Choosing a Custom Dress Shirt Fabric

Selecting fabrics for custom dress shirts can be overwhelming. But, once you ask yourself some simple questions and have a basic background on terminology and shirting types, the process becomes much easier.

Let’s start with the questions you should be asking yourself:

  1. Where do you plan to wear the shirt? Black-tie wedding? Business-casual office? Nights out on the town?
  2. Do you want a lightweight fabric or something more substantial? Do you like a shirt with a softer drape or one with a crisp finish?
  3. How much are you willing to spend?

To answer these questions, a basic knowledge of shirting fabrics is required. Every fabric can be categorized by defining two main attributes: weave and yarn.


Most fabrics offered by us fall into four main categories: Broadcloth, Oxford, Pinpoint, and Twill. The type of fabric you choose will depend on the occasion for the shirt and personal preference.

Also known as “poplin”, this is the classic dress shirt fabric. Broadcloth fabric is created using a simple over/under weave pattern and is generally woven tightly with finer yarns so that the result is smooth and silky. Broadcloth fabrics have a much smoother texture than their Pinpoint and Oxford cousins and, as a result, are more suitable for formal occasions. Broadcloths are generally lightweight (more so as the yarn number increases) and have a crisp appearance.

Oxford fabrics are inherently more casual because they are generally made from rougher, more substantial yarns. Oxford fabrics are created using a basket weave, where multiple yarns pass over one-another in the vertical and horizontal directions. Because of the yarn used, Oxford fabrics are more affordable. An oxford shirt is probably not the right choice for evening wear or a more formal office, but it makes a great weekend shirt. The classic Oxford is all white and combined with a button-down collar. [Ed. Note: Some of my favorite shirts are Oxfords. They age well and get softer over time. Some of my most well-worn oxford shirts are frayed at the collar and cuff, which adds character to the look.]

Also known as “Pinpoint Oxford”, Pinpoint fabrics utilize a basket weave, like Oxford cloth, but use finer yarns that would typically be seen in Broadcloth. The result is a combination of the two fabrics for something that can be both dressy and casual. Pinpoint fabrics are suitable for everything but the most formal of occasions and are equally appropriate for most offices or nights out on the town. Because of this flexibility, pinpoint is a great choice unless you have very specific preferences toward something else. Pinpoint fabrics are generally heavier than Broadcloth and have a crisp appearance.

Twill fabrics (including herringbone and houndstooth, which are designs created using the twill weave) are created using a special weave that results in a diagonal ribbing or “wale.” Because of the diagonal weave, twill fabrics are softer, they wrinkle less, and are easier to iron. On the downside, they are harder to clean if you stain them and they will lack the “crisp” feel that is found in a well-pressed Broadcloth or Pinpoint. Twill fabrics are a good choice if you like a softer, heavier fabric. Like Pinpoint, twill fabrics are suitable for formal and informal occasions.

Yarn Characteristics

Occasionally, a mainstream retailer like Banana Republic will include a label on one of their dress shirts saying something like “100’s Two Ply Cotton.” For most people, what that actually means is a mystery. They’re trying to tell you “this is some good stuff”, but they are simply describing the kind of yarn used to weave the shirt. Yarns are described with two characteristics: yarn number and ply.

This number describes the thickness of the yarn – low numbers are thicker, courser yarns (starting at 24’s) and large numbers are thinner, finer yarns (ranging upwards of 200’s). Because thinner yarns can only be created from the smoothest, longest cotton fibers, shirts made from higher yarn numbers are generally more expensive.

"Two Ply" refers to the practice of twisting two yarns together to form a single yarn before weaving. Fabrics made from two ply yarn are higher-quality and more durable than those made from “singles.” Because fabric is woven using yarns in two directions (vertical and horizontal or “warp” and “weft”), we label our shirts with the following ply descriptions:

  • 2x2: Two-ply for both warp and weft
  • 2x1: Two-ply for one direction, single-ply for the other
  • 1x1 or “Singles”: Single-ply in both directions

So, give me the highest yarn number I can afford, right? Not necessarily. It ultimately depends on personal preference. Most of the fabrics we carry are 2x2 80’s, 100’s, and 120’s. We feel that fabrics in this range generally offer the best quality for the price. The highest yarn numbers are incredibly soft and smooth, but they are also harder to maintain, wrinkle easily, and are usually lightweight.

Additionally, some fabrics are just not made with high number, two-ply yarns. Oxford cloth is generally made from very low numbers and that is precisely what gives it its distinctive look and feel. And, occasionally, we’ll carry a lower yarn number fabric if we like the look and feel of it. No matter what, we always label each fabric so that you can make an educated decision.

If you still have questions or need additional guidance, let us know.