Pulling the Thread — What to Consider When Buying Linen Clothing

Linen is one of (if not the) oldest natural fibers in the world, but only in the last few years has it exploded as a home and closet trend. Yet, the conditions required and methods used to grow flax for fabric still lend to the comparative rarity of true, high-quality linen. If you've Googled "linen pants" or "linen sheets" in recent years, the options are overwhelming. We're here to shed some light on what to look for and what to avoid when considering a garment visibly touted as linen.

How do I know if a garment is made from real linen?

Look for the materials tab in the product description. The materials should read 100% Linen. Real linen is made from the fine cellulose fibers that are found in the bast or (skin) of the flax plant's stem. If a tag says "linen blend," or you see multiple fibers listed, this is a red flag that the clothing is made from a mix of linen and other natural or synthetic fibers.

Where is the highest quality linen produced?

It's important to note that there is a difference in where the fiber is grown and where the material is milled and woven or milled. While fabric can be milled anywhere, the highest quality flax used to produce linen is grown in Europe and accounts for around 80% of the world's flax fiber supply. There is no commercially grown flax for fiber in the United States. Your garment will likely be made from imported fiber if you are outside Europe. European flax comes most often from Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, where the unique climate and longer growing season allow for the flax plants to produce longer (and therefore stronger) flax fibers than in other regions.
When those flax fibers are milled and turned into yarn and then woven into fabric, producing a high-quality finished linen material comes down to the mill's expertise and quality standards. These vary widely, and good mills can be found in many different countries.

What can I learn by looking at the fabric?

Once you receive your garment, closely examine the fabric's weave. If it looks a little too perfect, it might not be 100% linen. Real linen has little nubs throughout the fabric; sometimes, you might even find tiny pieces of the flax plant woven in! If the linen is undyed, expect the color of the fabric to be variegated shades of ivory, oatmeal, grey, beige, or ecru. Synthetic materials tend to be more homogenous without the natural variation found in a fiber like linen.

Real linen fiber is naturally thicker and more coarse than other fibers. It does soften over time, especially with repeated wear, but a new linen garment should have a slight roughness to the touch compared to a fiber like cotton.

Does price indicate the quality?

Yes and no! Producing woven linen fabric is an extremely time and labor-intensive process, with many steps of the process often still being done by hand over a period of weeks and months. A higher-priced garment doesn't necessarily mean higher quality. Still, it is a good rule of thumb to expect real linen to come with a "higher" price tag than comparable styles in other natural or synthetic fibers.

What's the difference between "pre-washed" and a "washed-feel"?

High-quality clothing should be truly garment washed. This means the style should be cut and sewn using patterns that are graded with proper fabric shrinkage accounted for and then put through the industrial wash and dry machines using high wash and dry temperatures. This is an inefficient production step to scale up, so many methods have been industrialized over the years to mimic garment washing.
The most common of these is "pre-washing" the material prior to cutting and sewing the garments. The material is not actually "washed"–instead, it is fed through a steaming machine to steam the material. However, it is never fully removed the roll and allowed to agitate, which means that this process results in much less shrinkage than an actual water wash and tumble dry. These methods can give clothing a "washed feel" but don't ensure proper long-term fit. They also don't ensure the washability of the finished garment since more shrinkage will occur when the garment is actually washed and dried.

What should it feel like to wear real linen?

When you wear 100% European Linen, you should feel cocooned by it in the colder months and observe its natural moisture-wicking, breathable power when it's warm out. If you feel like your clothing is retaining sweat and heat in an uncomfortable way, it might not be 100% linen.

When should I be concerned about how my linen clothing is "wearing"?

Real linen does wear over time, as it is made from a natural fiber. When considering a linen garment, look for any available information about the weight of the fabric. Our Midweight Linen is over 7oz per square yard which is on the heavier side compared to the weight of linen commonly used for clothing and home textiles. When the fibers in clothing are pulled and stretched across the body or experience friction (like when you walk and your pant legs rub together), natural fibers like linen are put to the test. Friction and heat do contribute to the breakdown of natural fibers, so inner thighs are often a point of concern. Linen should hold up relatively well--it's not indestructible, but it should maintain its structure through moderate wear even if it does show some fading or thinning.

Can certification labels tell me if a linen product is good?

Product certifications like OEKO-Tex and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) are two of the most widely respected certifications that you may see listed in a brand's product information. Companies can apply for these among hundreds of other product and producer certifications to ensure for themselves and customers that their goods and producers maintain rigorous safety, health, sustainability, animal welfare, or other standards.

It's important to note that not seeing these certifications does not mean a product doesn't necessarily qualify, but seeing them does indicate concretely that those standards are met. It is quite similar to a food product being labeled as "certified organic." Many small farmers and food producers are selling qualifying products, but the costs of becoming certified are too expensive or time-consuming.
It's also worth mentioning that a material must be recertified at every step of the manufacturing process in order to use the label at all. So companies that purchase certified material and then cut and sew garments from it must pay again to have the finished product certified in order to reference the certification at all. This is the case for our materials–we purchase fabric that has been certified but can't afford to license the certification for each individual product we sell.

What can I know when I buy a linen garment from Elizabeth Suzann?

1. 100% of our garments are garment washed (pre-shrunk) and arrive at your door ready to wear, wash, and repeat without further shrinkage.

2. Our linen garments are made from 100% European Flax, and the fabric is made in China.

3. Variations in color and texture are to be expected, as linen is a complete product of nature!

4. Our Midweight Linen is just over 7oz per square yard, which makes it sturdy, durable, yet soft (and it gets even softer over time and wear).

5. Our garments are designed in-house by Liz, rigorously fit-tested on real women of varying sizes, and are cut and sewn based on our exact specs at Sew Co., a Living Wage Certified facility in Asheville, NC.

6. Our business is Climate Neutral Certified. We measure and offset 100% of the emissions it takes to run our business, produce our garments, and deliver them to you.

Shop Midweight Linen



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