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Fashion October, 25 2012

A History of Fall’s Most Popular Fabrics and Our Top Picks

Fall is in full swing which means it’s time to dig through your closet and look for the right jacket suitable for the day’s weather. Like every year, there’s plenty of different styles and cuts to choose from but a factor often overlooked is material. Here we’ll take a closer look at some of the most popular technical fabrics appropriate for fall’s cold, wet, windy weather and provide you with some recommendations.

Take a look below to up your technical fabric knowledge and see this season’s picks.

Gore-Tex

First up is the ubiquitous Gore-Tex fabric. Founded in 1976 by Wilbert L. Gore, Rowena Taylor, and Gore’s son, Robert W. Gore, the material is found on jackets everywhere from the North Face to Adidas. The fabric is constructed of 5 different layers: the top 3 dedicated to rain repellent and all 5 allowing transpiration from the interior to the exterior. Its membrane coating outperforms waterproof jackets by about 25 – 30% with regards to moisture movement and control.

At the heart of Gore-Tex’s construction is its Teflon fabric which is so tight that each pore is 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet. At the same time, the fabric’s holes are 700 times larger than a body moisture molecule allowing for maximum breathability. With the material’s revolutionary  construction it’s no wonder Gore-Tex is the most popular name in technical fabrics. If you’ve got the money to burn and are looking for the best in Gore-Tex check out the GT-J28 by Acronym from their 2012 fall and winter collection.

Waxed Cotton

Next is the classic material waxed cotton. The history of waxed cotton dates all the way back to the 15th century when mariners would apply fish oil and grease to their sails in order for them to move quicker across the water. A few hundred years later, in 1795, Britain’s Royal Navy adopted Francis Webster Ltd’s linseed sails which would be used heavily until the mid 19th century when the first waxed cotton products made of Egyptian cotton started to appear. The products worked well but suffered from the same fate – they  became stiff in the cold and had a tendency to turn a rotten yellow color.

Fast forward another 70 years to the 1920s when 3 companies cooperated to produce paraffin-impregnated cotton that was both highly water resistant and breathable. One of these companies was Webster’s who tested the new article in New Zealand’s commercial shipping industry. It turned out to be so successful that the British company looked for other marks to sell their garments in. Enter J. Barbour & Sons. Originally producing clothes for farmers and gamekeepers, they expanded into the motorcycling market in the 1930s through a series of professional sponsorships. Their jackets hit their peak in popularity during the 1964 International Six Days Trial where the King of Cool, Steve McQueen, rocked one as part of the American team.

Since then the material has seen a steady replacement by synthetic materials but can still be seen in areas where its warmth provides a greater benefit over its cost, weight, and maintenance disadvantages. Our favorite piece featuring waxed cotton from this year’s releases is the Men’s Cloud Coat by Danish brand Anerkjendt featured in our October 10th Buyer’s Guide. For even more options check out our Waxed Jacket Guide.

Pertex

Third up is the less waterproof but highly more windproof material made of wicking fabric known as Pertex. Around for just over 30 years, Pertex was originally manufactured by Perseverance Mills Ltd. in Manchester, England and recently sold the manufacturing rights to Mitsui & Co. of Japan. The magic at work behind the material is 2   types of yarn with different properties. The capillary action between the inner, larger yarn moves moisture from the larger filaments to the outer, smaller yarn without passing through the air. This causes the moisture to leave the fabric while the tight weave of the outer surface protects the material from the wind. We’ve seen other Pertex jackets this season but our favorite is still the Nanamica Cruiser Jacket featured in our August Buyer’s Guide.

Nylon

Of course no fall fabric guide would be complete without one of the most used polymers on earth – nylon. The synthetic material was first produced in 1935 at DuPont’s research facility and was originally used as toothbrush bristles. A few years later, the material would become famous in the likes of women’s stockings, also known simply as “nylons.” During the first few months of World War II, major textile executives and chemists such as Bill Pittendreigh and DuPont were contracted by the US army to work on a substitute to Asian silk and hemp.

The result, of course, was nylon which was used in the manufacturing of parachutes, tires, tents, ropes, and other military supplies. While the material is resistant to heat and water, its ability to be waterproof is dependent on the tightness of the clothing’s weave. Manufacturer’s have been able to bypass this dilemma by coating the material with durable water repellents making it suitable for rain jackets, shower curtains, and much more. Stand out in the crowd this season with the A Rak in Columbia Blue by Woolrich Woolen Mills.

G-1000

No technical fabric list would be complete without Fjällräven’s very own G-1000 fabric. The material was invented by Fjällraven’s founder, Åke Nordin, after discovering on an expedition to Greenland in 1966 that the selection of outdoor clothing was far too limited. Taking matters into his own hands, the adventurous Swede sewed together the very first G-1000 jacket adding a mixture of beeswax and paraffin.

Nowadays, the tightly woven fabric is constructed of 65% polyster and 35% cotton and coated with a layer of natural Greenland wax. The combination of materials allows for both wind and water resistance on top of being both extremely durable and highly breathable. Like Gore-Tex, G-1000 allows for built-up moisture to release from the material so sweating stays at a minimum. The Greenland Jacket is always a classic but check out the Fjell Jacket for something a little different.

HEATTECH

While these other materials solve the problem of staying protected from the wind and rain, they don’t exclusively cater to the issue of staying warm. Fortunately, Uniqlo’s HEATTECH material has that part covered. Developed in collaboration with the industrial Japanese product designer Toray, HEATTECH uses the moisture leaving your body to produce heat. The air pockets in the material then store this heat in the fibers to keep the warmth on your skin. With the Uniqlo US site finally up and running, head on over and pick up a few foundation pieces to get ready for the cold.

Now that you’re up on the differences between technical fabrics, use the information to decide what’s appropriate for your area’s climate. Take a look at the recommendations above and stay posted for a winter guide in the coming months.

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