I’m a relatively new convert to winter shirts.
Although I’ve had brushed cottons in the past (such as my grey made by Simone Abbarchi, above) it’s only this season that I’ve started wearing heavier flannels and cords.
Perhaps it’s because I’m wearing more casual tailoring – usually without a tie – and a shirt with texture adds some useful interest. That makes patterns easier too, and brushed cottons often come in herringbone patterns or checks.
Or it might just be the steady drip of fashion, seeping into the unconscious. Flannel shirts seem to be everywhere at the moment – the red/black buffalo check is almost becoming ubiquitous.
In this piece, the latest in our Guide to Shirt Fabrics, I thought I would run through the types of winter shirtings, and their relative advantages and disadvantages.
I’ll give my personal experiences along the way, and do chip in, as always.
In general, the property you expect from a specifically winter shirt is a warm handle – a smooth, perhaps cashmere-like feeling.
This can be achieved in different ways.
The most obvious is adding different fibres – putting cashmere, wool, or even both wool and silk into the yarn alongside cotton.
Historically, the most common mix was wool/cotton (old Viyella) but as cashmere has become more accessible, it has become a common alternative.
Personally, I’ve tried these cashmere mixes and find them a little more likely to pill, and they certainly need more care than the pure cottons – washing at 30 degrees at the most.
I tend to prefer brushed cottons for those reasons.
Brushed cottons divide into two types, by weight and perhaps by use.
Lighter versions (perhaps around 120g-130g) use finer yarns, are emerised rather than brushed, and have what’s called a ‘peached’ effect.
These, like my grey shown at the top, are easy to wear under all jackets and can be OK with a tie too.
The heavier and softer the material gets (closer to 180g-200g), the less advisable it is to wear a tie and the harder to wear under a jacket. These heavier cottons tend to be brushed, not emerised.
The shirts I’ve been wearing of recently are in this heavier category, and wouldn’t suit a tie but are OK under any Autumn or Winter jacket.
They’re not heavy enough to be called flannels although, rather like heavy denims, I do like the look on others of a flannel shirt under a winter jacket – presuming the jacket is roomy enough to accommodate it happily.
(Emerisation, by the way, involves passing the fabric over a series of emery-covered cylinders to produce that suede-like fabric. With brushing, metal brushes are used to raise fine fibres from the yarn.)
The last way to achieve that warm, wintery handle is through a velvet weave – which includes corduroy.
Fine cord (perhaps 110g-130g) can be very attractive as a winter fabric. It’s unusual, yet subtle, definitely casual yet quite classic.
The big disadvantage is its friction, or stickiness. This makes it virtually impossible to wear under a sweater, and sometimes awkward under a jacket.
Most mills would say it’s only for wear on its own, at least in the thicker wales (more like 300g), but that makes it quite limited as a cold-weather fabric. Personally, I find it’s OK under a fully lined jacket. It just needs the occasional adjustment.
I have a cream and a mushroom-coloured cord shirt, and particularly recommend the former. Cream seems particularly nice in fabrics with greater texture.
(Do also note that cord needs similar care with washing as cashmere blends.)
Another point on weaves in winter shirts is that they will usually be twills – because a twill is denser and therefore heavier than other weave structures.
(If you don’t know what a weave structure is – and want to know – read the second chapter in this series, here.)
A twill allows the designer to build rich fabrics, which still have a pleasant handle. And it’s versatile. The structure can be translated in a thousand ways, from from 2/1 to 2/2 to 4/4, and in broken twills, i.e. herringbone.
Finally, winter shirtings also tend towards more patterns and richer, darker colours.
You’re more likely to see tartans, irregular checks and tattersalls in winter, as well as melanges that add the impression of texture.
And colours include dark – sometimes called ‘burnt’ – greens, creams, mid- to light grey, and all shades of brown/beige.
My advice on these stronger colours is to always think carefully about what jackets and trousers they will be worn with. Grey shirts are quite limiting if you wear a lot of grey trousers, and dark colours often need similar dark or rich jackets alongside them.
If in doubt, start with something simple and relatively pale, like cream.
