a silkier texture but does not feel as breathable.
The reason maxi dresses almost always use knit fabrics is that knit have so much stretch in them. This works perfectly with the particular shape of a maxi dress!
The best fabric for an a-line dress will have more weight and offer more structure. You will still want to think of lightweight or midweight fabrics, but cotton materials like poplin and gingham work well for this instead of the more drapey cotton lawn or voile. Many types of polyester can work as well.
A-line dresses can look super formal when made out of satin or super casual when made out of gingham, denim, or calico. You can also find A-line dresses made out of stretchy midweight knits–brands like Calvin Klein offer many ready-made dresses made out of this material.
The best way to tell if fabric for a dress will drape is to lay a section of the material over the back of your hand. If it sticks out stiffly on either side of your hand, it will not drape. If it hangs like a loose waterfall from your hand, it will drape!
Lots of fabric drapes beautifully, especially lightweight materials. Both lightweight and midweight knits will hang nicely as well. Some heavier materials like velvet and satin also drape under their own weight.
Pinafore dresses often use midweight to heavyweight fabrics like denim, corduroy, or wool. This kind of dress often goes over the top of a shirt or blouse. Sometimes you see sleeveless pinafores with straps that button over the shoulders in the front as well.
Either way, you want a fabric with some structure for this garment.
What is the Best Fabric to Use When Making a Dress?
The best fabric to use when making a dress has an appealing color or print in a design that you like. It has the appropriate weight for your project and either drapes or provides structure, depending on the style you want. One of the best ways to make sure you select the right fabric for your project is to read the back of the sewing pattern, which will indicate what kind of fabric to look for.
Three of the most popular materials for dresses are cotton, polyester, and rayon. Cotton and polyester make lots of different types of fabric depending on the weave and color of threads used. Rayon makes a silky, lightweight material perfect for summer dresses.