Colder seasons are a time for sweaters, sweatpants, hoodies, and all the other cozy pieces in your closet.
You might not know it, but a lot of your comfy fall clothing is actually made out of french terry—a material commonly used in loungewear and other clothes that require a mid-weight fabric.
Despite their prominence in our actual clothes, not very many people know about french terry fabrics.
To get to know our clothes better, let’s take a closer look at french terry’s fabric composition, pros, and what makes it different from other comparable materials like sweatshirt fleece fabric and towel terry.
What is French Terry Fabric?
The first thing you need to know about french terry is that it’s a knit fabric. Unlike woven fabrics, knit fabrics are typically made using interconnecting loops rather than straight lines layered over each other.
Knit fabrics are frequently used for clothes that require mid to heavy-weight fabric because knitted fabric can be super warm and cozy. This is also why you see many sweaters and pullovers referred to as knitwear.
French terry fabric is unique in how the woven pills are uncut, leaving behind a soft interior with a smooth outer fabric. If you take a look at your french terry clothing, you will see that the inner side of the fabric feels soft and fluffy while the outside looks flat and smooth.
Single knit fabrics like french terry and fleece are characterized by the difference in the two sides of each fabric. Double knit fabrics, on the other hand, are made with two sets of needles creating loops on both sides of the fabric, not just one.
If you’re curious about the difference between french terry and fleece, don’t worry, we’ll get to it in more detail in a later section.
What is French Terry Made Of?
French terry fabric can be made from a variety of materials. However, most french terry today is made from cotton or cotton blended with other fabrics like polyester, rayon, and even spandex for more stretch.
The material used to make french terry fabric is crucial in how the final product will turn out. If it’s made of pure cotton, then the knit fabric will most likely turn out durable and will only get better with age, much like a typical cotton t-shirt.
It is also very important to understand that french terry fabric isn’t a type of fabric like cotton, silk, wool, etc. Instead, it’s a method of knitting that leads to one side of flush loops and another side of thicker, uncut piles.
For instance, cotton can be made into french terry fabric, jersey fabric, and even sweatshirt fleece! Although these three materials are all made from the same thing, their appearance and feel are not the same at all.
Variations of Terry Fabrics
Terry Cloth (Towel Terry)
Terry cloth, better known as towel terry, is a type of terry fabric that has yarn loops on both sides.
As the name implies, towel terry is most often used for bath towels because it is a very absorbent fabric thanks to the long loops of thread the knit creates. If you noticed that your towels have a fuzzy texture, those are due to the uncut soft piles of yarn on either side of the fabric.
If you want to know how more about french terry vs towel terry, we’ll discuss it in more detail in a later section.
French terry is a mid-weight fabric similar to towel terry except one side is a smooth and soft surface while the other is quite fluffy.
French terry is lighter than the material used for heavy sweatshirts but it is heavier than the typical materials used to make a t-shirt. It’s thick enough to wear during cooler weather but not too thick that you can’t wear it during warmer months.
Although absorbent like towel terry and warm like sweatshirt fleece, french terry is still breathable and comfortable for everyday wear.
Terry velour is very similar to french terry in that it has one side with a smooth surface and the other made of yarn piles.
The main difference between french terry and terry velour is that the smooth side of the velour feels a lot like velvet. It’s plush, smooth, and creates a unique, almost shiny appearance.
French Terry vs. Fleece Fabrics
Fleece is a knit fabric that’s often confused with cotton french terry.
Just like french terry, there’s a high likelihood that you have some sweatshirt fleece in your closet as it’s also one of the more popular materials to use in sweaters and joggers.
Although french terry and fleece are frequently mistaken for one another, they actually have a very significant difference: the loops.
Both french terry and fleece are made in a similar manner with loops of fiber knit on a surface, creating piles of cotton.
But with french terry fabric, the cotton piles on one end of the fabric are left uncut and the other side remains smooth, which creates the classic texture we’re so familiar with.
But with sweatshirt fleece, the piles are cut to create a soft, fuzzy texture that’s super comfortable against the skin. For this reason, sweatshirt fleece is a much warmer knit fabric than regular french terry.
