A Guide To A Good Life

A brief history of clothes

17th-century-clothes

“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” ― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Clothing may have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, with some scientists proposing that it may have been in use even more than 650,000 years ago, though most agree that the first fabric uses occurred about 100,000 years ago.

These theories are based on studies of the human body louse, which according to genetic studies, diverged from its ancestor, the head louse, about 107,000 years ago. I hope you weren’t eating your lunch when you read that…

Flax fibers seem to have been the first used for textiles and fabrics, around 8,000 BC, with cotton following around 5,000 – 4,000 BC and wool around 3,000 BC. Starting around 6,000 BC, other fibers such as rush, reed, palm and papyrus were used together with flax (linen) to make ropes and other textiles. Silk also saw its introduction as a fabric around 4,000 BC, in China. Bark and hemp fibers were discovered to have been used in Japan around 5,500 BC.

The Silk Route, which began in 114 BC during the Han Dynasty, is credited in large part with the development of the great civilizations of China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, the Indian subcontinent and Rome, and thus helped to lay the foundations for the modern world. You wouldn’t normally think cloth can have such an incredible impact, but it did.

Dress in classical antiquity favored wide, unsewn lengths of fabric, pinned and draped to the body in various ways. When I look at depictions of clothing from the civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, there are common traits: it was made to suit the weather, covering more of the body where it was colder and less of the body where it was warmer, becoming more ornate for the aristocratic classes or for those where certain articles of clothing were symbolic of power, such as those in certain government or religious functions. The fabrics commonly used for these clothes were linen, wool and cotton. The Egyptians used flax (linen) almost exclusively, while the Greeks favored linen and wool and the Romans used mostly wool, though they also used other fibers, such as hemp, linen and small amounts of silk or cotton (which were imported and more expensive). For more info on clothing in the ancient world, you may consult this page.

Clothing in antiquity

We owe the development of richly dyed, woven, patterned and embroidered fabrics to Byzantium and early medieval Europe. During the high middle ages, the development and dyeing of wool was developed more and more, and we began to see a clear differentiation between wool as outerwear and linen as innerwear. We all know that wool cannot be washed and dried without shrinking, which makes it unsuitable for garments that are washed often, like innerwear. That’s where linen works very well, as it also breathes quite easily. Cotton and silk were still being imported and therefore reserved for ornamentation, not as the main materials.

Byzantine clothes

We have the Crusades to thank for the diversification of textiles in Europe and soon afterward, for the emergence of fashion, which historians agree occurred in the mid 14th century. You wouldn’t normally think of the Crusades as a tool for the development of fashion, but there it is, war has a way of opening up new trade routes and new ways of life. I think of these unexpected developments as turdflowers springing up from… well, you know what…

From that time onward, clothes began to change in Europe at a pace unheard of in other places in the world, where styles remained the same for centuries while the Europeans began changing them every year. This is also the period when straight seams and draped garments began to be replaced with what were the beginnings of tailoring, such as curved seams, lacing and buttons.

Medieval clothing

We began to see national variations in clothing during the 15th century. This is also when silk and velvet began to be used more prominently. During the 17th century, we find the origins of the three-piece suit — as the coat, waistcoat and breeches (pants, trousers) began to be made of the same cloth. The fellow in this illustration is not wearing a new-fangled three-piece suit, he prefers the foppish look.

18th century fashion

In the 18th century, fabric production began to be mechanized, but clothing was still being made by hand, as the complicated machines that cut and sew suits and dresses nowadays didn’t exist yet. In the 19th century, sewing machines were invented. We saw the introduction of synthetic fibers during the 20th century, and from the start of the 20th century going forward, we have seen the gradual decline of bespoke tailoring in favor of mass-produced clothes, most of them from synthetic fibers.

suit-factory

Good things have also occurred during this last century. As a result of mechanization and automation, fabrics have become much more affordable and there’s an incredible variety now, as manufacturers constantly experiment with threads, textures, colors and treatments. Clothes have also become much more affordable, and even though they’re made by machines, advancements in computer modeling and the collective data on human measurements gathered over the centuries make it much more likely for you to find an off-the-rack outfit that fits your body nicely now, rather than a few decades ago.

An off-the-rack suit

One of the goals of my project, “The Elegant Gentleman“, is to show the benefits of natural fibers and of custom-made clothes to those who are willing to listen. Natural fibers are simply better for the body and are renewable, as the sheep will grow wool every year and the cotton and flax will spring up as long as they’re well-tended, while clothes made to your measurements, to your body, will always fit, wear and look better than something you pick off the rack at the store. These two things are immutable.

For more information on the history of clothing, I invite you to check out these pages:

Make sure to also read my article on the various types of fibers that go into the making of textiles, fabrics and cloth.

