The Fabric Weight Guide: Materials, Calculation
The Fabric Weight Guide: Materials, Calculation

 

Ahhh, fabric weight – the one thing that totally changes the look and feel of an item, but is extremely ambiguous, subjective and confusing.

This article aims to reduce these complexities, and simplify the information for whatever you need it for.

Maybe you’re looking to purchase something new and are wondering how much different fabrics weigh, or which weight is best for a specific climate.

Either way, this ultimate fabric weight guide will cover the different categories of fabric weights, which fabrics fall into those categories, which you should choose for certain situations, the industry standard for how cloth weight is measured, and how it’s calculated.

Let’s get into these topics (and a few extra, meaty nuggets of weight-related information).

 

Fabric Weight Guide Fast Track

 

Fabric Weight Chart & Summary

You may be here for a quick summary of the weights of different fabrics.

Fabric weight is usually in the 2.5-18 oz range, and depends on the type of material used to produce it, the weave used, and the thickness of the fibre. It is measured in grams per meter (gsm), or ounces per yard (oz). Typically, lighter weight fabric is more appropriate for the summer, and heavier for the winter.

Though the above summary, and below table, are quite accurate and cohesive, unfortunately grouping materials together is a difficult task, as most materials have ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ versions.

This (approximate) fabric weight chart outlines the typical weights of different materials, and their appropriate uses.

Fabric Weight Classification

 Weight

(oz/y²)

 GSM

(g/m²)

 Example MaterialsUsesOccasion
Very light2.5 oz+84 gsm+Viscose,  jersey.Jacket linings, undergarments and lightweight performance wear. When utility is of priority.
Light4 oz+136 gsm+Cotton, chambray, PVC.Regular t-shirt, lightweight shirts. During the summer, or as a layering piece all year round.
Light6 oz+203 gsm+Cotton.Thick t-shirt.Again in hotter climates, or as a layering piece for the whole year.
Medium7 oz+237 gsm+Linen, canvas.Lightweight trousers, light suits and blazers.More substantial clothing for hot, summery locations. This is the suit weight for summer.
Medium9 oz+305 gsm+Polyester, linen-wool blends, velvet.Trousers, thicker shirts.Transitional seasons, potentially summer.
Heavy11 oz+ 373 gsm+Wool.A typical 100% worsted wool suit.All year round.
Heavy12 oz+406 gsm+Denim, wool flannel.Heavier cloths, such as flannel, denim jacket.Winter and colder environments.
Very Heavy14 oz+475 gsm+Tweed.Thick hoodies, woven outerwear, or sports coats made of thick material.Winter and colder environments. You typically won’t find fabrics of this weight used to create full suits or formal wear.
Very Heavy18 oz+610 gsm+ Variety, usually thick.Very dense material is generally used in furniture upholstery, such as cushions and chair coverings.All year round for upholstery, but for clothing, just in the coldest climates.

 

On top of the difficulty of putting different materials into weight categories, it’s also difficult to pinpoint exact categories, as weight isn’t fully objective (my medium weight may light for you).

But, as a generally accepted summary:

  • Very lightweight fabrics are between 0-4oz. (up to 136 gsm)
  • Light fabrics are between 4-7oz. (up to 237 gsm)
  • Medium fabrics are between 7-11oz. (up to 373 gsm)
  • Heavy fabrics are between 11-14oz. (up to 475 gsm)
  • Very heavy fabrics are 18oz+ (up to 610 gsm)

 

These classifications may not mean much to you, especially with all these units (oz and gsm – don’t worry, I’ll explain later). This next section will delve into each category in a bit more detail, and give some more fabric weight examples.

 

A Detailed Look at the Different Fabric Weight Categories

2.5 – 4oz (Very lightweight)

Cloths in this category are very light, and are usually very breathable, making them great for summer.

Despite these advantages, they can sometimes be a bit translucent, and can wrinkle easily.

 

4 – 7oz (Lightweight)

Compared to ‘very lightweight’ fabrics, those in this bracket are a bit more substantial, though may still be prone to a bit of transparency and wrinkling.

However, clothing made of lightweight material can potentially be worn all year round. For example, a t-shirt can be worn during the winter, given correct layering.

 

Man wearing a cotton t-shirt
This would be the category that most t-shirts fall into.

 

7 – 9oz (Medium)

We again get slightly heavier, and move into the lower-middle weight category.

This category includes ‘linen’ as a material, which is known for producing light weight variants of traditionally heavy clothing, such as suits and blazers. So, when it comes to sartorialism, this is the suit weight for summer, as the fabric is strong and breathable.

 

9 – 11 oz (Medium)

Garments made from material in this category are considered ‘transitional’, and are appropriate to wear in the spring and autumn.

However, that said, you could probably get away with wearing this fabric all year round, though it will be on the lighter side.

