Sequins, silk and sweaters! Cashmere, coats and caps! Glam, gold and glitter! With the winter and holiday shopping season upon us, I’m sure we can all use some tips to narrow down our choices of snuggly sweaters and sparkly skirts. This winter fiber guide will provide shoppers with some insight into how various fibers and embellishments behave to make you a smart holiday shopper.
Wool – Wool may be one of the warmest natural materials and makes a wonderful cozy pullover, but take a second look at any item of this fiber. A chunky knit could be scratchy, and I’m actually allergic to most wools so I can only wear it in an outer layer that won’t contact my skin. Merino wool is lightweight and carefully carded, making it smooth and soft; worsted wool has a more natural, corse texture. Wool will keep you toasty warm! Just keep it away from a warm water wash – boiling wool is what makes felt. The fibers are short, corse and gnarled so they will shrink, snag and tangle with one another when heated and agitated.
Cotton – Cotton is personally my favorite content for most sweaters, basics, tees, socks and PJs. It’s soft (the finer the weave and more combed the softer), versatile, machine-washable and won’t pill. It’s not the toughest of fabrics but fine for everyday wear, and it’s very absorbent. This means it will soak up your body heat or sweat, which will then evaporate when it hits the air. A heavy cotton sweater will make you warm but not sweaty. For your best bet on socks, go all cotton to avoid those clammy, stinky feet wrapped up in your boots. ick! Beware of shrinkage, though, in a hot dryer.
Also, read the content label of the clothes you like in the store before buying! Cotton prices started soaring with the 2008 recession, so many companies started blending their cotton-feel garments with polyester, a cheaper alternative, which compromises the nice features of 100% cotton.
Polyester – Polyester is a cheap, versatile fiber that can make fun, flirty clothing. However, it is almost non-absorbent, meaning it will hold all the heat AND sweat right against your body with no breathability. This also contributes to red dye (red is the most difficult colored dye to set) running onto your whites. Accidentally mix a red poly top with your white cotton gym socks, and that red dye will leach out of the poly and seep into the cotton leaving you with a faded shirt and pink work-out socks.
Also check the labels on your sheets. Poly is being added to most lower cost bedding to save on fiber cost, and this means your sheets could pill or keep you a bit too warm at night.
Acrylic – I’ve stopped buying acrylic sweaters altogether because they are sure to pill and look shabby before the season has finished. If you want to buy a low cost, trendy sweater and don’t mind tossing it after a few months or sitting to de-pill several times, then this is a good, affordable option. Acrylic fibers are weak and break very easily, which is what causes the pilling under the arms and where your purses hits. Acrylic is often found in blends with wool or cotton so you just have to take your chances in these cases, but the larger the percentage of acrylic, the more likely it is to look old very fast.
Cashmere – Cashmere is supposed to be expensive. If it’s not, then read the label; it’s probably not entirely cashmere. If it is and is still inexpensive, then expect it to pill quickly.
Silk – Cool and slinky, silk makes lovely holiday and dress wear. Just be careful not to snag the fabric as it could pull, and take it to a dry cleaner when dirty. Spilling on it or trying to spot clean will leave water stains. Polyester actually does make a decent, slick silk replica for on-trend, less expensive garments; it just won’t feel so lightweight and delicate.
Sequins – Sequins are so much fun for the holidays! When in the store make sure the thread holding down the sequins is safely tacked inside or finished into the seam. If it’s only loose in a few spots, you can tack those yourself before wearing so you don’t loose sequins, and there should be a little baggy of extra sequins included it might be worth saving. If you feel comfortable washing the garment at home, make sure it’s turned inside out. Also, if wearing a sequin dress or skirt with tights, make sure the bottom sequins are completely smooth, or you will get a fluffy circle of pulled threads on your tights at the hem of your skirt.
Rhinestones, studs or glitter – If you see a fun embellished top in the store with any of these decorations, gently run your finger over it before taking it home (yes, gently! We don’t want you ruining anyone’s merchandise.) Anything that is loosely or incorrectly applied will flake, peel or start to separate from the garment at a light touch, and that means you will leave a party with only a partial graphic left. Also wash these inside out.
Happy holiday shopping!