Fashion

The Ultimate Guide to the Most Luxurious Fabrics

Everything you need to know about the world’s most beloved textiles.
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Aside from great design, the beauty of a garment is largely dependent on the quality and suitability of the textile it uses. Some designers drape fabrics directly onto a mannequin, allowing the material to ebb and flow, thus organically constructing the silhouette. Beautiful, luxurious, and supple fabrics often beget amazing creations and can be a source of inspiration for couturiers.

But even if you don’t have dressmaking dreams, knowing the different kinds of textiles can be an asset when shopping for apparel. You may prefer satin, mikado or peau de soie for your gown, or perhaps decide between organza and organdy. Here, we curate a glossary of the most elegant textiles so you can confidently dress your life in style.

Brocade

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Luxurious, with a heavy feel, brocade is a fabric woven with colored yarns, sometimes with metallic threads, that results in intricate and ornate designs. Its name is derived from the Italian word broccato, which means ‘embossed cloth,’ and originated in China, traveling westward through Byzantium in the Middle Ages. Historically made of silk, its labor-intensive production made it a very expensive textile and it was worn by nobility as a status symbol. It was after the invention of the jacquard loom in the 19th century that this opulent fabric had become more readily available, and is now used for both apparel and home furnishings.

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Cashmere

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The word cashmere makes one think of preppy yacht clubs and posh enclaves. Cashmere is a fiber obtained from the fleece of cashmere goats, which is naturally shed by the animals after winter. The resulting fabric made from this wool is characterized by a cloud-like softness and has the ability to keep one very warm despite its lightness. One goat usually produces only 150 grams per year, making it very rare. When shopping for this supple textile, look for garments with a higher cashmere content. A tight weave is also desired as it is indicative of two-ply yarn, as well as brighter colors which can signify that the original fibers were clean.

Charmeuse

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Charmeuse is a light, satin-weave fabric that is characterized by its elegant shine, and a supple feel that clings to the body. It is gorgeous when made into bias-cut slip dresses and evening gowns, and is likewise a mainstay in elegant loungewear.

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Chiffon

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One of the most popular fabrics for eveningwear, chiffon is characterized by its exquisite sheerness and a graceful flow that makes it perfect for goddess-like fashions. Its lightweight texture makes lends itself beautifully to ruched bodices and draped gowns. It can be made of natural fibers like silk, synthetic ones like polyester, or a combination of both. Chiffon comes in a variety of thicknesses, all being decadently see-through.

Cotton

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One of the oldest and most prevalent natural fibers in the world, cotton comes from fluffy white cotton plants. The yarn is spun into soft and breathable textiles, such as terrycloth for towels, denim for jeans, corduroy for trousers, and seersucker for dresses. It can be combined with other fibers like elastine for stretch or linen for added strength.

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Despite its inherent adaptability, not all cotton is made equal. Cotton with longer fiber lengths is much more desired as it results in increased luster and a silkier feel. One of the most prized is Sea Island cotton, which is grown in the Caribbean islands, and was what was used to make Queen Victoria’s handkerchiefs. Indian Suvi, Egyptian Giza 45 cotton, as well as American Pima cotton are also beautiful varieties.

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Crepe

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Characterized by a pebbly surface, crepe is a beautiful fabric with a matte finish that can be made of silk or other fibers. Its understated feel makes it both appropriate for day or night and is beautiful when crafted into dresses, gowns, scarves, and lightly tailored suits. This light to medium weight fabric is also resistant to wrinkling and has an elegant flowy drape.

Damask

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Damask is made on a jacquard loom like brocades, and the main thing that defines this textile is that it is reversible. The design is usually woven using yarn of two colors or two finishes (matte and shiny), with the front and back being reverse images of each other. Damask is heavy with an opulent feel, making it perfect for home furnishings or structured evening gowns.

Dupioni

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Originally woven from silk double cocoons (two silkworms that have nested together to form one cocoon), dupioni is known for its crispness and distinct slubbing. Nowadays, it can be made from manmade fibers, but it still retains its distinct texture.

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Eyelet

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Eyelet or broderie anglaise is a charming lace characterized by having small holes cut out of the fabric and then bound with buttonhole stitches. It was extremely popular in 19th century England, giving it the moniker ‘English embroidery.’ Because of its whimsical feel, it is often made into feminine dresses, blouses and traditional childrenswear.

Faille

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Made from silk, cotton, or rayon, it is known for small lengthwise ribs on the surface formed by introducing a thicker yarn into the weaving process. It is soft and lustrous, easy to drape, and is a great for tailored clothing, and evening wear as well.