Both french terry and fleece are good for staying at home but are not the best fabrics for working out. When you wear french terry cloth, you can maybe get away with light to moderate workouts, but don’t expect a lot of great moisture-wicking properties from these fabrics.
If you’re still on the fence about which of these single knit fabrics to buy, just take into consideration the garment’s future use. If you want to use it more at home during colder seasons, then go for fleece.
But if you’re looking for something that can be worn all year round, then french terry is the single knit fabric of choice.
French Terry Vs. Terry Cloth
One of the most common questions people ask when talking about french terry is whether or not it’s the same thing as terry cloth, which is arguably the more popular fabric.
Terry cloth is ordinarily used in towels and robes. By its nature, towel terry is super absorbent thanks to the loops of fiber on each side of the fabric. However, terry cloth is not very wearable in a casual setting.
Although terry cloth is a great fabric, it isn’t something you want to wear out in public unless you’re going for a loungewear aesthetic.
In essence, terry cloth and french terry fabric are the same things except for one significant difference. Instead of both sides having uncut piles, french terry fabric only has one side with fluffy loops.
This makes french terry the more wearable option as you can use it for casual wear while still benefitting from its warming properties.
Surprisingly though, terry cloth seems to be quite a trend in the 2020s! Many brands are coming out with swimwear lines made from terry cloth, as well as other types of more summery, casual clothing.
If you do end up buying terry clothing, just make sure to opt for sustainably sourced cotton like organic or regenerative cotton. If you can find some, recycled cotton is also great alternative.
Is French Terry Fabric Expensive?
Just like many other fabrics, french terry can be bought at a wide range of prices with fabric quality being the most relevant price factor.
Due to the way it’s made, french terry clothing can be a little more expensive than the typical t-shirt. The thickness of the fabric is also a factor that adds to the price of this particular material.
But, french terry is mostly just cotton after all, so it doesn’t come close to the price of luxury fabrics like silk. If you stumble upon french terry that’s made from more expensive fabrics like organic cotton or Tencel lyocell, then expect that you will also have to pay a higher price.
However, do take note that these fabrics are by far the more sustainable choice compared to conventionally produced cotton.
Most sustainable companies offer organic cotton and lyocell in their collections, and the added value of sustainability is almost always evident in pricing.
Does French Terry Wrinkle?
Okay, you know all those details about french terry but you want to know one thing: does it wrinkle easily?
French terry, just like sweatshirt fleece, does not wrinkle easily because it is a knit fabric. It has a natural stretch to it and the knitting will keep most wrinkles away.
Just picture one of your favorite hoodies and try to imagine if you’ve ever seen one of them wrinkle. Probably not, right?
Although french terry doesn’t wrinkle easily, it will still crease if not taken care of properly. Fortunately, french terry is a low-maintenance fabric, as we’ll see in the next section.
French Terry Aftercare
One of the best things about french terry is how easy it is to care for. This durable fabric can easily be put in the washing machine without considerable damage. It does not require dry cleaning or other forms of clothing maintenance.
You will find that washing in cold water and tumble drying on low will yield the best results.
But does french terry shrink in the wash? It can. Because french terry fabric is generally made from cotton, there is a likelihood that it will shrink when you wash it.
However, many french terry clothes come pre-shrunk, so just make sure to check the product listing or tag for appropriate care instructions.
French terry is a versatile fabric that can be made under sustainable conditions (see more below), but it should still be cared for to prolong its life.
Depending on what the french terry is made of, you will have to exert different levels of care. If it has synthetic materials blended into the cotton thread, that is another thing you will have to consider as well.
Is French Terry Moisture Wicking?
Aside from loungewear, french terry is also used a lot in workout clothes. More specifically, it is used to make layers like workout hoodies or joggers. These are useful for when you want to workout outside and the weather isn’t exactly ideal for exercise.
Terry workout clothing is not the best worn in warmer weather, but the choice is ultimately up to you.
On that note, french terry, as well as sweatshirt fleece, are not the most moisture-wicking fabrics. They are meant to be absorbent and are more likely to simply absorb sweat than efficiently wick it away.
French terry fabric is not meant to be a performance fabric. While it will serve its purpose when working out, there are many other materials out there that will provide more efficient moisture-wicking properties.
Is French Terry Sustainable?
