In the past, when I have decided to get started with sewing a new shirt, I’ve often wondered — which is the best fabric for shirts? There are so many fantastic fabrics available that I find it overwhelming to narrow down all my choices and settle on just one of them to work within my next project. So I decided to spend some time researching which fabrics would be ideal to use for sewing the types of shirts I might want to make in the future.
Here’s a summary of the most important points I discovered:
Shirts serve different purposes, so the best fabric for shirts will depend on what you want to be doing while wearing the shirt. The seasons will also play a role in which shirt fabrics you’ll want to choose. Some of the best shirt fabrics are:
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the things you’ll want to consider when deciding which shirt fabrics would be ideal for wearing on different occasions. We’ll also discuss some of the pros and cons of each shirt fabric. After you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll have an excellent understanding of which shirt fabric will best meet your needs depending on the specifics of your sewing project.
Best Fabric for Shirts
Ideal shirt fabrics share several qualities: They should be attractive to look at, soft against the skin, and breathable. In this section, you’ll learn about the 12 best shirt fabrics and the purposes they serve best.
1. CottonFashion designers use cotton to create casual athletic shirts, formal dress shirts, and everything in between. Cotton is well suited for use in both knitted and woven shirt styles.
This fiber is so popular with designers and the buying public because of its versatility, affordability, softness, and widespread availability. People consider it one of the best fabrics for shirts largely because it is one of the most comfortable and breathable fibers to wear right next to the skin.
Cotton is also a great vehicle for expressing personal style. This fiber dyes and prints beautifully, so it works well for making fashion designs such as printed blouses and screen-printed t-shirts with slogans and graphics. Cotton shirts can look businesslike, dressy, casual, sporty, sophisticated or laid-back.
- Breathable and comfortable
- Easily obtainable and relatively affordable
- Provides an ideal surface for screen printing on
- Prone to wrinkling and shrinking
- Does not insulate body heat well in cold weather
- Cotton farming requires significant quantities of toxic chemical inputs, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and defoliants. This has a detrimental environmental impact.
2. Pima CottonExtra-long-staple Pima cotton is one of the most desirable fabrics for shirts because it finishes into a soft, durable, appealing fabric that is comfortable to wear. Compared to shirts made from ordinary short-staple cotton, shirts made from Pima cotton are more resistant to becoming frayed, torn, wrinkled and faded.
Aside from affordability, Pima cotton shares many advantages as other cottons, including softness, breathability and versatility. Its relative scarcity means that it is more expensive than ordinary cotton fabrics.
The growing region is one of the main differentiators between Pima cotton and Egyptian cotton. Farmers grow Pima cotton in Peru, the southern United States and Australia.
- Luxurious softness
- Breathable and comfortable
- Resists wear and tear better than Upland cotton does
- Relatively expensive compared to other cotton fabrics
- Authentic Pima cotton can be hard to find; it is scarce and is a favorite target of counterfeiters.
3. Egyptian CottonLike Pima cotton fabrics, extra-long staple Egyptian cotton fabrics are some of the most premium cotton fabrics available. Compared to ordinary cotton, these long-staple cottons are softer, silkier, and more comfortable to wear directly against the skin. Egyptian cotton fabrics are also more resistant to pilling, tearing and showing other signs of wear and tear.
A primary differentiating factor between Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton is the region in which it grows. Growers produce Egyptian cotton in the nutrient-rich soil of the Nile River valley. Critics of the fiber point out that any cotton grown in Egypt can legally be called “Egyptian cotton”, so this label does not necessarily indicate a high-quality product.
- Extraordinary softness
- Superior strength
- Tends to resist wrinkles, fading, pilling and tearing better than ordinary cotton does
- Frequently counterfeited or fraudulently blended with cheaper cotton varieties; truly pure, authentic, extra-long staple Egyptian cotton can be challenging to source.
4. Supima CottonNo products found.Supima cotton is one of the best fabrics for shirts because it offers you most of the advantages of ordinary cotton-like breathability and softness. It also gives you a few additional benefits beyond those.
“Supima cotton” is a trademarked term describing premium quality, extra-long-staple cotton fiber exclusively growing in the United States. Supima cotton producers claim that this fiber is twice as strong as ordinary cotton.
Executives at Supima have implemented a system for tracking their products through the supply chain. This level of traceability helps to ensure the authenticity of the finished garments made from Supima cotton fiber.
