What is Poplin?

Written by: Jodie Lindop

Whether or not you can describe the unique properties of poplin, there’s no doubt you’re familiar with the fabric. Poplin is popular, and for good reason: sometimes called tabinet, the fabric is durable, yet soft to the touch, and exceptionally versatile. It is widely used in a variety of men’s clothing and women’s clothing from dress shirts and casual button-downs to skirts and trousers.

The word poplin originated in the early 18th century and derives from the obsolete French word papeline. This word in turn is likely a reference to the Provençal city of Avignon, the location of a papal residence in the 14th century, as well as the earliest site of the textile’s production.

Originally poplin was a simple weave using a fine silk yarn interwoven with a sturdier wool yarn. The silk was used for the warp, which is the vertical thread of a weave, whilst the wool was used for the weft, the horizontal thread of the weave. This gave the fabric the distinctive ribbed texture, strength and lustre that would make it a favoured textile around the world.

Because of its mix of durability and subtle sheen, poplin was often used in women’s dresses and even furniture upholstery in the 19th century. It was so commonplace that two sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women lament attending a ball in their best poplin dresses rather than pure silk dresses, which were thought more rare and luxurious.

Meg and Jo March would be less self-conscious about their poplin today. Whilst ubiquitous in everyday wear, it also makes regular appearances on haute couture runways and in the highest quality dress shirts.

Poplin is now most frequently made from 100 percent cotton, but can be made from wool, silk, satin, rayon, polyester or a fabric blend. Its distinguishing characteristic remains a simple weave of two fine yarns of slightly differing thicknesses in a horizontal/vertical orientation. This sets poplin apart as a superb fabric that is comfortable, crisp, and resists wrinkles and stains. Though a thin fabric with an attractive drape, it is also exceptionally sturdy.

Poplin is similar to broadcloth and, indeed, the two textiles are frequently mistaken for one another. But where broadcloth is woven with thicker yarns that yield a sturdy material with a more robust hand, poplin is strong, lightweight and fine to the touch.

Clothing made with poplin keeps the wearer cool and comfortable in similar fashion to linen garments, but resists wrinkling. The U.S. and British militaries in fact turned to cotton poplin for their uniforms in World War II to keep soldiers cool and well appointed in clothing that could also withstand rugged conditions.

The same characteristics that set poplin apart in the past contribute to its ubiquity today. Think of poplin as an everyday luxury: it is the perfect fabric for any adventure , whether making a boardroom presentation, window shopping on High Street, or travelling on safari in Africa. Poplin is sure to help any lady or gentleman on the go achieve that rare fashion feat—looking put together and feeling comfortable at once, all day long, no matter the excursion.

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