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A Guide To A Good Life

Textiles, fabrics and cloth

“What a strange power there is in clothing.” ― Isaac Bashevis Singer

Cloth is such a basic part of our lives that most of us don’t give it a second thought as we wear it. We’re concerned mostly with its color and the way it looks, but how did it get that way? How is it made? It has been with us ever since human civilization took root, evolving along with us, meeting our needs along the way, diversifying, becoming stronger, more beautiful and more comfortable along the way.

In this article, I will look at the various kinds of cloth you might see today. I realize that most of you don’t usually see fabrics by themselves, because most of you buy your clothes ready-made — so perhaps this will motivate you to visit a fabrics store, pick some out for yourselves and take it to a tailor to have a suit or a dress made for you.

Cloth

Terminology

  • Textile is a flexible woven material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibers often referred to as thread or yarn. Textiles are formed by weaving, knitting, crocheting, knotting, or pressing fibres together (felt). 
  • Fabric refers to any material made through weaving, knitting, spreading, crocheting, or bonding that may be used in production of further goods, such as garments.
  • Fabric is measured in units such as mommes (a momme is a number that equals the weight in pounds of a piece of silk if it were sized 45 inches by 100 yards), thread count (a measure of the coarseness or fineness of fabric), ends per inch (e.p.i), and picks per inch (p.p.i).
  • Cloth may be used synonymously with fabric but often refers to a finished piece of fabric used for a specific purpose.
  • Thread usually refers to thinner, individually stronger, more processed fibers, pulled into long strands in factories.
  • Yarn is produced by spinning raw fibers of wool, flax, cotton, or other material to produce long strands. This used to be done manually, although now that practice is being lost as its production has moved into factories. 

In summary, textiles is the general term given to flexible woven materials that can be used for clothing or building or other purposes. Fabrics is the term used for textiles generally meant for wearing. Cloth may or may not be used interchangeably as a synonym for fabrics but most often refers to a finished, processed material specifically used for clothing.

There are four main sources for the fibers used to make textiles: animal (wool, silk), plant (cotton, flax, jute/hemp), mineral (metal, basalt, asbestos, glass fiber) and synthetic/petroleum (nylon, polyester, acrylic).

Animal textiles

Wool refers to the hair of the domestic goat or sheep, which is distinguished from other types of animal hair in that the individual strands are coated with scales and tightly crimped, and the wool as a whole is coated with a wax mixture known as lanolin (wool grease), which is waterproof and (somewhat) dirtproof.

Woollen refers to a bulkier yarn produced from carded, non-parallel fibre, while worsted refers to a finer yarn which is spun from longer fibres which have been combed to be parallel. Wool is commonly used for warm clothing. Cashmere, the hair of the Indian cashmere goat, and mohair, the hair of the North African angora goat, are types of wool known for their softness.

Other animal textiles which are made from hair or fur are alpaca wool, vicuña wool, llama wool, and camel hair, generally used in the production of coats, jackets, ponchos, blankets, and other warm coverings. Angora refers to the long, thick, soft hair of the angora rabbit, not to be confused with the angora goat. Qiviut is the fine inner wool of the muskox.

Silk is an animal textile made from the fibres of the cocoon of the Chinese silkworm which is spun into a smooth fabric. There are two main types of the silk: mulberry silk produced by the Bombyx Mori, and wild silk such as Tussah silk. Silkworm larvae produce the first type if cultivated in habitats with fresh mulberry leaves for consumption, while Tussah silk is produced by silkworms feeding purely on oak leaves. Around four-fifths of the world’s silk production consists of cultivated silk.

Plant textiles

Cotton, flax, jute, hemp, modal and even bamboo fibers are all used for clothing. Pineapple and ramie fibers are also used in clothing, generally with a blend of other fibers such as cotton. Nettles have also been used to make a fiber and fabric very similar to hemp or flax. Fibers from the stalks of plants, such as hemp, flax, and nettles, are also known as “bast” fibers.

Acetate is used to increase the shininess of certain fabrics such as silks, velvets, and taffetas.

Lyocell is a man-made fabric derived from wood pulp. It is often described as a man-made silk equivalent and is a tough fabric which is often blended with other fabrics, such as cotton for example.

Mineral textiles

Stage curtains and fire blankets are made from asbestos and basalt fiber.

Glass fiber is used in the production of spacesuits, ironing boards and mattress covers, ropes and cables, reinforcement fibre for composite materials, insect netting, flame-retardant and protective fabric, soundproof, fireproof, and insulating fibers. Just think, you’re sleeping on glass fibers every night…

Metal fiber, metal foil, and metal wire have a variety of uses, including the production of cloth-of-gold and jewelry.

