The perfect T-shirt for summer

The perfect T-shirt for summer

There are two t-shirts on my capsule closet shopping list: a classic white one and a long-sleeved mariniere T-shirt for cooler evenings. The perfect t-shirt for me? I would love the clothes that I buy from now on to be durable and “decent”. So despite the fact that almost every brand sells them, I had to start my research from the beginning. Until now, when shopping, not only did I not think whether I needed a garment, but also I did not pay too much attention how well it was made. A common mistake – I cared only about how they looked. No wonder that later I complained about poor quality, lack of comfort and the fact that the clothes only lasted a season or two without damage.

This time I decided to take it more seriously and also pay attention to the quality and functionality.

Composition and quality

The T-shirt should be breathable, comfortable and pleasant to wear. And last more than one season keeping its original shape, without twisted seams and pilling. Sounds simple. But if it was really simple, I would not have thrown away so many T-shirts previously. Can’t you really trust the T-shirts that stores offer you?

When it comes to slow fashion, I know one thing: the fibre matters. Let’s check what we can find in the composition of a typical Tshirt: cotton, modal, viscose, polyester, polyamide, elastane. And this banal way, I entered the complicated world of fibers and materials for the first time.

The types of fabric

Fabrics are divided into 3 types: natural (plant and animal based), artificial (made of plants and cellulose) and synthetic (made mainly from petroleum and its derivatives in a similar way to producing plastic). A very important thing: artificial fibers are not the same as synthetic. Artificial fibers are obtained from a natural plant component – cellulose during chemical treatment, and synthetics are created from scratch in the laboratory. Difference in the way of production is one thing, but performance difference is another, maybe even more important.

Synthetic fibers: polyamide, polyester, elastane and others

Since synthetic, “plastic” fibers are not hygroscopic, which means they are not able to absorb moisture from our skin, I completely eliminated them from my search for the perfect t-shirt. I cannot imagine wearing such a non-breathable fabric in summer, nor even in other seasons. Due to the lack of breathability, when we sweat, a specific moist film forms on the surface of the synthetic fabric. This is a perfect place for the bacteria responsible for the unpleasant smell of sweat to grow. Synthetics are also more allergenic and can irritate skin due to the lack of softness of the fiber itself. This way, polyamide and polyester were removed from the list of potential ingredients for my perfect summer T-shirt. 

Two important comments here: first, modern types of polyamide or polyester do have hygroscopic properties, which is why we find them in decent sports clothing. However, the production of high-end polyester is expensive, so you should not expect it in women’s mass market clothing – the ordinary polyester is as cheap as can be. This is why producers so eagerly use it. It is also a frequent composition of linings, which prevents our body from breathing and makes us sweat, even though the garment itself can be made of natural materials. 

Secondly, synthetics are often added to cotton to increase its resistance to damage. Other synthetics such as elastane and stretch are usually a small addition to other materials to ensure greater durability and flexibility. So a little addition of them is acceptable. However, we should not accept the presence of synthetic fibers in clothing more than 20%. As it turns out, cotton can be strengthened by something else.

First generation artificial fibers

Of artificial fibers, the most popular is viscose. Its properties are very similar to cotton. It is airy, breatheable, “cool” and pleasant to touch, it shapes nicely, it is hygroscopic like cotton, but it wrinkles easily, it can lose both shape and color. It has to be handled very gently when washed. Many viscose garments cannot be machine washed. And bad news for people who value ecology: its production can cause a lot of pollution. Viscose clothing can shrink in the wash, so buying a tight fit can be risky. Such a T-shirt will also electrify like crazy.

