The Airthreads Guide to Performance Fabrics for Dress Shirts

What are performance dress shirt fabrics? What’s the difference between non-iron, wrinkle-free and wrinkle-resistant cotton for dress shirts?

Read ahead to get answers to these questions and to learn more about dress shirt fabrics.

Traditionally, 100% cotton was the go-to fabric for fine dress shirts. There are numerous benefits to 100% cotton which is why it remains the most popular dress shirt fabric. It is comfortable, breathable, and durable. It can be woven using a variety of weaves and thread counts to create different feels and heaviness. It is a natural, plant-based fabric and hypoallergenic (unlikely to cause any allergic reactions).

That said, there are use cases where 100% Cotton doesn’t work for everyone.  

  • 100% Cotton fabric tends to wrinkle and these shirts must be ironed. If you are looking for low-maintenance dress shirts that can be worn straight from the dryer, pure 100% Cotton shirts won’t work. 

  • 100% Cotton is moisture-absorbing. This is a great quality to help you feel dry and cool in summer and low-activity use. However, for more active  use cases where you end up sweating, cotton can feel too damp and you need moisture-wicking.

Our lifestyles have evolved to become busier, active, and practical. Not everyone has the time or inclination to iron shirts, or send them to the dry-cleaner. There are times when it is not possible to switch shirts during the day for different events and you need a shirt that is multi-functional.

What are Performance Dress Shirt Fabrics?

Performance dress shirt fabrics are fabrics designed to deliver enhanced capabilities beyond a processional-looking shirt. There are a variety of options from 100% Cotton treated to be non-iron, to Cotton blended with other fabrics to enhance the natural benefits of 100% Cotton, to completely synthetic fabrics.

Here are a few definitions:

100% Non-iron Cotton: 100% Cotton non-iron shirts get their non-iron finish by dipping the fabric/shirt into a formaldehyde based solution. This treatment can be applied to the fabric at the mill during the finishing process, or it can be applied to the finished shirt. Different brands use different levels of the chemical to achieve the non-iron finish. The benefit of this treatment, is a shirt that has superior wrinkle resistance, and that can be worn straight out of the dryer at home.

Wrinkle-resistant Cotton Blends: Cotton can be blended with other fabrics to maintain most of the benefits of 100% Cotton such as its breathability, while adding on new benefits. For example, 

  • 98% Cotton blended with 2% Lycra (a.k.a Elastane or Spandex) delivers a fabric that feels as close to 100% cotton as possible with wrinkle-resistance. This fabric will still require a quick steam-iron straight out of the dryer, but it will hold up to wrinkles well for a polished look throughout the day. 
  • 70% Cotton, blended with 30% PolyLycra (the kind designed for moisture-wicking) delivers a fabric with quite a bit of stretch and moisture-wicking for an active lifestyle.

Moisture-wicking: Moisture-wicking fabrics use capillary-action to move moisture (sweat) from the inner surface of the fabric to the outer surface, so that it can evaporate. This helps you feel dry and help the fabric dry faster. Polyester is one fabric that can be engineered to be moisture-wicking.

Moisture-absorbing fabrics absorb moisture and hold it. These fabrics stay damp longer. A benefit of this is they keep you feeling cool, but can be uncomfortable if you need something that keeps you dry. 100% Cotton is a moisture-absorbing fabric.

Performance Shirts