By Darcy Rive
According to Chinese legend, Empress Hsi Ling Shi was the first to discover silk in around 3000BC when the cocoon of a Bombyx Mori silkworm fell into her cup of tea and began to unfurl, revealing the shimmering threads inside. For thousands of years, we have worn silk because of its lustrous finish, stunning colours, smooth finish and temperature-moderating qualities. Silk is often worn for formal events but now we are seeing silk being reimagined for casual contemporary wardrobes, such as this understated Pique Silk Sweatshirt by Margaret Howell.
Caring for silk: Garments made from silk require special care and attention to protect the delicate fibres. Hand wash items in cold water with a very gentle detergent. Squeeze out the excess water by rolling it in a towel and hang to dry. When ironing silk, use the lowest heat setting and focus on steaming, rather than pressing.
Margaret Howell Pique Silk Sweatshirt, £325
We’ve been wearing cotton since 5000BC, and while fashions have certainly changed since then, the reasons we wear cotton haven’t. It’s one of the most breathable fabrics as well as being soft, comfortable and strong. Moreover, thanks to the way that air is trapped between its fibres, it protects you from the summer heat and insulates you against the winter cold. That's why this classically cool Tigre Summer Patch Pocket Jacket from Aspesi is the perfect piece to take you from season to season.
Caring for cotton: Cotton can shrink when it’s washed and dried, so when you take it out of the washing machine (30 degrees or below), give it a gentle stretch back into shape before hang-drying. Iron your cotton pieces while they’re still a little damp to smooth all creases without damaging the fibres.
Aspesi Tigre Summer Patch Pocket Jacket, £345
When people hear the word ‘polyester’, they usually imagine poorly made and poor quality clothes, but today’s polyester can be as comfortable to wear and more practical than many high quality, natural fibres. Chemical advances throughout the 1940s saw a boom in manmade materials – including polyester – thanks to their functional properties such as strength, comfort and stain resistance. This Selene Blouse from Paige is made from polyester but has a matte satin effect, showing just how premium polyester can be.
Caring for polyester: Because of the way it is made, most polyester is safe to wash in the machine on a warm wash and tumble-dry (but do check the label first). It’s often recommended to turn your garments inside out before washing as poly fabrics can easily snag. Polyester is also prone to static cling so use a fabric softener to help reduce this.
Paige Selene Blouse, £270
Nylon was introduced to the world in fabric form in 1939 at New York's World Fair, used as an alternative to women's silk stockings. During the Second World War, almost all the nylon made was used for military purposes (such as parachutes). Today, however, we enjoy wearing nylon because it's moisture-resistant, supple, durable and relatively easy to care for. It's also great for outerwear and temperamental weather conditions, making this PS Paul Smith Gilet Liner a practical and stylish investment.
Caring for nylon: Thanks to its durability, many nylons can be put in the machine on a cool or warm wash and can be tumble-dried. To reduce wrinkles, remove from the dryer while the garment is still damp and gently steam.
PS Paul Smith Gilet Liner, £175
Viscose was invented in the late 19th century as a cheaper alternative to silk. Designers love this semi-synthetic fabric because of it's softness, it creates vivid colours, and it drapes beautifully - all perfectly exemplified in this Densita Long Sleeve Shirt Dress by MAX&Co.. As a lightweight and easy-to-wear fabric, it's ideal for the warmer months.
Caring for viscose: Select a delicate setting (cool temperature and low spin) on your washing machine, turn the item inside out and place it inside a mesh bag to avoid any snags or tears. Let it airdry and steam out any wrinkles.
MAX&Co. Densita Long Sleeve Shirt Dress, £170
Tencel (also known as Lyocell) is a manmade fabric that comes from dissolving bleached wood pulp. It was developed in the 1970s and became popular in clothing thanks to its soft, strong fibres that are resistant to wrinkling and the way it hangs. Tencel fibres also boast botanic origin and sustainable production methods, making this Saturdays New York City Xavier Natics Print Short Sleeve Shirt as good for your wardrobe as it is for the environment.
Caring for Tencel: Tencel has the tendency to shrink on the first wash (approximately 3%) but won’t shrink further after that. Unless the label states that it is dry-clean only, the garment can be machine-washed on a gentle cycle with mild detergent. Line-drying is preferable to a tumble dryer, and if you need to ease out any wrinkles, use a very gentle steam setting on your iron.
Saturdays New York City Xavier Nautics Print Short Sleeve Shirt, £175