Category Archives: Fabric

100 years of Cotton T-shirts and 62 years of Polyester Blends

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the cotton t-shirt. Forbes noted the occasion with this fun article, The T-Shirt Turns 100: According to a survey conducted by online t-shirt design company CustomInk [a Comfort Colors distributor], 87% of Americans who wear t-shirts have at least one they refuse to throw away for sentimental reasons. Psychologist Jennifer Baumgarter, author of You Are What You Wear, worked with CustomInk to analyze this statistic as a part of the company’s birthday celebration for the t-shirt. She explains, “The t-shirt speaks to us on so many levels. It’s utilitarian, it’s affordable, it’s customizable, it’s not gender specific, it’s not season specific, it’s not even functionally specific. We can wear it with a ball gown or you can wear it throwing baseballs.”

PlasticsWe know the T-shirt. We love the T-shirt. Cotton is ‘the fabric of our lives’. Forever. But what of Cotton’s ugly stepsister, Polyester? According to, “Polyester was first introduced to the American public in 1951. It was advertised as a miracle fiber that could be worn for 68 days straight without ironing and still look presentable.” (What did it look like on the 69th day??)

Hailed as the miracle fiber in the 50’s and 60’s when everything space-age was the rage, polyester made our lives easier. Remember the double-knit suit? Remember Mr. McGuire in The Graduate? He advocated plastics for Benjamin’s future. We all thought he was nuts, but now polyester, a plastic invented in Britain in the early 1940s, is having a renaissance. We love it now for many of the same reasons we loved it then. Its durability and versatility are legendary.

Polyester by itself is one thing, but combined with cotton is the best of both worlds. That’s why we carry a couple cotton-poly blends (80% cotton/20% poly) at Comfort Colors. Our Ladies sweats are wrinkle-resistant, shrink-resistant, ease to care for and keep their shape…while having the feel of cotton.

Cotton T’s will surely will live on for another 100 years. And with a little help from polyester, so will your favorite sweats. They’ll be presentable anytime, anywhere…no matter how many days in a row they’ve been worn.

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Cotton in American History

Initially we thought about doing a “Cotton through the ages” post about everyone from little babies to great grandparents feeling good about wearing cotton, but cotton is much bigger than that. Especially in the United States. It is the very fabric of our history.

The history of domesticated cotton is not at all precise. Though it is known for durability, cotton is a natural fiber, which breaks down and degrades over long periods of time. It becomes very hard to trace after a certain number of years. Most historical cotton remnants were found only in arid climates; these date back to as far back as 4500 BCE.

Almost since the beginning of time and almost all over the world, cotton has been cultivated, fabricated, traded, woven, and worn. Disparate ancient civilizations across the globe invented the very same tools (spindles, combs, looms) for making cotton fabric. But it was not until the 19th Century, that cotton became such a major economic and social driver, especially in the United States, where it “comprised more than half the total value of domestic exports in the period 1815-1860.”( has a great, detailed story of cotton in the USA. It begins like this:

“References to phenomena that make up the “fabric of history” are usually metaphorical, but in the case of cotton, the fiber truly did help weave the fabric of American history. Cotton was, above all, a crucial factor in the nation’s economic development. But cotton cultivation was also a source of conflict (racial, sectional, and between social classes) before the Civil War, and after the war, cotton fields and factories engendered debate over the extent to which the federal government could change society and the economy through centralized planning.”

The rest of the article discusses cotton’s powerful influence on our complex social, political, and economic development as a country. Cotton did not make it easy for our country, but it certainly played a huge role in our becoming the nation that we are… And you thought it just made great t-shirts

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Cotton Pickin’ Cotton Planting and Goldy Locks

Looks like cotton, right?

Looks like cotton, doesn’t it?

As Spring plays its April Fools joke on most of New England (the forecast in Vermont this week includes snow; the forecast in Massachusetts includes below freezing temperatures at night), backyard farmers and gardeners are chomping at the bit.

“When can we get out there to our gardens?” This unanswered question makes some of us daydream about the possibilities. Some dream about vegetables, others want their own English gardens. One Vermont gardener we spoke to mused about planting cotton and making her own t-shirts.

According to the National Cotton Council of America, “the major cotton-producing states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, Florida, Kansas and Virginia.”

Could the weather forecast have something to do with the exclusion of Vermont and Massachusetts from this list? Surely.

cottonCotton grows in warm climates – places where people wear t-shirts year-round. Though tons of cotton is grown here in the US, most of the world’s cotton is grown in places like Uzbekistan, the People’s Republic of China, India, Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey.

Wiki.answers tells us that “Cotton grows best in best climate.” Cotton is the Goldy Locks of crops, demanding the perfect temperature and soil conditions: not too hot, not too cold, not too damp, not too dry.

Though we hate to be the Big Bad Wolf in the eyes of that Vermont gardening dreamer, we do recommend that she stick to basil and zucchini. We’ll take care of the t-shirts

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Comfort Colors: The Whole Nine Yards

KiltWe know that the expression “the whole nine yards” means giving it your all, doing your best, going the distance. As a clothing company this is what we do for our customers.

Being somewhat fanatical about fabrics, we always thought the expression referred to fabric – cloth, material, as in the amount of material it takes to make s fine, three-piece suit.

But NPR says we’re wrong. A cool story yesterday looks at the etymology, the weave and weft as it were, of this famous expression. (You can hear the NPR story here.) As it turns out, the expression is one of those great mysteries whose answer depends on whom you ask. NPR (and Wikipedia) gave these possible answers:

  • The capacity of a cement truck – as in 9 yards of concrete
  • The length of an ammunition belt used by World War II jet fighters
  • The amount of fabric in the Shroud of Turin
  • The nine ship yards it took to construct the Liberty Ships (WWII American Cargo Ships)
  • Some salacious story having to do with kilts, door latches and a lack of proper under garments…well, you get the picture

This from Highlander Secrets (they obviously did not hear the NPR story):

Centuries ago, Highlanders not only hunted and fought in their plaid {kilt}, they slept in it! The expression, “the whole 9 yards”, came from the amount of material (approx. 9 yards) used to outfit our hearty ancestors. In those days, fabric was only woven in single widths (approx. 28 inches). This amount of fabric in single width is equivalent to Highland Secrets’ double width fabric (between 4-1/2 and 7-1/2 yards) used in making our Great Kilts. The latter yardage represents a mighty big Highlander!

At Comfort Colors, we do not use the phrase to refer to the amount of fabric in our awesome t-shirts (that amount depends, of course on the shirt size – we have little kid sizes through Adult 6X ), but to how far we will go to satisfy a customer. One conversation with Kevin Camisa and you’ll know what we mean.

kilt image credit

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