What’s the difference in wrinkle resistance between non-iron and wrinkle-resistant dress shirts?
At Proper Cloth, we choose to treat our “Wrinkle-Resistant” labeled fabrics with a liquid ammonia chemical process that occurs at the mill level, rather than once the shirt is made. Wrinkle resistant fabrics need to be ironed after they are washed, but are treated so that they stay looking more crisp throughout the day than they otherwise would.
This is different than “Non-Iron” shirts you find at places like Brooks Brothers, which have a very strong chemical treatment after the shirt is made and come out of the washer/dryer wrinkle-free.
The chemical treatment of non-iron shirts
The most famous “Non-Iron Shirts”, made popular by brands like Brooks Brothers and Jos. A Bank, are cut and sewn then given a chemical resin bath. Essentially, this treatment bonds the cotton fibers to each other at a molecular level, making the fabric much more difficult to crease. This allows the shirts to come out of your dryer wrinkle-free.
The chemical treatment of wrinkle-resistant shirts
Our wrinkle-resistant treatment gives the fabric improved performance without many of the downsides of the formaldehyde residue associated with mass produced non-iron shirts. It is a treatment applied by our mills when the fabric is being finished, and is typically a liquid ammonia chemical application.
What’s the difference in feel between non-iron and wrinkle-resistant shirts?
Generally, the wrinkle-resistant treatment does not give you the “wrinkle-free-straight-from-the-dryer” look that a non-iron shirt will, but it will also breathe and feel better because of it.
Formaldehyde is a tricky chemical that can lead to skin rashes for the small percentage of the population who are allergic. The bonded cotton fibers are a double-edged sword that allows for unmatchable wrinkle-free finish, but also cause the fabric to be significantly less breathable and can often be slightly scratchy.
While there’s no evidence yet that having trace amounts of formaldehyde on your shirt will be bad for you in the long run, you can label us in the “thanks but no thanks” camp.
Other factors that determine wrinkle-resistance
One shouldn’t forget that weave, weight, and cotton staple-length play a very important roll in all of this.
Generally, thinner fabrics made with single ply construction will wrinkle more easily than 2-ply fabrics with a bit more body. Broadcloth (also known as poplin) wrinkles most easily of the fabric weaves, so if you really care about having a shirt that’s easy to maintain we suggest going for a twill, pinpoint, or royal oxford.
High thread count fabrics (120’s-170’s) tend to be slightly more fragile and prone to wrinkling than many fabrics, so we find the best natural wrinkle resistance will come with fabrics made in 80’s or 100’s 2-ply construction.
Proper Cloth’s Most Wrinkle-Resistant Styles
History of non-iron and wrinkle-resistant shirts
“Non-Iron” shirts were first introduced in the 1990s and were slowly adopted by shirtmakers at first. It wasn’t until the late 90’s when these shirts started being widely offered, though. These shirts really took off in the 2000’s, accounting for almost 25% of dress shirts sold in the US in 2008.