- Delightfully soft hand
- Superior resistance to pilling, wrinkling, fading and tearing
- The organization’s efforts to track the product assure its authenticity.
- Expensive compared to other cotton fabrics
5. SilkSilk is a natural protein fiber that comes from the cocoons of silkworms. Because of its soft feel, excellent drape, breathability and gorgeous appearance, silk is one of the best fabrics for making luxurious dress shirts and exquisite blouses. Fashion designers also incorporate silk into t-shirts, athletic shirts, and other shirt styles to a lesser degree.
When textile designers blend silk with other fibers, the resulting fabrics can also be highly desirable for use in making dress shirts. For example, silk blended with linen offers all the advantages of linen, resulting in a strong, durable, breathable fabric. The surface of the blended fabric is lustrous like silk and appears even more luxurious than plain linen does.
- Makes up into beautiful, distinctive fabrics
- Soft and luxurious feel
- Spectacular drape
- Relatively expensive
- Silkworms die to create silk fabric. This is not a vegan-friendly fiber.
- Requires special care for laundering
6. LinenLinen is an exceptionally sturdy natural cellulose fiber that originates with flax plants. This fiber makes desirable shirt fabrics because of its durability, breathability, versatility, softness and stylish appearance. Linen is well-suited to make tailored dress shirts, crew neck shirts and dressy or casual knitted t-shirts.
Linen doesn’t drape as well as some other fibers like silk, rayon and polyester do. However, textile designers can compensate for this stiffer tendency in various ways. They frequently blend rayon with other fibers like spandex, cotton or polyester to improve its drapability and movement.
- Breathable and comfortable to wear
- Works up into durable, long-lasting fabrics
- Prone to wrinkling
- Relatively expensive
- Does not stretch or drape as well as some other fibers
7. PoplinPoplin is a distinctive plain weave fabric that has more of its weight distributed in the weft yarns than the warp yarns. This results in a subtle but interesting ribbed effect in the crosswise direction.
Poplin has many appealing characteristics that make it one of the best fabrics for sewing dress shirts. It’s durable, versatile, comfortable and has a classic yet stylish appearance. Poplin shirts are suitable to wear for everyday business attire and also for weddings, ceremonies and other formal occasions.
- Cotton poplin is breathable and comfortable to wear.
- Relatively durable and hard-wearing
- Classic, versatile and reliable as a wardrobe staple
- Prone to wrinkling
- Doesn’t insulate well in cold weather
8. FlannelFlannel fabric is typically a twill or plain weave fabric that has been woven, fulled and napped.
Textile manufacturers can create flannel shirt fabrics using different fibers, including cotton, wool, polyester and blends. The characteristics of the finished flannel fabric will vary depending on its fiber contents. Each of these flannel types could be expected to give you different benefits when you wear it.
Cotton, wool and micro polyester flannel fabrics are some of the best fabrics for making casual shirts because they are soft, drapable, durable, and comfortable to wear against the skin.
Because wool offers superior heat-insulating properties, wool flannel makes some of the best work shirts to wear in cold weather.
- Comfortable against the skin
- Durable and long-wearing
- Drapes well
- Wool flannels typically require special care in laundering.
- Prone to pilling
9. TwillTwill is a weave structure characterized by its distinctive diagonal lines and its softness. These characteristics make twill one of the most desirable fabrics for making dress shirts and casual shirts.
Textile manufacturers can weave twill fabrics using different fibers, including cotton, silk, rayon, wool, polyester and blends. The properties and benefits of the finished twill fabric will be highly dependent on its fiber contents because the resulting twill fabrics will each behave differently depending on what fiber is used for production. Cotton twill is particularly popular for making shirt fabrics because it is soft, breathable, versatile and classic.
- Outstanding softness
- Breathable and comfortable to wear
- Prone to shrinking
- Does not drape as well as plain weave structures like poplin
10. RayonThe raw materials for making rayon fabric can include wood chips, wood pulp or bamboo plant fiber. Because chemicals are then applied to these natural materials, the fabric isn’t natural; it isn’t completely synthetic, either.
Rayon’s absorbent nature, soft hand and elegant drape make it one of the best fabrics for shirts.
Rayon is an ideal fabric choice if you’re hoping to sew a printed shirt. It’s possible to weave and knit exceptionally smooth surfaces using rayon. The result is that images printed on rayon tend to turn out looking clear, bright and crisp.
