When you look at a classic menswear ensemble, texture in varying forms emerges from every piece of fabric. It could be the subtle plain-weave of oxford cloth, the worsting of wool, or an embossed pattern adding a secondary dimension to an otherwise solid-color material.
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Yet, just as with all things menswear, texture can be too much of a good thing. Understand what texture is in relation to fabrics, and ways you can incorporate into your personal style.
What is Texture?
We tend to use texture and weave interchangeably. Generally, this comes from the fact that woven materials rarely produce a truly flat appearance up close.
Texture, more specifically, pertains to the surface composition of a piece of cloth, including both its visual orientation and the way it feels. Through this definition, something perfectly smooth, like a piece of silk or polyester, has texture.
More specifically, weave influences texture, which in turn differentiates certain types of fabrics and how the eye observes the surface. Cotton is a case in point: The textures emerging from twill, denim, and plain-weave all drastically influence the fabric’s final appearance and feel.
However, texture may also be created through a finishing process. Flannel is a prime example: After weaving, the wool is then napped for the soft appearance we associate with the fabric.
At the same time, not every texture will result in a pattern, although they often do. Texture, in conjunction with weave and dyeing, can create a more visible pattern, like herringbone, seersucker, or denim.
Keep in mind that patterns aren’t prints: You can take a textured pattern and add a print on top of this. Increasingly, this is seen on seersucker shirts, with stripes or even paisley added over the ridged and puckered texture.
Although all fabrics have some kind of texture, we notice these subtle differences whenever we put something on. We can tell when something is smooth, coarse, or ribbed, but in more modern times, lining – usually a lighter-weight, smoother material – disconnects this association.
At the same time, texture from weave transforms a fabric’s and subsequently a garment’s appearance. We may notice the distinct diagonal weave of denim and associate it with toughness and durability, or we may see something like fleece or flannel and automatically correlate it with warmth.
Menswear as of recent has been a delving into more feminine textures – specifically, something soft or refined like lace or velvet. Then, there are memories or period associations with texture: More recently and also within the context of menswear has been the return of corduroy, considered a ‘70s fabric given a revival in the 1990s.
Common Textures in Menswear
Now that you understand what makes a textured material, here are some of the more common varieties you’ll come across within the broad spectrum of menswear:
- Twill: Twill is one of those fabrics you overlook because it seems so ordinary. Weave wise, it’s similar to denim, with the fabric woven on the diagonal, but looks more refined. Dyeing and material source can result in a number of different fabrics, including tweed – made with wool – and traditional denim – made with heavier cotton.
- Plain-weave: As the name implies, this, too, is an ordinary fabric, often with a cross- or box-style pattern. Falling within this scope are oxford, broadcloth, and poplin – three common shirting materials in menswear known for their smoothness and precision – as well as canvas, broadcloth, and muslin.
- Corduroy: Corduroy is described in “wales” – or the width of the ridges or tufts making up the material. The thicker the wale, the more tactile and visual texture the fabric has.
- Satin: A finer weave results in a soft, drapey, silk-like fabric characterized by luster. In menswear, you may spot rayon, polyester, and viscose with such a treatment.
- Brocade: A fabric with a more visible, textural pattern is typically described as brocade. This broad spectrum can include embossed texture, raised stripes, and even embroidery.
- Cashmere: Made from the wool of cashmere or pashmina goats, this fabric offers a finer, warmer alternative to traditional worsted or knit wool.
- Jersey: This is the typical T-shirt material – smooth to the touch, knit up close, and offering a stretchy fit. Today, jersey may be made from wool, cotton, or a synthetic blend.
- Flannel: Made from wool or cotton, this is a woven material that is then napped for a softer handfeel.
- Chambray: We consider this a denim-light fabric. It looks like heavier woven cotton – and often features the same indigo dye – but is made of a lighter material, making it ideal for warmer-weather wear.
- Seersucker: Another warm-weather material, seersucker is a cotton-based fabric that’s woven to have a puckered or ridged texture. This distinction allows it to stay above the skin and let air flow through.
- Linen: More and more brands are turning to linen for two key qualities: One, it uses natural fibers, making it a sustainable alternative. Secondly, its loosely woven composition allows for more breathability, making it a quintessential summer material for shirts, suits, and even pants.
- Worsted wool: This is the traditional form of wool you see for suiting, woven so that it appears smooth and free of shine.
Tips for Wearing Textured Fabrics
Just like with prints and patterns, you can have a glut of texture – as well as fabrics that compete with each other. To avoid this:
- Stick to one primary texture – for instance, a material with a more visible weave or undulations – and keep all other fabrics secondary.
- If a garment stands out with both texture and color, realize that it has entered statement territory.
- Realize the effects of texture, particularly when it comes to neutral and darker shades. Something more traditional or somber – like a black or navy suit – suddenly becomes more casual with a velvet or brocade texture, positioning it now as a party suit.
- Consider texture as an alternative to prints if you’re looking to make a subtle change with your look. In this instance, opt for a neutral or cooler tone with a texture, rather than something bold or bright. Grays, blues, browns, and black are preferred here.
- Think about texture in relation to body shape and height. A fabric with a distinctive texture, like a sweater knit or seersucker, can make you appear wider or stouter.
- Use texture as an accent to break up smoother fabrics. Ties with a knit or brocade texture are popular, as are pocket squares with embroidery.
- For garments covering more surface area, opt for a smaller texture: Particularly with herringbone, consider smaller checks or squares with an overcoat or suit, and maximize it for a shirt to call attention to its contrasts and detail.
Get Some Inspiration
Pointelle knit adds a mesh-like texture to this Cuban collar shirt given a maximal version of Burberry’s iconic plaid, to the point it resembles a mix of stripes and color-blocking.
Jacquard weave gives this sweater a finer, almost T-shirt-like texture that offers more heft and a smoother feel through a wool/silk blend.
A traditional quilted texture in combination with lambskin leather creates a bag with a three-dimensional effect resembling tire tracks. Consider this for something neutral with a degree of statement appeal.
A high waist, pleats, and linen give these shorts luxury ‘80s vibes inspired by the quintessential Armani casual suit.
You see three textures at play on this jacket: worn cowhide given a broken-in appearance, the tactile shearling collar, and corduroy facing for a ridged accent around the cuffs.
Go in a traditional preppy direction – or try out dark academia – with this cable-knit sweater vest offering a softer feel courtesy of a cashmere blend.
Textures like French terry can bring about a sense of familiarity. That comfort and softness here are enhanced with a faded exterior for a broken-in look.
Made partially with responsibly sourced wool, this single-breasted jacket uses a serge technique for a more textured interpretation of a classic.
Get the look and more substantial feel of canvas with a design made for easygoing spring weather, preferably by the beach.
Polo shirts already tend to have a finer-knit texture. This style plays that up with a two-tone combination and mercerized finish for a vintage appearance.