3 general types of cotton cover more than 98% of the 25 million tons used to make clothes today.
1. Upland Cotton
Anything made out of cotton is most likely made of this type -- it is used in 90% of all cotton garments. The length of these fibers are up to 1.1 inches. It’s soft, durable, comparatively less expensive, and reliable. Think anything from Gildan, Alstyle, Hanes to denims to button-up shirts.
2. Extra Long Staple Cotton (ELS)
These varieties come in several names depending on the region where it’s grown – Egyptian, Pima, etc. These cotton plants have fibers that are extra long. ELS cotton has fibers between 1.3”-2” long. The longer fibers mean that when mills turn the fiber into cotton threads, they come out extra strong, soft, and absorbent. Most commonly encountered as Egyptian cotton (ELS grown in Egypt), Supima (ELS grown specifically in the USA) and Pima (ELS cotton grown in Australia, Israel, Peru, and the USA), all ELS cotton make fabrics that are typically softer, stronger, and also more expensive than normal cotton. As a down side, the fine ELS cotton fibers also make them more absorbent, which means it is extra vulnerable to stains. That, and the increased cost, are the main issues most designers have with ELS cotton.
3. Organic Cotton
This type of cotton is grown without fertilizers or pesticides. It is usually not classified as genetically modified. Production is regulated around the world. Here in the USA, the National Organic Program (NOP) determines the best practices for pest control, fertilizing and handling of organic cotton. Though there are no scientific studies actually showing organic cotton is materialistically better, the organic lifestyle movement has proven that demand is strong.
Cotton is used in almost all types of fabrics. Many woven fabrics - including oxfords, denim, twills, flannels, and chinos are usually made from cotton. Many knit fabrics such as jersey and pique are as well. Long staple cottons are very common among higher end shirts, such as Pima cotton tees from Uniqlo or select Brooks Brother’s dress shirts.