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Cotton/Linen blends: linen for wusses or an ideal

DC Office Hack

Senior Member
Mar 1, 2011
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A fear years ago became a bit of a linen evangelist after visiting Colonial Williamsburg in 100-degree F weather and asking the re-enactors, who are dressed head to toe, how they managed. Their answer was unequivocal: linen. They're dressed 100% in linen. Well, ok. A few weeks later I was at Mt. Vernon in similar weather and asked the same question. The answer was the same. Linen.

Since then I've been building a linen summer wardrobe and preaching it as THE fabric of global warming, which not only means more hot weather but also means more mosquito-born nasties. So we have to cover up. As for wrinkles and perceived need to avoid washing machines, the Williamsburg and Mt. Vernon people told me two things:

1. Get over it.
2. Wash the frack out of it. It will hold up and get softer. Indeed, I've found that all that stuff about linen not being soft only applies to new out of the box linen, or linen that one dry cleans and pampers. In fact I now wear linen boxers, which are a year old, and they're plenty soft.

So: cotton-linen blends. It's getting harder to find linen clothes while cotton-linen blends are everywhere. As far as I can tell, people think it's softer (which I think is true only of new garments) and crisper. I get the crisp thing, from an appearance point of view. I don't care ("get over it"), but I get it. But here's the thing: linen has a functional value aside from aesthetics. It is great in heat because it wicks and does not absorb moisture. If anything, moisture makes it softer, but that's about it. Cotton of course swells, can stiffen, and holds water for a long time. That's why hikers can't wear cotton socks, and why it's best not to wear cotton tops when it's cold and wet ("cotton kills," hikers say). In other words, it seems to me that blending cotton with linen defeats the purpose of linen for the sake of perceived softness (false) and crispness (true). Or, is the blend such that the cotton improves the appearance w/o diminishing linen's virtues? I suppose it depends on the blend, but I have no idea what kind of blend any manufacturers are using.

So, dear folks: are cotton-linen blends functionally as good as linen, or do they only look better?

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