Why Are We All Not Wearing Knitted Shirts???

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I think we’ve been had.

For years I’ve been wondering why knitted business shirts aren’t a thing. Take the material of a finely knitted polo shirt, cut it like a business shirt and surely we’d all be in some kind of heavenly/comfort/practicality nexus. Right?

It just made sense to me, so I’d always thought that someday, when I start manufacturing clothes (which is happening this year, incidentally), at some point I’d start making knitted shirts, cut for professional environments, so we could all wander around every day looking like professionals, but feeling like we’re in pajamas. It’d probably make sense to go back a step, though, and explain why knitted shirts are possibly (actually) the greatest thing on earth.

The shirt you wear to work everyday is woven. Strands are passed over, under and across each other (warp and weft) to form a solid fabric (just like with a suit). This creates a smooth, uniform cloth. The nature of the weave is inherently fairly stiff, at least in relation to how it flexes when stretched. The flex only comes from the natural stretch inherent in the cotton strands, which is minimal. More stretch can be given by adding things like Lycra blends, but Lycra is an artificial product which doesn’t breathe, feel, wash or last as well as cotton.

Woven Cloth

Knitted cotton, on the other hand, moves with you. Effectively, a knit is a series of interlocking loops, which, in a sense, acts like your stomach does when you breathe, expanding as pressure is applied, contracting when the force is removed. In real terms, this means you’re wearing something which responds to your movements in real-time, rather than fighting against you as a weave does. It may not sound like much, but the difference it makes for comfort is enormous. Think of how comfortable a good polo shirt is to wear. It’s effortless. You can wear it all day without a second thought. It’s not to say that a woven shirt is uncomfortable, it isn’t, but it’s that a knitted shirt is leagues more so.

Knitted Cloth

The immediate concern most people would have is that it’s not professional for wearing to work, if work happens to mean formal environments (as it does for most readers of TM). The more texture a piece of clothing has, the more casual it becomes, so a typical polo weave is knitted in a lower gauge (less threads per square inch) and, therefore, has a fair bit of texture. The higher the gauge, the finer the knit and the more the cloth starts to become indistinguishable from a woven cloth. So the solution is to choose higher gauge weaves and, all of a sudden, no-one can’t tell if it’s knitted or woven. If it’s cut exactly as a typical business shirt is, it looks 100% like a normal shirt and the only difference is that you’re quietly having a party on the inside. Which means we can all start getting around in secret pajamas and still look like grownups at work.

32 gauge knit

The only potential downside is that they can pill slightly (like a sweater can) but I’ve hardly noticed any sign of this after months of frequent wear, so it’s not something I’d be too concerned about and the benefits far outweigh this potential negative. They also have a slightly more muted, light absorbing texture than a freshly pressed woven shirt, but nobody can tell unless you point it out.

A secondary benefit is that a knitted shirt can be cut more closely to the body and remain comfortable. One issue I’ve had with having shirts made over the years is that unless they’re cut perfectly, having them closely fitted runs a fine line between looking good and feeling like you’re in a straight jacket. If a woven shirt becomes remotely tight in any areas, that’s it, you can’t move freely and just standing still can be uncomfortable. That’s not to say a knitted shirt should be skin tight, shirts should never be “tight”, no matter how good the physique is that’s hiding under them; it makes the wearer appear vain and insecure. It does, however, mean that it can be cut for a close fit and not worry you about feeling restricted.

Poplin weave, sitting on top of 32 gauge knit.

I’m planning to have some knitted shirts made when I’m back in France and Italy in July, but in the mean time, I saw that Kamakura started making knitted shirts, so I gave one a try to see if my suspicions were correct. So glad I did. So comfortable. I’ve ordered more since then, to get me through until going to Europe and I also bought one for my Brother for his birthday last month and it’s already become his favourite work shirt.

So, for whatever reason, whether the world’s mills got together decades ago and declared war on knitted shirts, laziness by manufacturers or whatever else, we’ve all somehow been conned into wearing woven shirts every day and thinking it’s OK. It’s not. I’ve spent the last few months wanting to walk up to every guy on the street, grab him by the shoulders, make eye contact for too long and whisper “there’s a better way” whilst nodding confidently, but society’s conventions have told me that’s not OK, so I’ve managed to resist so far and this post is my outlet….

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  1. says: LL

    Nice post! I do agree with you, the knitted shirt is much more comfortable to wear. However, it is quite difficult to get the knitted cloth. Do you know which mills have carried knitted shirt fabric ?

    1. says: Andrew Doyle

      Quite a few of the mills carry knitted cloth. I know Thomas Mason have both Jersey and Pique knits (Jersey is smoother and better for looking like a normal poplin in more formal environments, Pique is more like a typical polo shirt, with a more open weave and more texture). I’d expect the likes of Canclini and others will also have similar options.

  2. says: Justin

    I completely agree with your post. I have several knitted shirts from Kamakura shirts and they are my favorite 100%.

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