For many years if you ask people what is the best cotton, they will likely tell you Egyptian cotton. Whether for shirts, blouses or bedding, it was the cotton of choice for its quality. But what exactly is Egyptian cotton and why is it classified as the best of the best?
There are two main types of cotton grown around the world. Normal cotton comes from one plant, while the type of cotton known as Egyptian cotton comes from another called Gossypium barbadense. It is formally known as extra long staple cotton or ELS and is the same plant that is grown in the US to create Pima cotton. It is also grown in India to create Suvin cotton and many other fine quality cottons around the world. The reason that the cotton from this plant is different and produces a better quality weave is because each strand is longer and silkier than those from its cousin plant. These tropical plants are very frost sensitive and need plenty of sunlight so are only grown in the warmer areas of the planet such as Egypt. Cotton production is an ancient trade around the world and this type of cotton, which originated in Central and South America, dates back thousands of years. Archaeological evidence on the coast of Peru shows the production of ELS type cotton dating back to 2500BC. The original Egyptian cotton that has been around since the time of the pharaohs was a different type of plant. Called Gossypium herbacaeum it is very closely related to the ELS plant.No-one knows for sure at which point the ELS cotton plant travelled to Egypt and began to be cultivated but the results are indisputable – the high quality cotton that has become famous around the world.
Why is Egyptian cotton so good?
The main reason that Egyptian and other ELS cottons are so good is due to the long and silky nature of the threads they produce. The length of the fibre means it is possible to make very fine yarns that are still strong. The resulting fabric is solid and more resistant to stress. It also dyes easily and retains that dye longer for a strong and bright colour. Another reason Egyptian cotton is so good is that it is hand picked. While this might seem old fashioned, it means there is no machinery stressing the fibres and potentially damaging them. The result is a fibre that is straight and intact, ready to be used.
The other factor in establishing how good an Egyptian cotton shirt is can be done with the thread count. The thread count is the number of threads per square inch and as a general rule, the higher the number, the better the material. By going for a higher thread count, you will get a shirt that is silky to the touch yet hard wearing. It will wash easily and frequently, maintaining its quality for a long time. While it might be more expensive, it will pay you back for the length of time it lasts. Does this sound something you might find useful in your wardrobe?