The fabrics used in the construction of high-quality dress shirts are most often woven from yarns made from fibers of cotton, silk, wool, or, in the case of linen, flax. These fabrics—broadcloth, Oxford cloth, herringbone, chambray, denim, and so on—are differentiated from each other by the distinctive manner in which these yarns are woven together. Poplin and twill, two popular dress shirt fabrics, feature a number of similarities to each other, along with a number of key differences that make each more appropriate for and suited to specific situations.
Poplin: Designed for the Pope, but Suited to the Battlefield
All woven textiles—fabrics, in other words—fall into one of three broad categories determined by the style of weave: plain, twill, or satin. In fabrics with a plain weave, the warp—the horizontal yarn—is interwoven with the weft—the vertical yarn—in a straightforward criss-crossed pattern. Fabrics with a satin weave have multiple warp yarns per single weft yarn or vice versa, which creates a smooth surface and a pronounced even sheen; twill fabrics are woven with the warp and weft yarns spaced to form a diagonal pattern.
Poplin falls into the plain weave category. The salient feature of poplin is its use of yarns of two different thicknesses for the warp and the weft; traditional twill uses both silk and wool yarns, though any yarn combination may be used, including yarns made of cotton, rayon, and polyester blends. The different yarn thicknesses give poplin its characteristic look and feel: It’s a thin fabric with a close weave and faint horizontal ribs.
Poplin traces its origins to the city of Avignon in 15th-century France. Poplin, then known as papelino, was created to honor the pope, who at that point in history made his home in Avignon. Later, poplin was the primary fabric used in uniforms for both the American and British militaries in World War II, chosen for its ability to keep soldiers cool while holding up well under the rigors of battle.
Poplin is a soft yet strong fabric, resistant to stains, tears, and rips. The differences in thickness between the yarns used in the warp and the weft give it a faint sheen. Because silk is often a part of the blend, poplin feels smooth to the touch; thanks to the tight weave, it also cuts and drapes beautifully. While durable and long-lasting, poplin also breathes well. It’s light and tough like linen, though it lacks linen’s distinctive loose weave and nubby texture. While the level of warmth of poplin depends on the yarns used—poplin woven from silk and wool will create a warmer fabric than poplin woven from cotton—poplin is not often used in clothing designed to withstand cold weather. In addition to dress shirts, poplin is used in the construction of suits, blouses, and dresses; it also may be found as an upholstery fabric.
The Ancient Techniques and Contemporary Style of Twill
As mentioned above, twill is a category of fabrics characterized by their distinctive woven pattern of diagonal ribs. Popular fabrics like houndstooth, herringbone, chino, gabardine, and even denim are all varieties of twill. As with poplin, the yarns used in twill can vary—cotton, wool, and rayon are common. Where poplin is light, thin, and smooth, twill is thicker and heavier, though similarly soft and durable. Due to twill’s tight weave, stains have a difficult time permeating it. Once a stain settles deep into the fibers of a twill shirt, however, it will be tricky to remove.
One of the earliest weaving techniques, twill has been around since ancient times. Pieces of twill woven in a herringbone pattern dating back to 600 BC have been found in Ireland; ancient herringbone cloths have also been found in China, Italy, and Austria. Once considered primarily a sturdy workhorse of a fabric, used mainly for clothing designed to withstand heavy use, modern twill is now celebrated for its simple elegance. Twill is a chameleon, with characteristics that are difficult to pin down. It takes many forms: a stylish houndstooth jacket, a wool serge overcoat worn as part of the United States Marine Corps uniform, a favorite pair of denim jeans, an elegant pair of gabardine trousers.
Poplin vs. Twill Dress Shirts: Consider the Circumstances
While poplin is somewhat better suited for hot weather, and while twill will keep you warmer when the temperature drops, both fabrics are well suited for dress shirts. Both are durable enough to withstand frequent use, and both look appropriate at the office or as part of formal attire.
Poplin is an excellent fabric for warm-weather dress shirts. It dyes and bleaches well, which makes it a popular choice for printed or patterned clothing. It’s light enough to get its wearer through a warm day in comfort while still looking professional and polished. Poplin dress shirts pair particularly well with suits designed for formal occasions, which are often considerably heavier than suits intended for everyday wear. A poplin shirt under a tuxedo jacket will look crisp while still keeping its wearer cool and comfortable. Due to its thinness, poplin may become slightly transparent under bright lights; if you wear a poplin shirt to the office, test it out in front of various forms of lighting first and give strong consideration to wearing an undershirt.
In general, twill dress shirts are perfect for times when you need a sturdy and warm base layer. Twill is thicker to the touch than poplin and less breathable. During the winter, this makes a twill dress shirt, perhaps worn under a warm wool suit, ideal for cold walks to the car and freezing subway rides to work. While heavy and warm, twill feels soft against the skin. The natural diagonal pattern of twill makes it a great choice for dress shirts with a subtle and understated pattern—along with the aforementioned herringbone and houndstooth, twill fabrics may be woven into diamonds, checks, and plaids.
At Knot Standard, we have over seven thousand fabrics, including many varieties of poplin and twill, from the world’s finest fabric mills at our disposal. If you’re in search of the perfect bespoke dress shirt—or any other custom-made menswear garment, including suits, blazers, trousers, and casual wear—make an appointment today to visit with a stylist in one of our showrooms. You and your stylist will discuss all your options in terms of fabric, cut, and custom details before your garment is created to your precise measurements and preferences. By entering the realm of custom menswear, you’ll discover the virtues of clothing that fits you beautifully, celebrates your personal style, and exceeds your expectations.