What makes the perfect white T-shirt? We put his question to Monika Menne, Lecturer in Textiles at the internationally renowned ESMOD fashion school. Read on what the fashion expert has to say about fabric quality and design.
Photo Credit: whytes.co
What makes the perfect white T-shirt? We put his question to Monika Menne, Lecturer in Textiles at the internationally renowned ESMOD fashion school. For the qualified textiles engineer, the perfect white T-shirt has to satisfy two essential criteria: it should make the perfect visual impression and provide outstanding wearing comfort. In this interview, she also tells us what standards the perfect fabric has to meet.
INTERVIEW BY THOMAS ESCHER
Mrs. Menne, tell us a bit about yourself.
Okay, well this will need a little explaining (laughs). I’m a graduate engineer specializing in textile finishing – or, in other words, I’m a textiles engineer. It’s a profession that has become quite rare nowadays in western industrialized countries. In short, textiles engineers deal with the production and finishing of fabrics. When I returned to work after my maternity leave around five years ago, I signed on as a fabrics expert at the international ESMOD fashion school. I work there with budding fashion designers and teach them the fundamentals of textiles. My work as a lecturer is an excellent way of combining my personal enthusiasm for fashion with my professional know-how.
You sound really passionate. As a fashion-avid textiles expert, could you tell us what, in your opinion, makes the perfect white T-shirt?
I have a maxim that I always pass on to my students: “For the perfect design, the fabric and the cut have to complement each other in the best way possible.” This rule of thumb also applies to the perfect white T-shirt. That means that, alongside a top choice of fabric, the cut is the most crucial factor. For the perfect men’s T-shirt, I’d say this cut should be a close-fitting “slim fit” design whose collar isn’t too high on the neck and whose sleeves cover around half of the upper arm. In my opinion, aside from the fabric and cut, the most important things from a textiles point of view are the visual appearance of the material and the impression it makes. But if the cut isn’t right, even the perfect choice of fabric won’t save the design.
Although an impeccable choice of fabric is surely the basic requirement for a perfect design, right?
Yes, without a doubt. Speaking from experience, there are really only two alternatives when choosing the right material for the perfect T-shirt. You can either use a very high-quality combed cotton fabric whose structure guarantees a high level of wearing comfort and an elegant look and feel, or you can go for a fabric produced using man-made, plant-based fibers. The fabrics industry has made enormous progress in this area over the last few years. The everyday term for these kinds of fabrics is “viscose.” Like cotton, viscose is made of plant fibers, mostly from beechwood or bamboo. Viscose’s positive characteristics make it a very popular choice for women’s outerwear. Personally, I think that each of these fabrics has their own appeal, and at the end of the day, the one the wearer chooses is a question of taste. The quality of today’s viscose fabrics is no longer inferior to their top-grade cotton counterparts and both are often used in fabric blends.
If you could dream up the perfect fabric composition based on a blend of high-quality cotton and beechwood fiber: what would it be like?
Well, if we were talking women’s shirts this would be an easy question and I would almost only rely on cellulose or beechwood fiber fabrics like Micromodal. No offense, but this is because women are generally more educated when it comes to fabric standards in fashion. For men you probably still need a blend of fabrics that consists of around 50% high-quality cotton and about 30% to 40% cellulose. But I’d guess after a while even the most skeptical men will be convinced of the advantage of cellulose based fabrics since they feel smoother and gentler on the skin. And due to the production process, those materials appear shinier than their cotton counterparts. Processed beechwood fibers are a pioneering material in fashion that last but not least is more sustainable than cotton fibers since the cultivation requires less water and pesticide.
What key criteria are used to assess the quality of cotton?
The quality of cotton is all about how long the cotton fibers have grown. The reason for this is quite simple: the longer the fibers, the finer they can be spun later on in the manufacturing process. This makes the thread a lot smoother, which ultimately has an impact on how the fabric looks and feels. Cheap cotton fabrics manufactured with too many short fibers often make a piece of clothing look awkward and coarse. Long cotton fibers on the other hand lend the finished product a smooth, shiny surface. So in that respect, high-quality cotton is another essential ingredient for the perfect white T-shirt. The matte sheen, the most visible characteristic of top-grade cotton, is particularly popular among men.
And the perfect look and feel also has a lot to do with how the material is made, doesn’t it?
Absolutely. This is what we in the trade call the knit – in other words the method used to produce a fabric. In my opinion, the best material for a high-quality men’s T-shirt is a classic “Single Jersey” knit fabric. The reason for this is simple: clothes worn regularly come under a lot of strain, so it makes sense to choose a stretchy fabric. Knitted fabrics automatically have a certain stretch factor because of how they are made. A small amount of spandex – usually between 2 and 5 percent – also benefits the fit. Furthermore, Single Jersey fabrics boast a certain firmness – yet another important component for the quality of a men’s T-shirt.
And surely one that benefits the durability of the T-shirt.
Yes. Although it has to be said that a cotton T-shirt can never be as durable as a pair of jeans, for example. I’d particularly like to emphasize this point, because it’s relevant to the way we take care of the product. The perfect white T-shirt will only stay perfect if you look after it properly. I often hear my students saying things like: “Cotton? Well, I just throw it in the washing machine.” Often at 60°C and with a spin cycle of 1,400 rpm. Any T-shirt will have had it after going through that kind of torture. There are many areas where the consumer can play a part in how long a product lasts.
So what’s your expert advice for washing high-quality cotton textiles?
Ideally, you should choose the delicates program on your washing machine – a maximum of 30°C and a spin cycle of 600 rpm. There’s still a common misconception that shirts washed at a higher spin cycle will end up with fewer creases. The opposite is in fact the case: the lower the rotation speed during the spin cycle, the fewer creases your shirt will have. After washing, pull the T-shirt into shape and leave it to dry. If you want to be a perfectionist, you can dry the T-shirt flat – that way it will retain its shape for longer and will end up with hardly any creases at all, even if you don’t iron it. By the way, your choice of detergent makes a huge difference, too. I’d recommend a liquid detergent for washing delicate items. Liquid detergents don’t contain bleach, so they are gentler on your clothes and on the environment, too. Liquids are also easier to measure out – a benefit that really shouldn’t be underestimated, especially for men. (laughs)
You might have a point there. Finally, can you tell us the maximum amount of money you would spend on the perfect T-shirt?
That’s difficult to say. Price sensitivity varies in this respect from person to person. For me personally, a decisive factor when it comes to price is to consider how I’ll be able to use the item in question. If I were a man, I’d expect to be able to wear a T-shirt in all kinds of situations, whether as an undershirt or as an alternative to a button-up shirt. I’d put a T-shirt meeting those criteria somewhere in the 50-euro price category. Of course, you’ll also find T-shirts costing more than 100 euros, but I’d say the market volume for that kind of product is pretty low.