Hi Simon, could you tell me the maker of the cloths in the last photo?
Interesting to read, although of little practical value beyond that. Primarily because texture, color etc apply in every context, not just winter. And of course if you are dressing for colder weather it is the entire outfit you need to consider rather than a single aspect of it as it is about balance.
One thought; if you are going to write about seasonal fabrics or cloths, as you often do, why not do so at a time of year which would allow the bespoke process time to work. If I asked a shirt maker today to make me a garment in your, eg 300g cloth, I would likely not see it before Easter.
Colour is of course relevant at any time of year, though I would suggest texture is particularly important in winter, and there is certainly a lot of variation in texture in winter fabrics.
In any case, the point was not that these only apply in the winter, but that they are different ways of achieving the warm feeling and handle that usually defines winter shirts.
On the season, you’re completely right. We started this piece a few months ago, but it took a while to complete and get the technical answers. Fortunately, I know these cloth guides are referred to over several seasons. The aim is to build up a body of articles that cover all aspects of fabrics – as with the Guide to Cloth on tailoring.
In reference to Oliver’s comment about the timing of this post – I’m pretty sure the readers of this blog span the globe, which means that while the timing of this post may not fit as well for those in the northern hemisphere like Europe and USA to have an item made after reading this, people in the southern hemisphere such as Australia and New Zealand will be reading this post right on time to order a bespoke piece from such cloths.
Simon, this article seems to stop abruptly and seems to have omitted some classic winter options – denim, heavy oxford for example.
Thanks Charlie – I didn’t mention those because they’re not just winter fabrics, and we did deal with denim in a separate chapter of the guide, and will do more on oxford in the future.
I should have made a passing reference to them perhaps though, for completeness. Thanks for the suggestion.
I have two cream coloured shirts, but I find them hard to combine with jackets. Any advice on how to wear cream shirts would be appreciated.
I’d suggest a dark woollen jacket – dark brown or navy perhaps, and then mid-grey trousers, as a starting point. Have you tried that?
Thank you, Simon, for a kind answer as always. I have tried those combinations, and even if cream and brown should be a great mix (as in your article about canary yellow and brown), I just dont get it right with my current wardrobe. I guess I will need to try different shades of brown and possibly a different texture in navy. For now, I will experiment with more casual items in green, cream and grey as you have adviced on in previous posts.
I’m a big fan of thick shirts any time of the year. Corduroy, flannel, denim in the winter, then the heaviest linen I can find in the summer.
One problem you don’t mention is that some shirtmakers aren’t keen on corduroy, apparently the needle can tram-line into the grooves.
Also, I normally associate cord rating with wale count not weight. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a high count heavy weight cord cloth – or vice versa.
Thanks Tim, I didn’t know that on cords and needles
Simon – any plans for a PS winter shirting fabric for the online store? I can never find much along those line that I like going bespoke.
Suspect there’s a (very) small gap in the market you could help fill…
Not currently Mark, no, though we could look at one. What kind of thing would you be after? Brushed cotton check?
I have the second from the top in the last photo, and that’s very nice
I would certainly second Mark S suggestion for PS (you may recall I proposed this a while ago).
Obviously we’ve missed the boat for this year but for next I’d suggest a navy blue flannel in absolutely the correct shade and buttons.
This is a must in every flaneurs wardrobe and is so difficult to get.
Definitely not cream or check.
Hi, Simon. Are you highlighting the mid and light grey check with subtle yellow overcheck? Do you happen to know the Thomas Mason fabric number because I’d love to order that from Luca A?
Yes – and there’s blue in there too. It’s nice.
It’s Spitalfields 101417/43
Hi Simon, do you have any issue with ironing corduroy shirts? I guess the bigger the wale the more likely it is to be damaged… besides, do you think it will be as durable as twills or flannels?
No I find them pretty easy and no signs of damage, but I only have smaller wales, fine cords.
Good point on durability, I’m not sure. I haven’t seen any signs of wear yet, but I could imagine they would be more likely to wear on the elbows for example, yes
This was a very interesting and insightful read. Thanks, Simon.
