Fashion Glossary: A Complete Guide to Fabrics

Fashion is full of terminology that goes beyond the scope of a normal person’s vocabulary. From fit to fabric and style to shape, it’s easy to get confused.

For this cheat sheet, we are focusing on fabrics. You probably unknowingly have a lot of these fabrics in your closet, but do you know which ones?

A smart shopper will know the difference between fabrics, including not only what they are, but where they come from and their worth. Plus, different fabrics require different care (we will be creating a cheat sheet for care in the upcoming glossaries in this series). So sit back, grab a cup of jo, and start acquainting yourself with the different fabrics found in fashion.

Acetate: A man-made material created with cellulose. It is resistant to moth balls and shrinking, but it is not a very durable material. Its defining characteristics are a soft crisp feel and lustrous face.

Acrylic: Man-made material that feels like wool, but can withstand machine washing and drying.

Alpaca: Fabric made from hairs of alpaca sheep, relative of the llama.

Angora: Made using the natural hairs of an angora rabbit, one of the finest furs used. However, it tends to shed.

Appliqué: A shape cut out from a piece of fabric and attached to a separate piece of fabric. This separate piece can be attached by sewing machine or an adhesive.

Bamboo: A very durable material made using natural bamboo fiber. It is absorbent and breathable, making it resistant to bacteria and odor. This is an eco-friendly material.

Batiste: A very thin, semi-sheer, lightweight fabric using a simple weave. Usually made of cotton or cotton blend.

Bengaline: Crosswise-ribbed fabric traditionally made of wool, cotton, or silk, but now often made with acetate or polyester. Similar to faille, but heavier in weight.

Boucle: Knit or woven fabric created with repeated loops, giving it a textured surface.

Broadcloth: A dense, tightly woven cloth usually made with cotton or a cotton blend.

Brocade: A heavy fabric made with Jacquard loom and satin weave, usually with a floral pattern. Very oriental, old-world look.

Burling: This isn’t a fabric, but a process most fabrics go through. It involves removing excess bumps, knots, and loose threads using a burling iron or tweezers.

Burlap: A dense, heavy plain-weave fabric made with jute and vegetable fibers. Most commonly known because of its use as potato sacks. This fabric is textured and often coarse.

Calender: Not a fabric, but a method of flattening fabric similar to ironing. It uses a process of alternating metal and cloth-wrapped rollers.

Calico: Cotton material that is unbleached and often used to make quilts.

Cambric: Plain weave cotton or linen cloth. Heavier than muslin, one side has a sheen.

Canvas: A plain weave fabric that is heavy and durable, made from piled yarn using an even weave.

Cashmere: Made from the soft undercoat of the cashmere goat. It is a lightweight, luxurious wool fabric that does not take well to machine washing or drying.

Chambray: A plain woven fiber usually made of cotton. It is usually woven in checkered or striped patterns and has a frosted appearance. Usually found in blue and white colors.

Chantilly Lace: Originating in Chantilly, France, this is a type of lace with a netted background and heavy, embroidered floral patterns with outlines made from heavier thread.

Charmeuse: A silky fabric usually made with rayon or cotton, but sometimes silk. It is known for a extremely shiny front, but dull back. It is similar to satin, but lighter in weight.

Chenille: A type of fabric used with a fuzzy, caterpillar like yarn.

Chiffon: Extremely sheer fabric made with crepe fibers. It is lightweight and has a slightly bumpy texture.

Chintz: Calico fabric that is printed with intricate, ornate designs (usually floral). It is starched for stiffness and calendered with wax to create a smooth, shiny service. This makes it not suited for machine washing or drying, as the wax will come off.

Corduroy: Durable cotton or cotton-blend fabric that is made by twisting fibers that, when lying next to each other, create parallel lines. The number of ribs (or wales) per inch tells you which type of corduroy it is, ranging from 3 wales (widest) to 21 wales per inch.

Cotton: Made from cotton plant fibers. Very durable fabric that is breathable, lightweight, and machine washable. Most widely used natural fiber.