Georgette

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A type of crepe that is lightweight and flowy, georgette is a grainy fabric quite similar to chiffon albeit not as sheer. It was named after 20th-century French dressmaker Madame Georgette de Plante, a contemporary of Coco Chanel, who made her mark with her diaphanous creations.

Jersey

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Stretchy, languid, with a fluid drape, the versatility of jersey and its ability to deftly frame the contours of the figure has made it a favorite in both high fashion and athleisure circles. It can be made of a variety of materials like cotton, wool, and polyester, and often contains a percentage of stretch fibers as well like elastane or spandex to give it its elasticity. 

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Jusi

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Woven from banana or abaca fibers, jusi is a distinctly Filipino textile frequently used for barongs. It can also be made into traditional sayas, and has likewise been proudly reinterpreted by designers into modern apparel as well. It is sheer, with slight irregularities in the weave, and is less expensive than piña making it preferred for less formal occasions.

Lace

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One of the most romantic fabrics, lace has been used for centuries as a favored means of adornment and is often featured heavily in evening and bridal wear. It is made of a variety of threads, all resulting in an intricate web-like design with motifs that range from delicate to dramatic. Traditionally, it was painstakingly handmade by artisans in Europe, but machine production has made lace a lot more readily available.

One of the most popular kinds of lace is Chantilly, which features graceful floral designs on a delicate base, and was originally made in Chantilly, France. Another French lace is Alençon, which is also named from the town it came from, and has its botanical motifs framed with a thick thread. Guipere or Venetian lace, on the other hand, is characterized by a bolder pattern that that does not have a net background. From England, there is Leavers lace, whose extremely delicate and intricate designs are often seen in couture lingerie.

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Lamé

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If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of a lightweight, highly metallic fabric, floating in the breeze with hedonistic abandon, that is most likely lamé. Woven with thin ribbons of metallic fiber, its high shine makes it a favorite for evening fare, as well as theatrical or futuristic costumes.  

Linen

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A textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, it is extremely sturdy and is perfect for hot weather, as it absorbs moisture well and dries quickly. It is often considered one of the oldest fabrics with its origins dating as far back as the Stone Age. Its long-storied history has seen it as currency in ancient Egypt, shields, and bowstrings in the Middle Ages, oil painting canvasses and much more. Nowadays, it makes for great leisurewear because of its relaxed, almost beachy feel.  

Mikado

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Made of a blend of silk, mikado is heavier than other silk textiles which makes it perfect for structured gowns and tailored pieces. It has a subtle shine, and oftentimes, a faint diagonal raised texture. Its slightly thicker feel gives it a unique drape and allows it to stand naturally, making it also a preferred fabric for wedding gowns.

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Moiré 

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A beautiful fabric with a distinct "watery" pattern over a slightly ribbed base, moiré has been used for centuries to create beautiful and voluminous gowns. The wavy pattern is produced by a finishing process called calendering, wherein fabric is pushed through calender rollers at high heat and pressure to produce the wavy effect.

Organdy

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Organdy is a lightweight and sheer fabric that is usually made out of cotton. The best kind is Swiss organdy from Switzerland and features a very fine weave. Its exquisite and delicate hand makes it great for heirloom pieces like christening gowns, as well as for eveningwear and intricate children’s clothing.

Organza

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Organza is similar to organdy with its translucent and smooth finish, but instead of cotton, it is made of either silk or synthetic fibers. It falls naturally to create elegant waves, making it absolutely gorgeous for ruffles and flounces in eveningwear, as well as for grand ballgowns.  Its sheerness allows it to be layered generously and is an inspired choice for couture garments.

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Piña

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Arguably one of the most exquisite local textiles, piña is hand-loomed from delicate pineapple leaf fibers. It is sheer, normally a warm beige color, and is oftentimes embellished with embroidery featuring bucolic or architectural themes. Because of its rarity and beauty, it is also quite expensive and is reserved for formal occasions. Most notably, piña Barong Tagalogs were worn proudly by world leaders wore for the 1996 APEC Summit. 

Piqué

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Sporting a medium weight, this cotton fabric is characterized by a geometric pattern that resembles a honeycomb or a waffle. Its durability and breathability make it a preferred material for shirts and other summery fare.

Plisse

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Plisse comes from the French verb plisser, which means to crease or fold. In fashion, it refers to fabric that has been intentionally pleated to create ridges by the application of a chemical solution and or heat. The folds can be fine and parallel or it can form the sunburst pattern that is often seen in dresses and skirts.

