Natural fibers come with many benefits — cotton holds up well, wool is cozy yet breathable, linen is light and airy, and silk is, well, silky — and are often priced accordingly. However, there is significant variation within fabrics, and simply seeing natural fibers on a care tag is not a slam dunk.
With cotton, for instance, the type of fiber matters. “If you use a lower grade of cotton, the fiber is shorter, so you can’t spin as fine and as strong of a yarn, and the fabric is not going to be as durable,” says Bishop, which may be why one cotton T-shirt is $10 while another is $50. Organic fibers typically cost more, as do varieties such as Supima cotton, which is grown in the United States and is used by brands such as American Giant, which prides itself on durability (and, incidentally, sells a $50 T-shirt).
The same principle applies to wool. To manage costs, a company might blend some less expensive wool with Merino wool, or just use a lower quality wool with a shorter fiber, Bishop says. It’s also not uncommon for cashmere items to include other fibers. The higher percentage of cheaper wool, the lower the raw material costs will probably be, while the product still carries the cachet of cashmere.
Blends aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they should carry a lower price. Read tags and product descriptions, but know that they may not tell a full story — a tag may say “100 percent wool” even if it’s a wool blend. It’s best if you can feel garments yourself to gauge weight and softness.
Your appetite for maintenance matters, too. “Any sort of silk with a sheen to it is a goner because the first time you spill on it, it’s done for,” says Lani Inlander, a personal stylist in D.C. She favors more matte fabrics or washable silk for that reason.