Cotton in Fashion across Time

Cotton holds a unique place in history, evolving from being more highly valued than silk and wool in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to becoming an everyday, comfort-oriented textile in contemporary apparel worldwide. Early Indian cottons were so ultra-fine that they were extremely valuable as trade goods and were highly competitive with fine woolen and silk textiles of the era. Cotton was originally available only to the wealthy due to the intensive hand labor needed to process fiber into yarns. In the early nineteenth century, wool held nearly 80 percent of world market share, with cotton and linen taking second and third place. However, by the early twentieth century, cotton became and remains in the early 2000s the leading apparel fiber worldwide. Liberty cottons are an example of the continued success of cotton as a prestige fabric; they have remained a trademark for the very finest Egyptian long staple cottons since 1875 when Liberty of London began copying Indian cotton prints onto ultra-fine long staple cottons. The advent of synthetic fibers proved strong competition for cotton in the 1970s, but cotton production rebounded as comfort became more important to many consumers than price. Faded cotton is an example of the power of the "comfort" aesthetic. Every decade since the 1970s has returned faded cotton to current fashion. While synthetic fibers can achieve the aesthetics of cotton, they only very recently came close to both the feel and the comfort of cotton with the advent of microfiber polyester. The widespread adoption of "casual Friday" dress codes by much of corporate America in the 1990s continued to make cotton an important element in the fashion aesthetic. Cotton has also achieved a good reputation as a "green" textile, because it is biodegradable.

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