Dress shirts come in a bewildering array of patterns and textured as well as materials and designs. Knowing the size and fit of shirt you need is the first step. But deciding what type of material and type of weave is the second. And if the answer to this is cotton then which cotton? One to consider is the herringbone dress shirt.
What is herringbone weave?
The herringbone pattern is often said to have its name because it looks like the bones in the herring fish. But there is another explanation that comes from the pattern’s other use – in paving. Back in Roman times, when road building was huge, there was a pattern called Opus Spiactum. Meaning ‘spiked work’ it was an interlocking pattern of criss-crossing chevrons that made the road strong.
The Egyptians took the pattern and began using it to weave wool in a variant of twill. The reversing of the twill changes the diagonal wale and makes those chevrons. From there the pattern began to travel around Europe. One of the oldest examples of it was found in Ireland and dated from 600BC. It is also the material used in a famous piece of cloth, the Shroud of Turin.
Forward to the 20th century and the pattern was once again popular with famous actors such as Clark Gable and Ronald Reagan. Today it is popular in both dress shirts and in suits.
Characteristics of a Herringbone dress shirt
Herringbone dress shirts are a class of twill shirts because they take the twill weave and alter it a bit to create the prominent pattern. It is still more popular for suits than for shirts but there is definitely a movement towards them. The wave looks good when used on a solid coloured shirt as the intricate detail of the weave shows up.
This detail also makes for a shirt that has the image of a fine and meticulous finish. It feels thicker than an Oxford shirt so it often used in autumn and winter. It is also dressier in appearance than the Oxford dress shirt due to the fine detail of the weave. An added benefit is that, like other twill fabrics, it is quite water resistant.
When choosing a dress shirt, a key indicator as to how fine and silky it will feel is the yarn number. This refers to the thickness of the yarn used. Lower numbers indicate a thicker yarn while higher numbers correspond to a finer yarn. The higher the number, therefore, the finer the shirt will feel and look. As well as pure cotton, shirts are also available in blended materials that use man made fabric or a combination of natural and man made. These may not feel as rich but can be easier to maintain with less ironing needed.
Herringbone country tweed
As well as its use in fine dress shirts, the herringbone pattern also makes its way into the casual arena. Here it is often referred to as country tweed. This is often seen as a rustic or country look and the shirts made with a wool blend tend to be warm for cooler times of the year.
So when will you wear yours?