Is there a future for non-iron fabrics?

Five minutes of reading will bring up ten good reasons to avoid non-iron clothes.

I’ve never been drawn towards non-iron anything. To me, wrinkles are just another part of life, and one to be embraced.

However, non-iron or at least wrinkle resistant fabrics are – to some degree – created and used by nearly every industry player I know of, so I decided to educate myself about them. The first thing I found was that the information was rather dated; most material that appeared consisted of articles criticising non-iron shirts, deriding the use of formaldehyde treatments to create the non-iron effect.

There’s plenty of scientific evidence to say that wearing formaldehyde in your clothes is unhealthy, and I’m not a fan of the feel of traditional non-iron anything (it’s generally stiff and unbreathable). However, working with clothing and textiles I’ve learned that crease resistance isn’t only gained by bonding carcinogenic agents with yarns and fibres.

One such way is to blend the fabric with a crease resistant synthetic, as was commonly seen during the post-WWII era with the advent of permanent press products like Levi’s Sta-Prest line. It was originally made from chemically treated cotton, but for the sake of durability, the manufacturer quickly switched to using either a synthetic blend or pure polyester. However, there are numerous disadvantages to this; synthetic fabrics are harmful to produce, they’re allergenic for many people, and the Instagram gallery embedded below showcases just how non-biodegradable synthetic fabrics are:

Be sure to click or swipe through the whole gallery. It’s an alarming sight.

Happily, synthetics need not be the future for crease resistance; the ability of textile mills to create naturally crease resistant fabrics has become increasingly impressive as customer tastes fuel innovation across the industry. Some of the suiting cloths I’ve worked with seem to ward away a crease from the word go. They can be shipped halfway around the world squashed in a box with other garments, yet spring into an almost wearable state within thirty seconds of being unpacked.

These travel resistant tailoring cloths have two important technical features to consider. Firstly, they utilise only long staple fibres – the most premium of yarn yields – which have a higher tensile strength. When these long staples fibres are interlocked, they’re more resistant to wrinkles in the cloth formed from these yarns, where a cloth composed of shorter staples would have what is essentially a series of miniature gaps in its tensile field. The result? Short staple fibres lead to increased wrinkling. The second component is the number of layers – referred to as ply – that compose any given piece of thread in the weave.

The most naturally crease resistant suiting cloths, such as Standeven Explorer, Dormeuil’s Travel Resistant and Tonik bunches, are made of high twist weaves. Some other well reputed options in this space include VBC four-ply, or the six-ply options in Drapers’ Ascot bunch (though most mills these days have an option in this category). These cloths keep the ironed creases razor sharp, and ward off the rest like science-fiction force fields.

High twist cloths like these do have their drawbacks from a wearer’s perspective. They’re often very dry to the touch, wearing coarsely on the skin. However, I’ve noticed that high twist travel resistant tailoring cloths have improved dramatically in wearability even within my short two years in the industry, with some even getting to the point of wearing reasonably soft against the skin.

While naturally crease resistant suiting certainly seems to be the direction wool textile weavers are trending in, a similar path is yet to be trod so widely in the world of shirting cloths. Cloths spun from cotton don’t have the same natural ability for crease resistance, and the majority of travel resistant shirting is either still utilising chemical treatments or blending with small amounts of synthetic fibres.

However, I see genuine potential for textile makers to innovate a similar process to high twist for shirting cotton. It may not happen for a while, but I can envision a time where they’ll achieve a reasonable level of naturally crease resistant shirting fabric. An attempt to market this future innovation as naturally non-iron might be a stretch (even non-iron needs a bit of light ironwork if it dries anywhere other than a clothesline), but achieving the goal of naturally easy iron fabrics across the board is well within grasp.

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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