Throwing In The Towel With Style – From 007 to French Terry.

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For some reason, whenever towelling’s mentioned, the first thing I think of is Sean Connery’s baby-blue belted terry playsuit in Goldfinger (don’t ask me why – some of you will already know I am a 007 fan).

While I’d never endorse his romper - playsuit, I do wholeheartedly recommend this David Gandy for Autograph polo shirt, that I own, and bought a year or two ago. It buys into that image at a price that was reasonable, and it is also well designed.

Part of Gandy’s range of beachwear, it’s made from premium, super-soft absorbent cotton and comes in Dark Navy, a Blue, that is as deep as the Med or a pale tone that is as white as the sand in the Caribbean. When I don this shirt I feel immediately transported to the glamorous Riviera’s of the Sixties (Italian or French, you pick) – just add sunglasses, some swim shorts and a martini to nail that enviable movie-star cool.

Towelling or, I should say, Terrycloth, is the fabric we encounter at least once a day when we step out of the shower and towel ourselves dry.

Throwing In The Towel With Style From 007 to French Terry 1

Terrycloth is best known for water absorption, making it the ideal choice for towels, robes, and iconic pre-pool playsuits. However, it’s become altogether uncommon to see it used for much beyond the pool and beach sphere, and has hardly ever been in men’s clothing. Here, I will share a bit more about this less-than-iconic fabric and its slightly more modern and wearable cousin, which sounds like a character from a questionable bar or nightclub - French Terry.

Terrycloth and all its variants were born of a pre-industrialised French innovation by which the fabric was woven on a loom with not one, but two warp threads. One warp thread was left intentionally loose which, when pulled through the dense weft, formed loops on either side of the fabric, creating a piling effect. The first batches of terrycloth were made from silk, but eventually, the standard terrycloth would become the super-soft 100% cotton edition that we know and love today.

Starting in the 1850s, Samuel Holt’s terrycloth knitting machines began churning out terrycloth at an industrial scale. The name terrycloth, it is believed, comes from the French verb “tirer,” which means “to pull,” and it certainly makes sense, given how the fabric is made. Its softness and absorption factor made it a clear choice for use in towels, especially considering before terrycloth’s invention, people just used woven sheets of cotton or linen to dry off, which I should imagine was not anywhere near as comfy.

Samuel Holt

Although many will not be aware of the term, French Terry, many of you will be very familiar with it – in the form of Sweatshirts, and sports and leisurewear. French Terry is basically a lighter and more pragmatic style of Terry towelling, where one side of the fabric is smooth and only one side has the characteristic pilling we know and love. Though we’ve seen these used in modern sweatshirts regularly—with the smooth side facing out and the pile facing in for warmth - did you know French Terry was originally worn the opposite way?

As it was first worn on the French Riviera, French Terry was traditionally worn with the fuzzy, piled side facing outward and the smooth part inside. Though this partially defeats the towel-like purpose of normal terrycloth, these shirts merely emulated the style and were honestly worn by moneyed folk who weren’t actually swimming all that much. French Terry is much more elastic than standard terrycloth and is nowhere near as heavy.

French Terry doesn’t just make for good beachwear, it’s also seen its fair share of sporty clothing, as already stated. That piled side turned inward is perfect for soaking up the sweat of a good workout, although nowadays, when many of us don’t exercise, we will wear them purely for comfort. It is mostly just to add a little warmth to your favourite sweatshirt. French Terry is also more frequently blended with other fibres than its double-sided older cousin. It’s not at all uncommon to add lycra, spandex, and sometimes even rayon to the mix

Throwing In The Towel With Style From 007 to French Terry steve mcqueen

With the exception of certain brands like Drake’s, most designers have shied away from bringing back terrycloth garments in any major way. When they do, they always have that 1930s French Riviera feel. Which I so happen to really like.

About year or so ago, Orlebar Brown did bring out a very expensive Bond-inspired range of clothes - including the 60s styling of Connery’s Goldfinger playsuit, and other vintage polo shirts, and outfits. Making items that had only been seen on screen, more accessible, to fans who could afford, what were in my mind very overpriced items, that were merely cashing in on the ever-popular 007 phenomenon.

French Terry, it seems, is more prolific than ever. Though it is now worn in a markedly different and less beachy context, the fabric has found its footing in the world of pseudo-athletic comfy clothes, like the sweatsuit, seen and worn by Rocky Balboa. You might go to the gym fully decked out these days in a heather grey French Terry tracksuit, also in this day and age, it has become commonplace to see, teenagers and twenty-somethings embrace a more leisure look style, so, its history remains evocative enough that many people have continued to wear it, even, if it's just for leisure rather than a sport - much to the chagrin of many, as relaxed styles seem to have overtaken that true sense of style, that is evident from previous generations clothing.

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As far as fashion and style goes though, the “Jocks” from US campuses, during the 50s and 60s, way before Sylvester Stallone appeared as the Boxing hero Rocky in January 1977, would mix athletic wear with their other Preppy and Ivy styles. So, it is, it seems that this evolution isn’t really that surprising.

You only have to look at some images of students in Teryoshi Hayashida’s book Take Ivy, and you see campus sweatshirts. Although the make up of these sweatshirts is different from that of French Terry, and is more akin to what was created by the brand Russell Athletic, and later by another brand – Champion, they show the utilitarian and practical use of such garments. They are comfortable, keep you warm, and absorb perspiration.

But, I digress, perhaps really, the first use of terrycloth is still the most important and most common. That is of course, that of the humble everyday towel. Let’s all give thanks for this innovation in softness and water-absorbing technology that so readily keeps us comfortable out of the shower and on the beach. The double-sided piled fabric might have never dominated menswear beyond the beachfront, but we do use the stuff every single day, and every summer some brand or other may produce a garment that has this quirk for those that want something a little different. I hope you found this an absorbing article. I’m off outside now to enjoy the sun, and drink a Dry Vodka Martini, whilst trying to outsmart a diabolical nemesis – and all the while, keeping my self as dry as the drink in my hand, thanks to, ahem- French Terry. Cheers.

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Read 467 times Last modified on Wednesday, 03 June 2020 07:34
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