French terry is not inherently unsustainable. Again, it is mainly a way of making fabric, not really a material itself.
The sustainability factor has primarily to do with the raw material used to create french terry fabric—predominantly cotton/cotton blends.
As many of us here know, conventional cotton is NOT a sustainable material. Almost 16% of the world’s pesticide use can be attributed to cotton production despite the fact that it only accounts for about 2% of our total global crops.
These numbers indicate that cotton production requires a copious amount of potentially harmful chemicals. And these chemicals aren’t properly disposed of most of the time.
In addition to that, conventional cotton is an incredibly thirsty crop. It requires about 6-7 megaliters per hectare to properly cultivate , although this number varies widely depending on how efficient water systems are in an area.
And although cotton is a natural material, it still undergoes plenty of processing and requires a lot of resources to grow.
All in all, the use of cotton in most french terry clothes makes them unsustainable—not to mention that cotton blends are often made with polyester and rayon, both of which aren’t sustainable materials either.
However, french terry fabrics do have the potential to be sustainable! If they’re made with the right materials, that is.
For instance, french terry fabric made with organic cotton is an excellent way to add a layer of sustainability to the otherwise unsustainable nature of cotton.
Organic cotton is cultivated without the use of harmful chemicals and uses considerably less water than conventionally produced cotton fibers. Therefore, french terry clothes made from organic cotton can be sustainable!
To show you it’s possible, here are some brands that use organic cotton in their french terry clothing.
Brands With French Terry Fabric
TenTree is a sustainable clothing brand we’ve featured several times here at Puratium. They plant ten trees for every purchase made in their store (hence the name Ten Tree) and are focused on apparel production that is kind not only to the environment but to people as well.
TenTree has two categories of products made from french terry fabric, one is made from a blend of organic cotton, polyester, and spandex, while the other is made from 100% organic cotton.
Much of their french terry collection is made up of cozy loungewear like sweatpants, shorts, hoodies, and the like.
What’s great about Ten Tree’s collection is that you’re given plenty of color options with varying degrees of comfort and fits. The brand even has clothes made from fleece fabrics if that’s what you’re looking for.
Overall, Ten Tree is an excellent brand to get your french terry clothing from and we could not recommend them more.
Mate the Label
Mate is yet another quite popular sustainable clothing company known for its organic essentials that are clean from seed to skin.
As we mentioned, french terry knit is most frequently used for casual clothes that you can wear comfortably at home, which is exactly what Mate is going for with their collections.
Mate uses organic cotton french terry as their midweight fabric of choice, using the material in most of their light sweatshirts and shorts. They also have some terry t-shirts in their collection.
If you’re buying for your whole family, Mate is a great go-to brand since they also offer mini sweatshirts for your little ones! And if you’re looking for more warmth, go for the soft piles of their cotton blend fleece fabric (a combination of organic cotton and BCI cotton).
WVN (Woven) is a clothing brand borne out of three decades of experience in the apparel business. Their ultimate goal is to promote the idea of dressing planet positive with fibers that look great but are still kind to the environment.
The brand has a couple of french terry garments, most of which are sweatpants and hoodies.
Although WVN’s collection of french terry cloth isn’t that extensive, their status as a B Corporation makes buying from them an incredibly appealing choice.
B Corporations are known for how well they merge the financial goals of their business with social responsibility and eco-friendliness. So if you see a brand with a B Corp logo, you know they’re operating on the highest ethical and environmental standards.
French terry is a great midweight fabric for the comfiest pieces in your closet. This fabric is known for its soft piles and uncut yarn loops, rendering the fabric warm yet still breathable.
If you want to wear french terry, it’s best for cold weather where you won’t sweat very often, because although french terry fabric is breathable, it’s not exactly made for the tropics.
If you do choose french terry, we highly recommend that you go for organic options. Organic and natural fabrics have a much better environmental impact than synthetics (which make up most t-shirts today), so they’re almost always the more prudent choice.
Navigating through the world of fabrics can be a difficult thing at first. It isn’t easy to know the difference between single and double knits, towel terry or french terry, fleece fabrics and wool, and so much more!
But we hope this guide gave you some insight as to what french terry fabric is and how it fits into your sustainable closet.