Crepe: Fine, wrinkled, gauze-like fabric that has a harsh texture. Found in many different weights and levels of transparency.

Crocheted: French meaning “hook”, this is a method of creating fabric similar to knitting that involves using a tool with a knobbed end used to pull loops of yarn through other loops. Different from knitting in that it only involves one loop at a time.

Denim: A durable twill weave cotton fabric made with different colored yarns in the warp and the weft. The weft passes under two or more warped fibers, which creates a diagonal ribbing on the other side of the fabric. This type of construction causes one color to dominate the fabric’s surface (usually blue).

Double Knit: Heavy fabric that is created weaving two looped fabrics together so they cannot be separated. Created using a special machine.

Duck Fabric: Heavy duty plain weave fabric that is impervious to the elements. Typically synonymous with the word canvas.

Elastic: A stretchy yarn or fabric.

Embossing: A method of calendering that involves pressing designs/patterns onto fabric.

Eyelet: Fabric with patterned cutouts, using embroidered stitching around them as part of the design.

Faille: (Pronounced “file”) Soft, ribbed fabric with a sheen that is usually made with silk, cotton, or synthetic materials. Similar to bengaline.

Faux Fur: Fabric made with man-made materials created to look like animal fur.

Felt: A non-woven fabric that is pressed and matted together. Because of its grain it can be cut in any direction without fraying.

Flannel: Soft twill weave made with cotton or wool that has a slightly napped surface.

Fleece: Knit fabric made of all wool or synthetic fabric that has a soft pile. Not very heavy or bulky and has good insulation.

Foil: Usually found on stretch fabrics, this is a metal layering that adds shine, color, or design.

Foulard: Material often used in men’s neckties, it is a lightweight fabric made of silk or synthetic fibers that feature small patterns on a solid background.

Gabardine: Wrinkle resistant, tough, and tight twill weave featuring diagonal ribbing. Oftentimes made with wooled yarn.

Gauze: Usually made from cotton or silk, this is a sheer, lightweight fabric made with a loose open weave.

Georgette: Highly twisted, tight woven fabric that is often lightweight and semi sheer. It is known for its crispness and durability.

Gingham: Most often made with cotton, this is a checkered-patterned fabric featuring dyed and undyed fibers.

Gossamer: Similar to gauze, this is a lightweight, sheer and shiny fabric usually made with silk.

Grosgrain: Typically made with silk and used to make formal wear and neckties, this is a tightly woven heavy ribbed fabric.

Herringbone: A twill weave pattern characterized by zig zags. Often used for dress shirts or jackets.

Houndstooth: Originating Scotland, this is a two-toned pattern featuring broken checks.

Jacquard: Weaving method used to created intricate fabrics, such as brocade or damask. It often uses silk, polyester or rayon fibers. It involves a specialized machine that attaches to a loom and electronically selects individual warp threads.

Jersey: General term used for any knit garment or fabric that is resilient, crease resistant, flexible, and stretchy. Denoted by length-wise ribs on one side and cross-wise ribs on the opposite.

Knit: Type of fabric made by inter-meshing loops of yarn, creating a stretchy fabric. Fleece, pique, and jersey are types of knits.

Lace: A decorative fabric made by looping yarns together. Creates a raised pattern.

Lambswool: The first clippings of a young sheep. Mostly used in high-grade fabrics, woven to create a durable, soft, and resilient fabric.

Lamé: Shiny material used in evening wear made from metallic yarns.

Lawn: Often used for summery blouses or dresses, this is a fine and slightly porous fabric made from cotton or linen.

Leather: Material made using tanned animal hides (usually cattle).

Linen: Made from flax plant fibers and is lightweight and breathable. It is more durable and lustrous than cotton.

Lycra: Trademark name of DuPont’s fabric of spandex fibers.

Lyocell: An eco-friendly fiber made using wood pulp cellulose (found in plant cells). A sub-category of rayon, it is more durable and breathable with a subtle sheen.

Matte Jersey: Rayon or silk-blended fabric that is lightweight and elastic, which is soft and has a crepe -like texture.

Melton: Resembling wool felt, this is a heavy, tightly woven fabric typically made using wool fibers.

