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Cotton grades

Discussion in 'Menswear Advice' started by FopTalk, Mar 27, 2016.

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  1. FopTalk

    FopTalk Member

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    I've often seen garments advertising "fine cotton". Is this a commercially regulated or technical term or is just marketing?

    Similarly, I'm aware of the different qualities of cotton as far as understanding that the following are extra long staple (ELS) variants :

    • Sea Island cotton
    • Egyptian Giza cotton
    • American Pima cotton

    Questions:

    (1) Does ELS solely refer to that face that each individual fibre is longer than average cotton, meaning it's more durable and less likely to pill? Or does it also refer to the diameter of each fibre being smaller, finer than the average? Or are those separate things?

    (2) Are Pima cotton and Supima cotton the same thing? What distinguishes them? Is Supima just a Brooks Brothers branded version of Pima cotton? Is Pima cotton a commercially regulated or technical term or is there room for marketers to bullshit you about it?

    (3) If a garment simply says "cotton" on the tag, beyond the hand feel, how can I determine its quality?

    This goes out to all you textile nerds out there. Some guidance, please!
     
  2. LA Guy

    LA Guy Opposite Santa Staff Member Admin Moderator

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    I am not a textiles major, but:

    1) Yes, ELS refers specifically to the fiber length, which must be, iirc, at least 1 3/4" long, on average.

    2) Supima is a brand name, to promote the use of American ELS cotton. Apparently, this used to be called "American Egyptian" cotton, but that was before my time.
    2b) Pima cotton is from the barbadense species of cotton, as opposed to upland cotton. It can be used as a marketing term, like pretty everything, from "shell cordovan", to "goodyear welted" to "vegetal dyed leather". Things have value because we assign them value. Marketing is merely an exercise to make a product relevant to a customer. It isn't necessarily dishonest, but it is not necessarily informative either.

    3) You can't, certainly not without destroying the garment with tests on the material. And before that, you need to determine the metric(s) that you are using to determine quality.

    Sorry the answers are not completely conclusive. At least the first and second answers contain some interesting facts, I suppose.

    Cheers,

    Fok.
     
  3. FopTalk

    FopTalk Member

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    Quote: Wow. You're awesome. Definitely interesting facts. A few follow-up questions, if you (or anyone else) knows:

    (1) Do longer fibres solely mean more durability, or does it also mean other desirable characteristics like, say, better dying susceptibility or more fineness?

    (2) Who owns the "Supima" brand name? Is it owned by a conglomerate of textile interests or only, say, Brooks Brothers? Is it identical to Pima cotton or is it a subspecies of Pima? If so, how does branding Pima cotton as "Supima" do anything to promote American ELS cotton?

    (2b) Does the fact that Pima is a "barbadense species of cotton, as opposed to upland cotton" mean it's better or worse than upland cotton and, if so, in what ways? My (limited) understanding is that expressions like "shell cordovan" mean something specific with respect to quality (e.g. it's derived from the horse butt, is tougher and more durable than cow or calf leather and displays a more pronounced patina over time - though I guess things get more granular when you consider tanning procedures and horse stock); "Goodyear welted" means (as far as I understand) that the upper is stitched to the sole using a specifically regulated and more thorough process than regular welting, so the upper stays fastened to the sole better and, hence, greater durability; I don't know what "vegetal dyed leather" means exactly. My point is that these expressions translate to something meaningful and specifically definable for the consumer. So, what about Pima?

    (3) Ok. Makes sense. But, short of tearing up the garment or sending it to a lab, do you know of any quick and dirty tips to determine cotton quality? And, if I did tear it up and/or send it to a lab, do you know of any meaningful metrics to determine quality beyond staple length (i.e. fibre diameter, weaving or spinning process)?

    Thanks LA Guy!
     
  4. LA Guy

    LA Guy Opposite Santa Staff Member Admin Moderator

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    1. From what I understand, durability and non-pilling, all other things being equal (remember that the making of the yarns doesn't depend solely on the constituent materials. I can start with the same onion, carrots, and celery, but I can't make a sauce the way Thomas Keller can.
    2. It's a conglomerate of interests. I think it might actually be a non-profit.
    2b. The barbadense species has longer fibres, so it's something specific.
    3. As I said before, it really depends on how you choose to define quality. If you give me a definition, a test can probably be derived, though I feel that any retailer would really like you stretching and pull ahd flexing their garments.
     
  5. FopTalk

    FopTalk Member

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  6. Spex

    Spex Senior member

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    This will likely answer some of your questions: http://www.supima.com

    With respect to your question "If a garment simply says "cotton" on the tag, beyond the hand feel, how can I determine its quality?", here's what I say. If a designer/manufacturer doesn't specify Supima, or Egyptian Giza, or Xinjiang, or whatever, then count on it just being plain old, non-ELS cotton. If a company is willing to dish out the extra $$$ to buy quality cotton, then I would assume they have the marketing savvy to slap that label on their items, as it's a selling point. I say the same thing about shoes...if the shoe (or the company's website) doesn't specify that it's Goodyear welted, then it's almost certainly not, since they would want to advertise that fact.
     
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