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Q: Differences between pants fabrics ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Differences between pants fabrics
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: rbagel-ga
List Price: $6.00
Posted: 11 Aug 2002 11:38 PDT
Expires: 10 Sep 2002 11:38 PDT
Question ID: 53300
I will soon be shopping for khaki's and jeans for school. I notice
that the fabrics of some pants are more comfortable than the fabrics
of others. What are the differences between the various fabrics of
jeans and khakis? How can I tell what kind of fabric a given pair of
pants are made of while shopping? What styles of pants are the most
comfortable? Is there anything that I should look out for in terms of
comfort while shopping for button down shirts, socks, and boxers?
Subject: Re: Differences between pants fabrics
Answered By: historybuff-ga on 11 Aug 2002 14:14 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
hello rbagel,

I can certainly relate to your question, having shopped for some
comfort-driven, sensitive skinned customers myself for much longer
than I care to disclose.  Many factors contribute to clothing comfort,
such as the thread used in the seams and the way the seams are sewn,
but your question asks specifically about fabric so I'll narrow my
discussion to that.  Fabric plays a role in comfort several ways:

softness vs. scratchiness
breathability  and "wicking" action
stiffness vs. flexibility

softness vs. scratchiness
Cotton is the first thing that springs to mind when you say comfort as
you relate it to your list of items (I'm ignoring other natural fibers
such as linen and silk.)  If fabrics were created strictly for
comfort, we would see far fewer polyesters and other synthetics.  The
clothing industry uses synthetic blends primarily because they add
ease of cleaning, stain resistance, ease of maintenance (no-iron),
shape retention, less shrinkage and durability.  If those are not
prime motivators for you, than you would be well-advised to stick to
cotton.  A 100% cotton fabric, whether in sheets or shirts, will feel
softer than a blend with polyester.  The exception here are blends
with nylon, Lycra or Spandex, which can be as soft or softer to the
touch than cotton.  In the type of clothing you mention, you may find
that cotton socks with a touch of one of these synthetic materials may
be softer than pure cotton.   A very important consideration is the
type of cotton.  Higher, and therefore more expensive, cotton will be
softer.  Pima and Egyption are indicators of higher quality cotton,
though you'll mostly see that designation in towels and sheets. The
weave is also a factor, with very dense weaves achieving an almost
silk-like finish.

There is an ongoing debate about the breathability offered by natural
vs. synthetic fabrics.  Traditionally,  cotton has been the choice for
allowing your body to breath, i.e. allowing moisture from you body to
pass through the fabric.  Recent advances in synthetics have switched
some athletes over to synthetics for their superior wicking
properties.  The idea is that cotton, once damp, holds that dampness
while newer fabrics don't absorb it and thus allow for better drying. 
So far this concept  of wicking action has pretty much stayed in
athletic wear.

Here's a biggie!  In recent years manufacturers have started mixing
just a bit of Spandex or Lycra into cotton fabric used in jeans and
khakis.  The amount of stretch added is enough to greatly enhance
comfort without looking significantly different from 100% cotton
jeans.  This trend has been far more common in ladies apparel than
men's, so I cannot advise you on availability in the styles you are
shopping for.  But if you see a small percentage listed on a fabric
label, you can anticipate some comfort-enhancing stretch.  Stretch can
also be particularly helpful in socks, because it helps them conform
to your foot, avoiding creases and bunching.  Stretch also helps the
sock stay up instead of sliding down your ankle.

stiffness vs. flexibility
I'm not sure this one needs too much explanation, except that a
thinner fabric will bend more easily, so will no "push" against  your
skin as much as a think fabric will.  Pre-washed jeans or old jeans
are more comfortable that stiff new ones because the fabric is more
flexible.  Also, some fabric finishes can stiffen a fabric.  This
makes them perform better in wrinkle and stain resistance, but
detracts from comfort.

In sum, if you're going for comfort here's what to look for in the
button down shirts:  100% cotton (alert! even a small amount of
polyester will make the shirt much easier to iron! You may want to
consider 25% polyester)
socks:  cotton with a small percentage of synthetics such as Lycra for
stretch and nylon for softness. NO polyester.  (dress socks can have
much more or entirely synthetic materials, but you asked about school
clothes, khakis and jeans, so I'm thinking along the lines of white
athletic socks)
boxers:  100% cotton (watch out for dark colors as dark 100% cotton
tends to bleed in the wash)
jeans:  prewashed at least slightly, just about all of them are 100%
cotton.  Alternately, if you come across it, a small percentage
stretch blend instead of prewashed.
khakis: 100% cotton, or small percentage of stretch synthetic  (Same
warning here as for the shirts.  Going with 25% polyester blend will
make ironing much easier)

Finally, let touch be your guide!  If in doubt about a fabric's
scratchiness, run is against the inside of your forearm, or neck if
you don't mind looking odd, which is more sensitive than your hand.

I added this article to illustrate that in the arena we're discussing
(casual school clothes), cotton is the gold standard for comfort, and
the industry is always looking for something more comfortable than
polyester, that would still provide the maintenance advantages that
polyester does.  The study, done by Cargill Dow, says, "Laboratory
testing by the Hohenstein Research Institute demonstrated that plaited
NatureWorks/cotton fabric performs better than plaited
Polyester/cotton fabric. The results of the testing concluded that
wearers of NatureWorks/cotton fabric will experience improved
physiological comfort versus Polyester/cotton faced fabric.NatureWorks
fiber is the revolutionary new material made entirely from annually
renewable resources, such as corn. Developed by Cargill Dow, these
fibers feature the comfort and feel of natural fibers while performing
as well or better than synthetics."Cargill Dow has developed a natural
fabric alternative that competes with traditional fibers in feel,
comfort, cost and performance,"

I've included this explanation from the cotton industry to illustrate
their constant quest for easier maintenance. "Wrinkle Resistance. By
specially treating cotton fabric, 100% cotton slacks and bed sheeting
are now virtually wrinkle free. This breakthrough enhances the natural
properties of cotton - softness, comfort, breathability, absorbency
and durability-with easy-care attributes. Consumer response to
wrinkle-resistant 100% cotton slacks has been tremendous because they
combine true comfort, great performance and effortless care.

Here is an example of typical pants fabric that looks like regular
100% cotton but ads just a touch of stretch for comfort, 97% cotton
and 3% Lycra. That's what you will see on the label.

A complete discussion of fabric and it's effects on human comfort can
be found in this document entitled "Developing a Design-Oriented
Fabric comfort Model" from the National Textile Center, November 2001.

I've focused on providing you with a practical answer to your
question, and then documented with a few online sources, rather than
inundating you with sites discussing the pros and cons of various
fabrics.  If you would like more online references for your own
investigative purposes, do let me know and I'll be glad to expand my
reference sites.  Happy shopping!



Clarification of Answer by historybuff-ga on 11 Aug 2002 14:16 PDT
How can I tell what kind of fabric a given pair of
pants are made of while shopping?

Pants as well as other clothing have labels sewn into the seams from
the inside that tell you exactly the content of the fabric, in
rbagel-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
history buff answered the question.

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