The Choice of a Fabric such as Linen for the Summer Season
It is hard to believe that an apparel fabric with such great history has managed to survive the tides of time and is still, to date, considered a fabric of choice to some. Although not to all, linen is one of the people's favorite fabrics, and if you have any doubt about how unique and versatile this fabric is, then a trip down the origin and history of linen and how it has grown over the years can be an excellent place to start.
There are some shreds of evidence from different parts of the world that prove that although linen is not as old as time, its uses go way back to ancient civilizations. In ancient Mesopotamia, linen was preserved for the high classes in society; not anyone would own it. It was costly because of the immense attention that the flax plant required during cultivation and the difficulty of working with linen when working on the thread. In ancient Egypt, linen symbolized wealth, light, purity, and burial shrouds, and mummification. Evidence shows that delicate linen fabrics were discovered in Egyptian tombs. Not only were they used when one died, but linen was also in some cases used as currency.
Other than these two civilizations, other pieces of evidence show traces and fragments of linen fibers that go way back to 8000BC in the Swiss Lake dwelling. This shows that 3600 years ago, humans used woven linen fabrics that came from wild flax. Moreover, in a prehistoric cave in Georgia, there were also dyed flax fibers found. These are just portions of the genesis of widespread knowledge and use of linen. The Greeks produced the first written evidence of linen being used thousands of years ago, going as far as having an ideogram for it. The merchants, Phoenicians, took the art of linen production and growth of flax to Ireland, which grew with time, even having Belfast becoming a very well-known center for the production of linen.
During the Victorian era, many countries saw the production of a lot of linen. The popularity and symbolism of linen spread to religions, with rules restricting how people wore linen. The Jews prohibited people from wearing a blend of linen and wool. Interestingly enough, even the Bible has some verses that talk of linen, with others quoting that angels wore linen! Linen serves as one of the oldest textiles used by man, and it is intriguing that thousands of years, civilizations, and evolutions later, there is still more to be done with this fabric.
What is linen?
Just like fiber, yarn, and fabric, linen comes from the flax plant. It comes from the stalks of the flax plant, which undergoes a process that ensures the end product is the best quality there is to work with. First, the flax plant is harvested by hand, either by cutting the stalks close to the roots or pulling up the entire plant to ensure that you get the longest fibers. Then, these stalks undergo a fermenting process called retting and are dried. Afterward, two metal rollers crush these stalks to remove any portion of them that is woody. Then, there is a separation of the length from the shorter fibers. What we know as linen textile are long, soft fibers that have been spun into yarns and knitted or woven.
Linen is a perfect fabric that is stronger than cotton. It has a smooth texture that can repel dirt, gets softer with repeated washing, and is hardly affected by sunlight exposure. It also has a feature that makes it very practical in different weather conditions; it releases and absorbs moisture quickly, making it a good conductor of heat. However, it would be wrong to imply that this fabric has no disadvantage; just as man is to error, linen is to cons. It is prone to wrinkling because of its low elasticity.
The uses of linen have grown over time as well. It was used as a type of body armor, for books, clothing, bedsheets, and other bath and bed fabrics. Woven fabrics and lace are made from fine-grade linen and are used in clothing and for furnishing in houses. Since its production was always by hand, linen was quite tedious to deal with, and in the 70s, only 5% of what was produced was used in clothing. However, two decades later, the narrative seemed to have changed, and a large percentage was used in clothing. The invention of the cotton gin in 1973 also boosted the production of linen because now, instead of hands, people could use machinery to ease the work for them.
By the end of the 19th century, the upperclassmen had made a signature look for themselves with light-colored linen warm-weather suits while women had dresses and suits. Today, linen can go for an everyday look or a luxury look, depending on what you are going for. Big brands have not been left behind in the trend, borrowing inspiration from styles popularized on runways. The improvement in linen production has also made linen more affordable these days. Stores like Old Navy and H&M have clothes with linen blends or just pure linen. Famous designers have been incorporating linen in their spring and summer collections, with a 2011 collection of Stella McCartney having a silk-linen blend blazer. In the years to come, designers like Valentino, Lavin, and Michael Kors joined the trend. Moreover, independent designers also took to the stage to showcase linen apparel, and many companies that work with linen only have come up, like Vivid Linen and Flax.
The beauty of linen is in its versatility; it can be used in summer and winter. How? Since it is a good conductor of heat, it can release or retain heat. During the winter, it retains heat and prevents the body from freezing in the cold, keeps you warm. Therefore, it is safe to say that linen can also be worn in winter. Whether going for vintage-inspired looks from The Great Gatsby or looking for an effortlessly chic look, a linen shirt is a way to go, not just for men, also for women. You can style it in so many ways to match the occasion. Italian brands like DePetrillo and L’oro Piana have gone to lengths to create a good blend of Italian craftsmanship and technology in their linen shirts; European brands like Uniqlo have very affordable shirts for a comfortable look, while Vilebrequin brings out an elevated look in a linen shirt. Besides acting as cover-ups, there are also good short-sleeved linen shirts and long-sleeved ones with embroidery and patterns. Therefore, whatever you are going for, casual, comfortable, elegant, retro vibes, there is definitely a linen shirt to match.
Handling a linen cloth is also easy, washing in lukewarm temperatures, using mild detergent, gentle swishing motion if hand washing, and a gentle machine cycle if using the washing machine. You can also iron and fold when dry; however, too much of that might cause a tear. Taking good care of such clothes makes them very durable. It is never too late to start on linen love!