Of all fabric I find shirting to be the most difficult to source and buy by the metre and relatively expensive too.
I recently received my first bespoke suit and there is a serious problem.
The trousers are not high rise as I requested.
I was a bit overwhelmed at the (single) fitting and didn’t voice this specifically, only that the seat and fork were very tight.
The waist and length are cut to high rise proportions though.
What are my options for addressing this?
The trousers will have to be remade probably Joe. It’s up to the conversation you have with the tailor as to whether it was entirely their fault
Hi Simon….would you get shirts in these fabrics made up with your usual button down collar and also would you possibly use darker coloured buttons or stick to mother of pearl type colours? Thanks Colin
Yes I would, and I’d use dark buttons on the dark fabrics, unless there were also light colours in the pattern
LL Bean is my go to for good quality, durable winter shirts with a nice north eastern woodsman edge to them
Hi thanks for
A good article – the check shirts in the centre – green- yellow etc what is the fabric – it’s fantastic?
It’s Thomas Mason
HI Simon, firstly can i thank you for taking the time to respond to so many questions, i really enjoy the articles but find the comments section just as informative.
If you get a minute could you please tell me where the shirts shown in the picture 2nd from last are from? (the ones hanging). Some of those autumn hues are needed in my wardrobe. Thanks
No worries Nathan, happy to. It means I fill out all the articles with what readers want and I haven’t included, which feels nice.
Those shirts are from Luca Faloni, brushed cottons.
I had a heavier weight brushed cotton winter shirt made a couple of years ago but it quickly pilled so much as to be almost unwearable. I fear that the brushing process inevitably results in a fabric that is impractical for most purposes and have not had another made. I wonder if this single example has made me too cautious though?
I’ve certainly not had that experience with mine, Ian. I guess it might depend on the quality of the fabric, and the washing too (I never tumble dry, for instance)
I’m in the process of building a casual winter capsule waredrobe but I’m not sure what color my first flannel shirt should be.
I’m thinking about a light or mid gray flannel since I believe it could replace a white or light blue oxford when pairing it with navy, brown or dark green sweaters.
– Do you have any suggestions?
Either of those colours would be a nice option, yes Jonas. Also cream and pale blues too
I realise this is an old post but really relevant. Just received my first MTM shirt in a fine wale cord. Love the fit, but the shirt is too light to wear by itself. When trying to get a sweater over it – wool, cashmere etc. but the stickiness you mention is maddening. Do you know a way of reducing that friction?
No, sorry. Those shirts are really designed to be worn on their own or under a jacket unfortunately. Sorry
Hi Simon, what do you mean by “(Do also note that cord needs similar care with washing as cashmere blends.)” ?
Can’t a cord shirt not be washed and ironed like any other cotton shirt? Does it need to be washed using the wool / hand program?
It depends on the cord, but with a lot of the luxury ones you do need to be more careful. It’s also easy to scorch if you iron too hot. I would just always make sure to wash it on cool and line dry, and not iron at the top temperature
What do you think of navy, black, charcoal or charbrown as an option for evening wear? What colour buttons work best on these dark shirts? How to avoid them looking too “flash”…?
By evening wear, do you mean not black tie, just with a suit or similar tailoring? If so I’d try navy under navy, or black with something dark like charcoal tailoring.
You can have dark buttons, but personally I like regular mother of pearl
What kind of shirt colours in brushed cotton would be good for a cold colour capsule? Black? Charcoal? Olive?
Well, the most obvious would be white, followed probably by cream. After that you’re into non-standard colours for shirts, and they can be hard. I’d suggest starting with a light grey or an olive
Thanks Simon – could you recommend an olive? Perhaps one of the Thomas Mason ones you liked?
Not really, sorry. I have an olive cord, but I don’t like the shade that much
Hi Simon, I am considering whether I should go for cream or dark grey(like yours) for the brushed cotton shirt.
Which colour would you say would be more versatile and look less formal?
The dark grey would be less formal I would imagine
What would be the effect of the thicker(more visible and textured) twill cotton on shirts? Would they look more casual?
In that respect yes, though the colour would make a big difference as well obviously