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What is Poplin?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Poplin, sometimes called tabinet, is a type of medium- to heavy-weight, durable fabric that is now most frequently made of cotton or a cotton/polyester blend. The name derives from the French papelaine, a fabric normally made with silk, that used in the 1400s. Until about the 20th century, different types of poplin were often used to make dresses suitable for winter wear. It was also a popular upholstery fabric.

References to this fabric can be found in many books, most particularly Little Women. Joe and Meg are invited to a ball early in the book and must wear their best dresses made of poplin. Both are conscious that the dresses are not really dressy enough for a dance, and Meg longs instead for a silk dress.

The dresses in Little Women were likely made partly of silk, but silk fabrics used for dressier purposes were often distinguished from poplin. The difference lies primarily in the weave, which produces a heavier fabric, and in the fact the silk would have been combined in weaving with a worsted wool or cotton yarn.

Poplin in its early days was made by using a silk warp weave and a worsted yarn weft. The result is a sturdy fabric that has noticeable ridges. Today, poplin is popular in shirts and pants and is often a combination of softer and heavier grades of cotton. Because of its manufacturing process, it tends not to wrinkle easily, and is somewhat water and stain resistant. Both men and women’s pants and shirts can be made of this fabric, and it often feels soft and exhibits a little shine.

Although Meg might have mourned not having a silk dress for the ball, men’s shirts made with cotton poplin are often considered the highest quality, and they can be quite expensive. The higher quality the fabric, especially when it is 100% cotton, the greater the price. The expense is usually considered worth it, since the fabric tends to wear well and is easy care.

Poplin pants are usually made in the cotton khaki style. Prices can vary, and again, the difference may reflect the quality of materials used. Fabric made of a cotton/polyester blend tends to be less expensive.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon341930 — On Jul 16, 2013

I am really fussy about my shirts as I hate shirts that are hard, rigid, starchy or crisp!

I saw a poplin shirt but it was also advertised as soft. It is 100 percent cotton. Reviews have said the shirt is too thin or see-through. I actually don't mind as to me, that would indicate it's a lighter and softer shirt.

The fact that it is poplin confuses me, as it suggests it's a harder, heavier material. Can anyone help?

By anon285591 — On Aug 16, 2012

I have a pair of men's trousers made of poplin material. I love them very much and would like to buy some more. How do I find them?

By orangey03 — On Apr 13, 2012

I have a chair that has been upholstered with poplin. The seat and the back are padded and covered with this soft material, and it is very comfortable to sit in.

What strikes me most about poplin is that it is strong enough to endure stress and weight, but it is soft enough to feel good when you touch it. I like it so much better than the old rough fabric that used to be on the chair. To me, it just felt cold and uninviting.

My friend who is into interior design reupholstered the chair for me. She had just discovered poplin and wanted to share it with me.

By lighth0se33 — On Apr 13, 2012

@OeKc05 – That is what I love about my poplin jacket. I can throw it over a chair or even in the floor, and it will never get wrinkled.

My dark purple poplin jacket is ribbed, so it resembles corduroy. I can tell by feeling it that the material is high quality, and this was reflected in the price. Luckily, I found it at an overstock warehouse, where it had been marked down from $90 to $30.

I wear this jacket every chance I get, because it is so comfortable on my skin. It looks nice, too, so I can wear it to church and to business meetings.

By StarJo — On Apr 12, 2012

My poplin skirt feels unlike any other material. It seems mysterious, because it is sturdy, but it has a silky feel at the same time.

This skirt also has a sheen to it. When the sunlight hits it, it seems to shimmer. There are no sequins or glitter in the fabric, but it has a natural sparkle.

I usually wash it with my delicates, though it could probably handle being in a regular load. I just want to preserve that sheen. I would hate for rough jeans or towels to somehow dull the fabric.

By OeKc05 — On Apr 11, 2012

I have a poplin blouse that never wrinkles. Since I hate to iron, this is the ideal fabric for me.

I tend to only buy clothing that is wrinkle resistant. Many poplin button-front shirts state on the tag that they will not wrinkle.

About the only way to make a wrinkle in my poplin blouse is to fold it and put it under something heavy. This happened when I accidentally put my packed suitcase on top of the blouse overnight, but all I had to do to get the wrinkles out was mist it with water and hang it up to dry.

By anon126504 — On Nov 13, 2010

What is the difference between poplin and sheeting fabrics?

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 04, 2010

@arman: I think that poplin is a type of sheeting fabric.

By Arman — On Jun 24, 2009

What is the difference between poplin and sheeting fabrics?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor,...
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