Merino Wool: Regarded as the finest wool in the word, this comes from the merino sheep from Australia.

Mesh: Porous fabric that is characterized by a net-like appearance.

Microfiber: Made from extremely fine nylon or polyester filaments that when woven into textiles is exceptionally soft and retains its shape well.

Modal: Bio-based fabric made from spun Beechwood fibers. Resistant to pills, shrinking, and fading.

Mohair: Long hairs from the angora goat, which are durable and soft. Prone to shedding.

Moleskin: Durable cotton-made fabric with short, thick, velvety nap. The surface resembles suede.

Mousseline: Lightweight fabric resembling muslin, but made with non-cotton materials, such as silk and rayon.

Muslin: Lightweight and sheer cotton fabric usually made in India.

Nap: The nap of a fabric is the direction the sheared pile faces. This can be manipulated with combing.

Net: Porous, open fabric similar to mesh.

Nylon: Abrasion-resistant fabric that is durable, stretchy, and quick drying.

Organdy: Sheer, lightweight fabric that is stiffened and made with tightly twisted cotton or synthetic yarns. Denoted by its crisp finish.

Organza: Traditionally the silk version of organdy, this is a extremely crisp, sheer, lightweight fabric made by tightly twisting silk yarns. It can be made with other materials besides silk.

Pashmina: Similar to cashmere, this is made from the fine underhair of goats found in central Asia.

Percale: Soft plain weave fabric made from combed cotton yarns. Often found in summer clothing and bedding.

Pile: The extra yarn that protrudes from the surface of fabric.

Piqué: Tightly woven cotton known for its waffle-like texture.

Plissé: Similar in appearance to seersucker, this is a cotton fabric made with permanent creases and wrinkles with a special solution that shrinks specific areas.

Polyester: Condensation polymers that combine to create a synthetic fiber that is durable, quick drying, and resistant to wrinkling.

Poplin: Plain woven fabric with a corded surface that runs selvage to selvage.

Rayon: Soft, highly absorbent fabric that has a nice drape. Made with cellulose of viscose.

Sateen: Made using cotton, this fabric is soft and durable, made with a satin weave.

Satin: Different from sateen in that it uses fibers such as silk and nylon. Smooth, shiny fabric that has a dull back and great drape.

Seersucker: Traditionally cotton fabric known for its crinkled stripes, made by weaving some threads tight, and others loose.

Silk: Fabric made using the fibers produced from the silk worm. It is a strong fabric with a natural sheen that can be used in a lot of different ways.

Spandex: Made with super stretchy elastic fibers.

Suede: Leather that has a velvety nap.

Synthetic: Man-made material created with combination of chemicals that are durable.

Taffeta: Smooth yet crisp fabric that gives clothing a lot of body and rustle. Made from many different fibers, such as silk or rayon.

Terry Cloth: Usually made with cotton, this fabric has a loop pile that absorbed moisture.

Tulle: Lightweight, fine, netted fabric made into hexagonal shapes.

Tweed: A heavy, highly texturized wool fabric.

Twill: Fabric characterized by diagonal ribs on its face and a soft smooth finish. Denim is a type of twill.

Velour: Resembles velvet, but has a rougher look and slight stretch. Velvet is typically made of silk, where velour is made of cotton, rayon, or wool. Usually has a knitted back.

Velvet: Typically made of silk, this has a very even-cut soft pile.

Velveteen: Lightweight cotton-made fabric that lacks sheen and drape of velvet. It has a very short, dense pile.

Vinyl: Synthetic fabric that resembles leather, made from PVC.

Viscose: Typically referred to as rayon, this is a man-made synthetic fabric that has a great drape and silky feel.

Voile: Resembling organza, this is a loosely woven fabric that is semi transparent.

Warp: Not fabric itself, but refers to the vertical threads in fabric.

Weft: Not fabric itself, but refers to the horizontal threads in fabric.

Wool: Made using any variety of animal hair fibers. Known for being stain and wrinkle resistant and warm.

Sources: NY Fashion Center Fabrics, Imprinted Originals,

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