Rayon blends can also make appealing shirts. If you’re hoping to sew a rayon shirt, you might want to consider looking at polyester/rayon blends and rayon/spandex blends. It’s also possible to find cotton/polyester/rayon/spandex blends.
- Outstanding drape and movement
- Highly breathable and comfortable to wear.
- Made from renewable resources such as wood pulp and fast-growing bamboo.
- Relatively affordable
- Takes dyes and prints beautifully; is easily knitted or woven into smooth fabrics that are ideal for printing on
- Weakens considerably when wet, so dry cleaning is the preferred way of cleaning it.
- Finished using chemicals that are not eco-friendly
- Does not insulate well in cold weather
11. WoolWool is a natural protein fiber that we get by shearing sheep or other fiber animals. Its breathable nature and superior wicking properties make it one of the best materials to use for sewing dress shirts, polo shirts, t-shirts, work shirts and athletic shirts for hiking, skiing and other sports.
Wool is an outstanding fiber on its own, and it does not need to be blended. However, textile designers do sometimes blend wool with other fibers.
For example, when making lower-end shirts and other garments, it is common for apparel manufacturers to select mostly synthetic blends with about 10-20 percent wool. In cases like these, adding that small amount of wool dramatically improves the warmth, resilience and feel of the finished fabrics. If you find that 100 percent wool fabric is unavailable to you or priced out of your reach, you might decide it’s a good compromise to choose a shirt fabric that’s 20 percent wool and 80 percent synthetic.
- The best shirt fabric for heat retention
- Resists odors
- Breathes well and wicks away moisture well
- Prone to shrinking and felting if not cared for properly
- Coarser wool fibers can be itchy and are undesirable for use in shirt fabrics.
12. PolyesterPolyester is the world’s most popular fiber. When it’s designed with breathability in mind, polyester tends to make some of the best athletic shirts; polyester athletic shirts are typically lightweight and do an outstanding job of wicking perspiration away from the body. The latest high-tech polyester fabrics can feel comfortable, breathable, silky and luxurious.
Polyester can also contribute its beneficial properties like affordability and wrinkle resistance to make some of the best-blended fabrics for other types of shirts. Designers frequently blend polyester with another soft, absorbent fiber like cotton to make wearable, comfortable polo shirts, dress shirts and t-shirts that are less expensive and more wrinkle-resistant than solid cotton shirts would be.
- Stain-resistant, easily washable and easy to care for
- Wrinkle resistant
- Dries quickly
- Durable and long-lasting
- Not environmentally friendly
- Prone to retaining odors and smelling bad even with frequent washing
What Is the Best Fabric for Dress Shirts?The best dress shirt fabrics tend to be woven of soft, breathable fibers such as cotton, silk, linen or rayon. The softness is a particularly important quality because a dress shirt will be in direct contact with the wearer’s skin. Cotton is the most popular fiber for dress shirts.
Polyester/cotton blends are also top-selling dress shirt fabrics. The addition of polyester is desirable to some consumers because it makes dress shirts less prone to wrinkling. Furthermore, poly/cotton shirts tend to be less expensive than cotton shirts.
Most dress shirts are woven rather than knitted. Popular weave structures for dress shirts include poplin, oxford, broadcloth, pinpoint, herringbone and tweed.
Best Quality Fabric for T-Shirts
Fashion designers have made t-shirts out of every imaginable fabric, but the most popular t-shirt fabrics are cotton, polyester and blends. Wool is also a high-quality option for athletic t-shirts and dressier t-shirts. If you aren’t sure which fabric to buy for making everyday t-shirts, the safest choice would be a knitted cotton fabric.
Textile industry professionals consider combed ringspun Pima or Supima cotton the softest, strongest and highest quality cotton. The combing process helps to remove impurities, and the ring-spinning process creates a soft, durable product.
The highest quality polyester shirt fabrics tend to be microfiber, softer and stronger than ordinary polyester.
Best Fabric Blends for T-Shirts
There are limitless possibilities for high-quality fabric blends you could use for making t-shirts. One fantastic option is a tri-blend fabric made up of cotton, polyester and rayon. Other popular choices are cotton/spandex or poly/cotton blends.
What Is the Best Fabric for Polo Shirts?