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Satin

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A staple in formal wear, satin is characterized by a glossy surface coupled with a dull back. The satin weave is characterized by four or more fill weft yarns floating over the warp yarn, with this ‘float’ giving it its lustrous finish. It can be made with a variety of fibers into a multitude of weights. Charmeuse satin is thin and sometimes stretchy, while duchesse satin is heavier and thicker and is great for bridal and evening gowns.

Seersucker

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With alternating stripes of puckered and smooth sections, seersucker fabric is instantly recognizable. The term is said to originate from the Persian phrase ‘shir o shakka,’ meaning milk and sugar, referring to the contrast of the fabric’s texture. It is commonly made of cotton, but can also be woven out of silk or synthetic fibers. 

Sequins

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Catching the light in the most fabulous manner, sequin fabrics have become synonymous with high wattage glamour. They are essentially textiles, like chiffon or tulle, which have been embellished with shiny, plastic pieces, or sequins. Nowadays, they come in a variety of colors and sizes, and can either be shiny or a little matte.

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Silk

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As legend has it, a silkworm accidentally fell into the teacup of a Chinese empress, and gradually unraveled into a thin and lustrous filament. The empress then started unrolling the cocoon and had the brilliant idea of weaving it, allegedly giving rise to the coveted fabric that is silk.

The best silk is made from the cocoon of mulberry silkworms, which in ancient times, could only be found in China where it was reserved for royalty. It was only the advent of trading on the Silk Road that the fabric was gradually introduced into Western culture.

Since then, this luxurious fabric has never lost its place as one of the most coveted and desired. The prism-like structure of its fibers allows it to refract light at different angles, giving it its trademark luster. It has an excellent drape, a sumptuous feel, high absorbency, and resiliency, and is cool in summer and warm in winter. It creates the most elegant evening gowns and dresses, and likewise lends itself to accessories such as ties and scarves, as well as chic home furnishings.

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Shantung

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A type of silk that is originally from the Chinese province of Shandong, shantung has an understated shine and soft drape. As it is made of wild silk, the fabric possesses certain striations in its surface and faint raised slubs (cross-wise irregularities). It is similar to silk dupioni, though its texture is more subtle and has amazing applications in eveningwear.

Taffeta

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Another favorite fabric for evening wear and bridal gowns is taffeta, a light and iridescent fabric with a tight weave. Its ability to hold its shape when gathered make it absolutely apropos for ballgowns, and slightly thicker variations are often made into curtains and drapes 

Toile de Jouy

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Depicting charming pastoral scenes of the French countryside on a light-colored background, there is a certain gentility to toile. In French, toile translates to “cloth” and this cotton-type fabric draws its origins from a textile factory in the village of Jouy-en-Josas, near Versailles. So, the fabric’s full name actually just means ‘cloth of Jouy.’ While it is produced with certain variations, it possesses a signature look that is quite unmistakable. 

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Tulle

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One of the most fairytale-like fabrics around, tulle’s sheerness and tissue-soft netlike texture allows itself to be skillfully layered creating the most dreamy confections. It’s used for special occasion dresses, wedding gowns and veils, as well as tutus for ballerinas. The really fine, almost see-through variations are often used in eveningwear, to create the illusion of second skin.

Tweed

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A soft fabric with a fuzzy surface, tweed was originally made of fine wool but has since been modified to include many other types of materials, as well as ribbons, sequins, or boucle yarns to give it a unique spin. Some designs are in fact made exclusively for certain fashion houses. For example, fabrics chosen by Karl Lagerfeld from British mill Linton tweeds are traditionally reserved for the fashion house for a year. These could quite possibly be made into Chanel tweed jackets, arguably one of fashion’s most classic pieces.

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Velvet

There’s nothing quite like running your hand through the supple feel of velvet. Soft with a beautiful drape, it is made on a special loom and the resulting fabric has a cut-pile finish that stands upright. This immensely satisfying tactile sensation, coupled with its luxurious sheen, has made velvet a highly coveted fabric with origins dating back hundreds of years.

Wool

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Made from the covering of sheep and other animals, wool is known for its ability to keep the wearer warm, which is why it’s such a popular component of winterwear. It is resilient, flexible, and is simultaneously able to absorb moisture and repel water. While there are many kinds of wool, one of the softest is merino wool from the merino sheep, and lambswool from the first shearing of sheep who are younger than a year old. Other prized varieties are mohair from the Angora goat, angora from the Angora rabbit, and alpaca wool from the alpacas native to South America. Cashmere is also a type of wool.

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