If you’re a regular reader of Everyday Wear, you probably notice some fiber bias in our choices for tops vs. bottoms. We typically find natural fibers to be the best for tops and synthetic for bottoms. Hopefully that bias can be explained in more detail here.
Tops vs. Pants
To start, the nature of skin contact of tops vs. pants is different. Think about any of your traditional cotton clothing — bottoms like jeans can go many wears between washes, but cotton t-shirts typically need to be washed after every wear.
This difference in how much sweat and skin oils accumulate is why tops typically need more odor resistance than pants to have a benefit over the traditional options. Most also tend to be more sensitive to the feel of fabric of a top vs. bottom as well. This helps guide our choice of fabrics.
Natural vs. Synthetic
A few of the big differences between natural and synthetic fibers — odor resistance, durability, feel against the skin, moisture management, and looks — help guide fabric choice based on the application.
Natural fibers like wool and Tencel tend to have more odor resistance than their synthetic counterparts while maintaining good moisture management. They also have the best feel as they tend to look better with a more natural drape and non-shiny finish. Where natural fibers can fall down is durability (especially wool).
The synthetics, like nylon and polyester, tend to have more durability (nylon) and excellent moisture management (polyester). Where they excel in technical performance, they can lack in feel and looks. No one wants a rough nylon shirt against their skin or a clingy and shiny polyester shirt for wear outside of active pursuits.
Blends of natural and synthetic can often combine the best of both worlds, but can also end up with the worst properties of both.
For all the reasons covered above, tops need to have excellent odor resistance, moisture management, and comfort. This is why many of our favorites are merino like the Outlier Ultrafine Merino T-shirt (our review) and merino blends like the Wool & Prince Crew Neck. The odor resistance and comfort of merino can’t be beat.
We’ve also found some good synthetic and non-merino natural/synthetic blends that perform well for a top; including the cotton/polyester blend of the Proof Passage Tee (our review) and the polyester/Tencel blend of the Pistol Lake Minimalist Tee (our review)
Bottoms, on the other hand, can sacrifice some of the odor resistance and softness needed in a great top for more durability and structure. Our favorite pants include the Outlier Futureworks (our review) and OLIVERS Passage Pant (our review). These are both mostly nylon, which seems to us to give the best balance of comfort, looks, and durability.
Not a surprise, but the selection of the best fabric for a piece stems mainly from its’ performance. We favor natural fibers for tops for the odor resistance and comfort and synthetics for bottoms for the durability and structure.
Of course, this all comes down to personal preference, but we’ve found that we lean this way for our favorite pieces in our wardrobes.