Natural fibers

Here come natural fibers, i.e. in the case of T-shirts – cotton. A well-known material that many garments are made of. It is hygroscopic, breathes well, has good thermal properties and it is skin-friendly. It is also resistant to pilling. It is antistatic, so you do not have to worry about a hairstyle while changing. It has its drawbacks: it wrinkles easily, it can stretch, push out and it fades and weakens when exposed to the sun. To strengthen the cotton, a small percentage of another fiber, e.g. elastane, is often added. However, the cotton t-shirt will not shrink in the wash. Washing (even by hand), however, carries another risk: it may lose its shape, seams may twist –  the T-shirt lies straight on you, and yet the side seam is on your stomach. This is because the fabric is not cut properly! At the stage of production of clothes, the patterns must be placed exactly parallel to the column of fabric (the stitches running from the top to the bottom of the knitted fabric – so-called “straight thread”, parallel to the factory edge of the fabric). The fabric cut and sewn opposite will continue to flow naturally and will drag the seams with it. During production, the reason for bad cut may be no room for checking quality in mass production or the fact that a manufacturer wants to cut costs and sews as many clothes from the beam as possible.

Cotton content does not fully guarantee the softness of the material. Even a 100% cotton Tshirt doesn’t have to be soft and pleasant. It depends on the quality of the cotton itself – whether the fiber is long (then the fabric is shiny, smooth, pleasant in contact with the body, more durable; these features are also influenced by a density) or medium or short (more stiff, rough). As you can see, there can be a lot of good use of our senses when we shop. The quality and durability of such a T-shirt is also influenced by the process of collecting and processing cotton in the plantation and the production of clothes itself – but we are not able to check this.

After all, could there be any better material for a summer T-shirt than 100% old, good and known cotton? Well, maybe there is.

Second and third generation artificial fibers

If we do not want to accept the disadvantages of cotton, there are also another type of plant based artificial fibers, which very often are mixed with cotton, resulting in great knitted fabrics! These fibers are modal and lyocell.

Modal belongs to the second generation artificial fibers. It has great hygroscopic properties – it absorbs moisture and evaporates water (sweat) by 50% better than cotton, so it allows our skin to breathe perfectly. It is very soft, a lot much softer and nicer than cotton. Called “the softest fiber in the world” it is very pleasant to the touch. It also has other advantages: it is not allergenic, not prone to pilling, does not shrink nor fade, and it does not lose its delicacy even after many washes. Even when wet, it is very resistant to damage and strong. Cons: it can stretch (just take care of it, do not hang it) and crease. However, creasing is a disadvantage of all plant-based clothes.

T-shirt made of cotton mixed with modal (e.g. 50/50 or 60/40) will be much nicer and smoother to the touch, it will keep shape and color after washing, it won’t twist. It will be more durable. If it is white, it will not turn gray because the modal fibers do not get damaged in contact with hard water and detergents.

Lyocell, i.e. third-generation artificial fiber, is rare, because it is quite expensive to produce and difficult to dye – but it is the most ecological of fibers. It is a great replacement for cotton, and in terms of properties, it is better. It is very hygienic – antistatic, hypoallergenic, 50% more hygroscopic than cotton, it evaporates moisture, so bacteria do not have a medium to grow. It regulates the temperature all year round. It does not cause allergies, the material is very delicate and pleasant to the skin, it is smoother than the above-mentioned modal. With all this, it remains very resistant to mechanical damage. And most importantly, it doesn’t stretch.

If we find a cotton t-shirt with lyocell somewhere, it will be very soft, quickly absorbing and evaporating moisture, it will be less wrinkling and easier to iron, it will have a nice shine and at the same time it is more durable than a t-shirt made of cotton only.

How to spot the perfect T-shirt in a store

As I mentioned at the beginning, I found the following “interesting” combinations in the T-shirts: 100% polyester; 65% polyester and 35% elastane (can’t imagine wearing it in summer), 50% viscose and 50% polyester, 60% polyester and 40% cotton; 60% cotton, 35% polyester and 5% elastane etc. As you can see, it is worth taking a look at the sewn-in tag. When there is about 80-90% cotton, the test is not over. It is good to touch the T-shirt, check if it is stiff and rough, because it means lower quality cotton. Let’s also look at the fabric itself at the side seams. Is it evenly cut? Are the seam parallel to the fibre column? Is there a possibility that bad cut will pull the seams aside during washing? If a garment is cut wrongly, it is simply spoiled, so you just have to put the item away.

I recommend you go to the mall yourself and look at the T-shirts with an objective eye, pay attention to the cut, material and quality. After some time, it will be easier to find that perfect t-shirt 🙂

Good luck!

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