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Know Your Fabrics: Tips for Shopping for Comfort

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If you have sensitive, easily irritated skin or you're simply looking to maximize your sartorial comfort, fabric choice is key. Here's a look at some easy-to-find ready-to-wear fabrics and why you might want to consider adding them to your wardrobe.

Cotton

When people think of comfortable fabrics, cotton is usually the one that comes to mind first — and for good reason. A natural fabric, it's breathable (it absorbs and releases water/perspiration quickly), durable, easy to wash and has antimicrobial properties. Better yet, there are so many varieties of cotton including denim, flannel, seersucker, corduroy, velvet and terrycloth that you can easily tailor the fabric to suit your style.

Linen

Linen easily absorbs and releases water/perspiration and it works year-round, as it not only helps retain heat in the winter, but feels cool to the touch in summer. It's also easy to care for (you can put it in the machine and, even at high temperatures, there is minimal shrinkage) and relatively stain and dirt resistant. Linen also has natural antiseptic properties that prevent bacterial growth and help kill microbes, which is particularly important for those with sensitive skin.

Merino wool

Generally considered to be the softest wool, merino is fine and itch-free (avoid it, however, if you suffer from lanolin allergies). It's the perfect material for cold weather because of its ability to aid with temperature regulation and its inherent antimicrobial properties make it great for performance apparel.

Silk

Known for being soft to the touch, silk's protein structure makes it one of the most hypoallergenic fabrics. Better yet, it's versatile, meaning it's warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It's also lightweight, relatively absorbent for a high-end fabric (it can absorb about 20-30% of its weight in moisture before getting damp) and dries quickly.

Hemp

While it's stronger than many other popular natural fabrics, it's not as soft. It is, however, naturally resistant to mold and mildew, absorbs and releases perspiration quickly and is UV-resistant. Note that it is prone to wrinkling and usually needs to be washed in cold water to avoid shrinkage.

Leather

Very durable, leather is available in a variety of finishes. It also easily repels liquids making it good for those prone to staining their clothing.

Bamboo

Many eco-friendly apparel lines use bamboo since it's a natural, renewable resource that grows very quickly, doesn't require much water and doesn't require any fertilizers or pesticides. To the touch, it's comfortable and breathable, wicks away moisture and has natural antimicrobial properties that help keep odor at bay. It's also easy to wash.

Acrylic

A popular synthetic fabric, acrylic is lightweight, soft, absorbs and releases moisture quickly and it's resilient when it comes to shrinkage. It's also easy to wash, making it popular for workout apparel. In fact, when it comes to workout comfort, synthetic is usually the way to go for its high powered moisture-wicking and antimicrobial properties and ability to dry very quickly.

Nylon

Another synthetic fabric, nylon is lightweight, yet resilient. It's also quick drying and dirt/stain repellent. The downside is that it's not good when it comes to moisture absorption like many other popular synthetic fabrics, so it will get hot and sticky quickly in the heat.

Rayon

Resilient and very breathable, rayon is soft, comfortable and doesn't have static problems.

Polyester

Very durable, polyester is also a stretchy fabric that doesn't wrinkle. Note, however, that you'll want to opt for polar fleece if you're looking for a polyester that can easily absorb moisture (polar fleece is very breathable and dries quickly). Polyester is usually very easy to care for, but avoid clothing that is 100% polyester; for maximum comfort you'll want to have it mixed in with another fabric like wool, cotton or rayon.

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