Linen is a natural fabric, from the flax (linseed) plant - made into clothing; it has a well-earned reputation for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather. It is currently going through a renaissance as people become aware of its properties and seek an alternative to unfashionable and un-eco-friendly garments using made-made fibres. It also has certain cachet in fashion circles and is seen as a high-grade alternative to cotton.
Linen is the oldest fabric known; the flax plant from which it comes is easy to cultivate and was used to make the oldest fabrics ever found. It is the fabric that put the “lin” in “lingerie” and “lining”.
The wrinkling of linen has long been admired and exploited in fashion. The word textile is derived from the Latin word meaning “Touch” and linen is considered one of the most tactile textiles. The tendency to wrinkle is often considered part of the fabric's particular "charm", and many modern linen garments are designed to be air dried on a good hanger and worn without the necessity of ironing. Fabric in fashion is all about texture and many designers use linen specifically for its "crumpled" effect and rough texture similar to that achieved with silk.
People often associate linen with a course texture – this is not necessarily the case, although in fashion texture is all-important; a characteristic often associated with contemporary linen yarn is the presence of "slubs", or small knots, which occur randomly along its length. However, these are actually defects associated with lesser quality fabric; the finest linen has very consistent diameter threads, without slubs.
Linen is very versatile and is much stronger than cotton yet can be very soft.
Linen allows more airflow and its structure means it stays away from your skin allowing better air circulation over your body, it is a “stiff” fabric and is less likely to cling to the skin; when it billows away, it tends to dry out and become cool quickly.
Linen is highly absorbent and a good conductor of heat, linen fabric feels cool to the touch and it will quickly remove perspiration from the skin. Linen is “hygroscopic”; it is capable of absorbing moisture and then and quickly yielding it again. Linen cloth can absorb as much as 20% of its dry weight before giving a feeling of being damp or wet. This means that it will absorb a lot of perspiration and it is unlikely you will ever feel the fabric is clammy. Water is absorbed quickly and evaporated quickly. This makes the fabric itself an excellent cooling system. All these properties allow linen to function well in very hot and humid conditions significantly alleviating the effects of the heat and humidity on the wearer.
It is said that in hot weather people wearing linen clothes have been found to show a skin temperature of 3°- 4°C below that of those similarly dressed in silk or cotton.
Linen is among the strongest of the vegetable fibres, with 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton. Linen is a durable fibre, as is two-three times as strong as cotton. It is second in strength to silk. You pay a little extra for linen but it will very likely outlast all your other clothes.
The more linen is washed the softer and smoother it becomes, so it is not abrasive to the skin.
Linen has natural antibacterial properties and that is why it is used in medicine. It also acts against the bacteria that make you smell.
As linen is produced in lower quantities than many other fabrics and can be more difficult to manufacture, it tends to be relatively expensive – however, it is worth every penny when you take into account its resilience and longevity.
Linen is above all a natural fibre, even the growing of flax is less environmentally damaging than cotton and petrochemical based fibres.
All clothing worn in a tropical climate needs to fit well – not too tight and with room for the body to move and breathe properly. Long-flowing, loose-fitting linen garments with long legs and sleeves actually keep you cooler than shorts.
Laundering linen is easy; you can wash linen as hard as you like, but it does not really grab hold of dirt or stains so you will find it washes easily even in cold water and dries quickly. Beware though, new linen shrinks.
Linen has poor elasticity and does not spring back readily, explaining why it wrinkles so easily. Constant creasing, especially with starch, in the same place in sharp folds will tend to break the linen threads. This wear can show up in collars, hems, and any area that is iron creased regularly during laundering.
Linen clothing is timeless and a wardrobe staple.