Synthetic textiles

All synthetic textiles are used primarily in the production of clothing. Polyester fiber is used in all types of clothing, either alone or blended with fibres such as cotton. Aramid fiber is used for flame-retardant clothing, cut-protection, and armor. Acrylic is a fiber used to imitate wools, including cashmere, and is often used in replacement of them. Nylon is a fiber used to imitate silk; it is used in the production of pantyhose. Thicker nylon fibers are used in rope and outdoor clothing.

Spandex (Lycra) is a polyurethane product that can be made tight-fitting without impeding movement. It is used to make activewear, bras, and swimsuits. Olefin fiber is used in activewear, linings, and warm clothing. Olefins are hydrophobic, allowing them to dry quickly. Ingeo is a polylactide fiber blended with other fibers such as cotton and used in clothing. It is more hydrophilic than most other synthetics, allowing it to wick away perspiration. Lurex is a metallic fibre used in clothing embellishment.

Milk proteins have also been used to create synthetic fabric. Milk or casein fiber cloth was developed during World War I in Germany, and further developed in Italy and America during the 1930s. Milk fiber fabric is not very durable and wrinkles easily, but has a pH similar to human skin and possesses anti-bacterial properties. It is marketed as a biodegradable, renewable synthetic fiber.

Carbon fiber is mostly used in composite materials, together with resin, such as carbon fiber reinforced plastic. The fibers are made from polymer chains through carbonization.

My favorite fabrics

Those who know me have heard me speak on this subject quite a bit: I prefer natural fabrics, made from animal or plant textiles. They’ve been around for thousands and thousands of years, have proven their worth, qualities and compatibility with human skin, have become part of our collective cultures and traditions and that’s what attracts me to them.

I love cotton and wool. They’re my favorites. I wear linen in the summer, but I don’t like it too much because it wrinkles a lot, especially when driving. It’s hard to stay elegant when you look like a crumpled piece of paper, so I reserve linen for sheets or shirts, not coats or pants. I also wear silk sometimes, but mostly as scarves in the colder seasons.

I’ll continue to explore different facets of fabrics in future articles so stay tuned. This article and future ones along the same lines are part of my new series, “The Elegant Gentleman“. I invite you to subscribe here and join me on my Facebook Page to stay up to date with the latest news on the project.

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My Watch Collection

A video guide to choosing a good watch band

This weekend, I put together a video guide that will help you decide the proper watch band for you. You may not have given a lot of thought to this topic in the past, or perhaps you’ve just lived with the band or strap that your watch came with, but I think after you watch my guide, you’ll start to think differently about watch bands — about the materials they’re made of and about the quality that you’ll want.

By average YouTube video length standards, my guide is like a novel, weighing in at around 20 minutes. I wanted it to be thorough. If you haven’t got 20 minutes to spare, here’s the abridged text version.

Watch bands are made of four different materials:

  • Leather
  • Metal
  • Rubber or silicone
  • Cloth

Leather watch bands are simple, elegant, readily compatible with all skin types, but they may wear out quickly, may tear and may smell (with time). If you get a leather watch band, make sure it’s molded round, it’s stitched with strong thread (contrasting thread adds an extra element of style) and that it’s thicker at its base (where it attaches to the watch) and thinner at its ends. This makes it strong and at the same time easy to attach to and detach from the buckle.

Metal watch bands are sturdy, practical, modern and they last a long time, but they may not fit properly on your wrist, may change color (oxidize), may open readily if clasp mechanism is worn or fails, and may not be compatible with all skin types (may cause rashes). If you get a metal watch band, know that mesh bands offer a better fit than link bands and link bands will need to be adjusted to your wrist at a watch shop.

Cloth watch bands are cheap, sturdy and colorful, but they may fray, discolor, smell and may not be easy to attach and detach. Go for cloth watch bands with metal (not cloth) loops and try not to wear them too much, or they’ll discolor and get grimy, and they’ll stay grimy even if you wash them.

Rubber watch bands are cheap, sturdy, great for aquatic sports and easy to wash. Newer silicone bands are colorful. But rubber and silicone bands may discolor or form a film on the surface when exposed to chlorine and salty water, may accumulate dust and grime inbetween their ridges, and let’s face it, they’re not elegant. If you get a rubber watch band, go for simple bands with fewer or no ridges and watch out for silicone watch bands, which will literally attract dust and grime. Only wear them when working out and wash them afterward as you shower, to make sure they stay clean.

Finally, there are two mechanisms for keeping the bands closed: the buckle and the clasp. The buckle is a time-proven design, works forever but is slow to open/close. The buckle will also indent the leather band where it closes and its pin may tear through the punch hole over time, requiring the purchase of a new band. The clasp is a modern, practical design which opens and closes quickly. The clasp pins and pin holders may wear out over time, causing the clasp to open suddenly and the watch to fall from the wrist. Whichever design you choose, go for something simple that is less likely to break.

I hope this has helped you!

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