A polo shirt is similar to a t-shirt in construction, with the main differentiators being that a polo shirt has a collar and a buttoned placket. The same fabrics that make the best t-shirts also tend to make the best polo shirts. The best fabric for a polo shirt would typically be a knitted fabric made from cotton, a cotton blend or merino wool.
Jersey and piqué are some of the most popular knitted fabric constructions that fashion designers select for making high-quality polo shirts.
Designers at high-end fashion brands sometimes construct luxury polo shirts using fabric made from merino wool. Merino wool is a desirable fabric for polo shirts because it is comfortable in both hot and cold weather; it insulates well in cold weather, yet it is also breathable and comfortable in warm weather.
Best Fabric for Casual Shirts
People typically wear tank tops in the summertime, so it’s ideal to choose breathable, lightweight summer fabrics for making them. Cotton and rayon are some of the most breathable fabrics to use for sewing tank tops.
Hawaiian ShirtsCotton, silk, rayon and blends are the best fabrics to use for sewing Hawaiian shirts. The print on a Hawaiian shirt is one of its most compelling characteristics, so a primary consideration for Hawaiian shirt manufacturers is how well a particular fabric takes printing. Cotton, rayon and silk all print up beautifully.
Prints tend to appear crisp and distinctive on rayon fabric, in particular. Furthermore, rayon’s outstanding drape and breathability make it a fantastic choice for summer-friendly Hawaiian shirt fabric.
Best Fabrics for Athletic Shirts
Hiking ShirtsMerino wool and polyester are the best fabrics for hiking shirts. The highest priority characteristics for hiking shirt fabrics are moisture-wicking capacity, breathability, lightweight, quick-drying and antimicrobial.
When it comes to making hiking shirts, merino wool has one important advantage over polyester. Wool is naturally antimicrobial, so it resists odors. There are antimicrobial agents available for treating polyester, but these are prone to washing out over time.
The best golf shirt fabrics tend to be 100 percent polyester or a 50/50 cotton/polyester blend. Other blends are also popular. These include cotton/elastane, polyester/spandex and polyester/rayon/spandex.
Top priority characteristics for golf shirt fabrics include breathability, moisture-wicking capacity and stretch for ease of movement. Many golf shirts also offer UV protection.
Best Shirt Fabrics by Season
Summer and Spring
When the weather is warm, breathability becomes a top-priority characteristic to seek out in your shirt fabrics. For this reason, cotton, linen and rayon tend to make the best spring and summer shirt fabrics. Blends of these fibers also work well for sewing summer-friendly shirts.
Synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon can also work well for shirt fabrics if they are constructed with breathability and comfort as primary goals.
Fall and Winter
When you choose winter shirt fabrics, you’ll want to consider each fabric’s insulating properties. Of all the commonly available shirt fabrics, wool is the best insulator.
For winter dress shirts, look for businesslike wool or wool-blend tweed fabrics. Wool flannel shirts are well suited for casual occasions in the fall in winter.
Polyester and other synthetics can also be suitable for winter clothing if they are constructed appropriately. Polyester fleece is one example of a winter-friendly polyester shirt fabric.
Best Fabric for Men’s Shirts
You can sew men’s shirts using various appealing fabrics; the best fabric for men’s shirts will depend, more than anything else, on the shirt’s intended function. You’d choose a different fabric for a man’s dress shirt than you would choose for his athletic shirt or undershirt.
Judging from popularity alone, the best fabric for men’s dress shirts is cotton. Silk is also an outstanding choice of fibers for men’s dress shirts.
Men who work outdoors in forestry or building and construction trades typically prefer to wear different shirt fabrics than the men who work indoors in cubicles and offices. The best fabrics for these men’s work shirts include cotton flannel, wool flannel, polyester fleece, wool fleece and similar fabrics that insulate body heat well on cold days.
If you’re shopping for fabrics to use for sewing your own shirts, we recommend taking a look at the following popular, highly-rated fabrics:
In summary, the best fabric for shirts is dependent on the season and occasion you’re dressing for. Cotton shirts are suitable for most occasions, but there are times when you might prefer to choose wool, silk, linen, rayon or polyester shirt fabrics.
Now you’re better equipped to choose the best shirt fabric for any occasion. Do you have a favorite shirt fabric? You’re invited to leave a comment and let us know your opinion on what the all-time best fabric for shirts is — and if you found this information helpful, please share the article with others who might also benefit from it.