Beginner's Guide: Fabrics

December 19, 2017 6 min read

You’re in the dressing room, trying on some pieces from your favorite clothing store. You check out how it fits, how the color looks on your skin, and how comfortable you feel wearing it. Unless you’re Miranda Priestly (any Devil Wears Prada fans?), you probably didn’t think much about what kind of fabric it’s made of. Fabric is so essential to a piece of clothing, but it’s usually not something us shoppers know a lot about.

In this fabric guide, we’re gonna talk about a few of the most common fabrics used to make clothing– what they’re made of, how to take care of them, and when to wear (or not wear) them!


Probably the most common textile in our fabric guide, cotton comes from the cotton plant (imagine a cotton ball growing on a stem) and is processed and spun into thread or yarn. It’s super soft and really durable, and therefore one of the most commonly used fabrics in clothing. It’s used to make t-shirts, denim, sweatshirts, as well as a lot of non-clothing textiles. Care for your cotton clothing by keeping it out of the sun (cotton fades pretty easily) and washing it in cool water (hot water makes it shrink).

When to wear it

Cotton is the perfect year-round fabric. During the summer, wear lightweight t-shirts or some casual cotton pants. Over winter, wear a cotton top as a base layer.

When notto wear it

Cotton is more of a casual fabric, so avoid wearing it to formal occasions or in more professional settings. Also be cautious wearing cotton on days where you know you’ll be sweating A LOT. Cotton absorbs moisture very easily.


Wool is made of fibers from animals. Usually sheep, but you can also find a lot of variety in wool–there’s alpaca wool, mohair (from goats), or angora wool (rabbit fur). Wool is great because it’s super soft and usually super warm! You’ll find wool in sweaters, jackets, hats, scarves–pretty much anything you’ll use to keep warm! It’s the perfect material for cozy days. Take care of your wool but washing it with cold water without detergent. Don’t wring or hang dry wool, it will stretch! Lay it on a flat surface to dry instead.

When to wear it

Wear wool when you want to be warm! Wool is great at keeping in warmth during those colder winter days. It’s a great top layer because it’s so thick, but should probably be avoided as a base layer.

When not to wear it

Avoid wearing wool when it’s warm outside; wool is super thick and will make you feel like you’re living in a sauna once you start to sweat! Also, avoid wearing wool as a base layer. While it’s usually very soft, some types of wool can also get really itchy. Try to keep another layer of clothing between your cozy sweater and your skin.


Leather is made from animal skin, but you can also find tons of vegan leathers anywhere. Not only is leather used for jackets, but you can also find leather pants, accessories, and shoes. Real leather is usually really expensive, and so it’s important to take good care it! Use products specifically made for leather care in order to clean and protect your leather pieces.

When to wear it

Leather is great as a top layer; the thick skin is perfect for keeping out the cold and blocking wind. It’s also a fantastic statement piece for any outfit! Try some leather bottoms or a killer leather jacket to really stand out.

When not to wear it

Leather is another one to avoid when it’s warmer. It’s not breathable and traps in moisture, so a pair of leather pants is going to turn your lower body into a sauna when it’s hot. Also be cautious wearing leather in more professional settings; leather can be flashy so keep it minimal!


Silk is our last natural fabric and probably the most lavish in our fabric guide! It’s usually used to make scarves, formal wear, slips–pretty much anything luxurious and expensive. Did you know that silk is made from the cocoons of insect larvae? Silk is super delicate and should be hand washed with cold water. The dyes used in silk clothing can sometimes wash out or transfer to other surfaces so be cautious of this!

When to wear it

Silk can be very formal and elegant, so it’s great to wear for special occasions! Silk clothing usually has a loose and relaxed fit, so it’s ideal for summer and spring. Silk accessories (like a neck scarf) are perfect all year round.

When not to wear it

Thin and lightweight, silk is not typically a fabric to wear in the cooler months. In the summer, beware of pit stains!


Rayon first came about as an inexpensive alternative to silk–it’s made from wood pulp rather than insect larvae. Rayon can imitate the texture and feel of a wide range of fabrics, so it’s used in all types of clothing. Either dry clean your rayon items or hand wash them in cold water and air dry them!

When to wear it

Rayon is really similar to silk, so wear it for formal occasions and in warmer weather! It’s super versatile though, so experiment with different types of pieces to find what works for you!

When not to wear it

If you’re dressing warm, avoid rayon! If you do try it during the winter, play around with layering!


Spandex is great for its elasticity; it can stretch up to 600 times and still bounce back. It’s most popular use is in fitness and activewear. Spandex can be heat sensitive so don’t bleach, iron, or dry clean it and lay it flat to dry.

When to wear it

Spandex is great for active wear. It stretches with you and won’t hold you back from any physical activity, and it’s great for repelling moisture.

When not to wear it

Spandex is typically super casual, so avoid it for professional or formal occasions.


Nylon is produced from small almost plastic chips that are melted and made into thread. It’s strong and lightweight so it’s used in tons of different types of clothing. Nylon is sensitive to heat and dries quickly. You can machine wash it, but avoid using bleach and be careful with heat.

When to wear it

Since nylon is so durable and flexible, it’s used for a lot of activewear and allows for easy movement.

When not to wear it

Nylon is super prone to static electricity. Avoid it when the air is dry, and try to stick to just one piece of nylon clothing to limit static electricity.


Acrylic is usually an inexpensive alternative to wool, so you’ll find it in sweaters and other types of clothing. It’s more lightweight than wool and usually softer. There is a lot of variety among acrylic clothing, so make sure to check care instructions when caring for your individual pieces!

When to wear it

Wear acrylic to keep you warm! It’s super warm but also really lightweight.

When not to wear it

Acrylic usually doesn’t hold up well against abrasion, so be careful about when and where you choose to wear it. It’s also one to avoid on warmer days or when the air is really dry (also prone to static electricity).


Polyester is produced like nylon. It’s super durable and doesn’t wrinkle, so it’s used in the production of a wide range of clothing. Some of it’s more popular uses are in suits and formal dresses. Since polyester is so durable, it’s pretty easy to care for. Still, make sure you check the care instructions and watch out for any special restrictions.

When to wear it

Polyester is super durable and super diverse, so it works for almost any occasion!

When not to wear it

Polyester is not the most breathable fabric, so avoid wearing it when you know you’ll be warm.

Click here to download our ultimate laundry fabric guide! We’ll help you to decipher what all those weird symbols actually mean.


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