What is linen clothing? Is linen the same as Cotton? Answers to your questions about linen clothing.

Linen fabric is not the same as cotton fabric. And when we discuss linen clothing, we are not proposing we wrap ourselves up in bed linens - togas n all! So, Let’s dig into these questions some more.

Linen fabric is woven from thread made from the fibers of the flax plant. It is completely natural and sustainable. Cotton fabric is woven from the thread from the cotton plant. Different plants, completely different fabrics!

Cotton plant Flax field 


Before the explosion of cotton, linen was the fabric of choice amongst royalty, aristocracy and the elite. Flax was one of the oldest plants cultivated by humans back in 7000 BC! 

Once humans figured out linen fabric, it was everywhere - used for mummification in ancient Egypt, and even in  Egyptian currency. Once Medieval Europe got a taste for linen, it was in vogue in fine linen dresses for the elite and tunics for the peasants in medieval Europe. Linen was even popular for undergarments, sleepwear and sheets (like today’s cotton - but much better for the environment!). Linen got so popular that the term “linens” became synonymous with the bed products we know and love today - sheets, towels, etc. Today, we use the term “linens” to refer to sheets irrespective of whether they are made from linen fabric or not!

Getting back to linen clothing, Linen fabric’s superpower is that it is your best fabric for hot and humid weather  - spring, summer and fall and anytime you are visiting a tropical destination (think NYC in Fall, Florida any time of the year, the Caribbean, Mexico, India and so on!). If there is only 1 shirt you pack - it better be a linen shirt! This is because linen is highly absorbent and a great conductor of heat. Linen will absorb a lot of your perspiration leaving you feeling cool and dry.

So, what happened? Why did Linen lose out in popularity to Cotton? A complex combination of factors (flax only grows in a few regions and it takes painstaking care to produce it well) resulted in Cotton becoming easier to mass-produce at scale. 

From a pure Summer comfort perspective Linen is a better fabric for Summer as pure Linen absorbs moisture faster than cotton keeping you cool and dry faster. Also, Linen is 30% stronger than Cotton and get this - Linen gets stronger with age and washes! It’s like a fine wine, the longer you keep and use your linen clothing, the more character they build. The icing on top of all of this is that Linen is more sustainable for our planet than Cotton - consuming far less water and almost no pesticides!

Now, like any superhero, in doing its work of absorbing moisture to keep you cool and dry, Linen has its downside. It does wrinkle (a lot!). So, don’t wear Linen clothing to your office when you need a super professional and crisp look. But do bring on those linen shirts and pants for any other moment - the ones that matter -  when you want to be super comfortable and look nonchalantly stylish! The wrinkles add depth and character to the look for which Italians even have the word “sprezzatura” or “studied carelessness”.

Now with all your questions about Linen clothing answered, go forth and replace some of those cotton shirts with a 100% Linen shirt and discover the magic of this fabric.