With this weight category, wrinkles and transparency start to become less of an issue.

 

11oz – 12oz (Heavy)

A definite fabric weight that can be worn all year round.

It’s a sweet spot that’s the jack of all trades, but master of none. Heavier or lighter fabrics may be better for certain seasons, but 11-12oz is ever safe and appropriate for general use.

 

12oz – 14oz (Heavy)

Fabrics that weigh between 12-14 ounces are considered ‘heavier fabrics’, and are most suitable in the winter, as they help with insulation.

These cloths usually are heavy enough to insulate, but still maintain manoeuvrability without being bulky.

This category includes materials such as wool flannel.

 

14 – 18oz+ (Very Heavy)

The heaviest category of cloth weight which is generally used for outerwear, such as overcoats, or upholstery.

It is insulating, and generally doesn’t let in a lot of air.

Usually the weight pulls the piece down, allowing it to drape well. This typically gives an added benefit of wrinkle reduction, especially when left hanging for a long period of time.

 

So now you know exactly what each category involves – now it’s time to put a meaning to them with numbers and actual weight.

 

How is Fabric Weight Measured? The Units of Fabric Weight.

Depending on where you are in the world, fabric weight is measured using different units.

Fabric is generally measured either in metric grams, producing GSM (grams/square meter), or, in countries that employ imperial measurements, ounces (oz), producing the measurement of OZ (ounces/square yard). A higher number means a heavier fabric.

It’s important not to confuse these numbers as ‘product weights’. For example, a 400GSM suit does not weigh 400 grams in total – that is just the weight for a single meters squared of the fabric.

 

What is GSM Fabric Weight? (g/m²)

As stated, GSM is ‘grams per square meter’, and is the metric measurement used in most of the world.

So, as an example, if a material of size four meters squared weighs 2kg (2000g), then the ‘fabric weight’ will be 500GSM (2000/4).

Regardless of location, fabric weight of suits is usually measured in GSM.

 

What is OZ Fabric Weight? (oz/y²)

In the context of material weight, oz stands for ‘ounces per square yard’, and is an imperial measurement that is used mainly by those in the US, Liberia and Myanmar.

Again, as an example, if a material of size four yards squared weighs 2o oz, then the ‘fabric weight’ will be 5 oz (20/4).

 

Annoying Alternate Measures – Ounces/Linear Yard and Grams/Linear Meter (GLM)

To make things even more confusing, some manufactures use ‘linear yards’ or ‘linear meters’ to measure fabric weight.

Simply, though still a yard or a meter long, these measurements have no set width, and vary per manufacturer. This width is usually specified in the product description.

In my opinion, these measures are pointless by themselves, as you really don’t have a good benchmark to go by.

However, given the width, you can convert either of the measures into the more standardised GSM or OZ measurements.

 

Fabric Weight Conversions

Converting Between GSM to OZ

To convert between OZ and GSM, simply follow this formula:

GSM = OSY * 33.906

or, to go the other way…

OZ = GSM / 33.906

 

Converting GLM to GSM (Grams/Linear Meter to Grams/Square Meter)

GSM = GLM / Width of Fabric in Meters

 

For example, for a material with a weight of 500 GLM that is 1.6 meters in width (160cm):

312.5 GSM = 500 / 1.6

 

Converting Ounces/Linear Yard to Ounces/Square Yard

OZ = Linear Yard Weight / Width of Fabric in Yards

 

Again, for example, for a material with a weight of 350 per linear yard that is 60 inches (1.66667  yards) in width:

210 OZ = 350 / 1.66667

 

Fabric Weight Conversion Calculators

Alternatively, for ease, there are many weight conversion calculation websites out there that can convert between the different fabric weight units:

 

So, now that we’ve covered the units of fabric weight, it’s time to get into which weight is most appropriate for your use.

 

Which Weight of Fabric Should I Choose?

Choosing an optimal fabric weight all depends what occasion and climate you need it for:

  • If you are intending to wear the item during the summer, I would recommend a lighter material. This will generally be easier to wear and more breathable.
  • Conversely, for fall and winter wear, you may want to look at heavier fabrics, such as a flannel. Again, this will usually provide greater insulation to keep you warm, and better protection from the elements.
  • But if you want something for all year round, I would suggest a medium weigh fabric between the extremes. It will be light enough not to drastically overheat and pull you down during the summer, but heavy enough to keep you warm in the winter.

 

Summery location.
A light cloth would probably be best suited for this climate.

 

I would also say that, from my experience, lighter weight fabrics are more comfortable, and sometimes feel like you’re not wearing anything at all! So for excessive utility and movement needs, I would suggest staying away from heavy cloths, and stick to light and medium weights.

Additionally, denser, heavier, more tightly woven, and thicker fabrics are usually unsurprisingly tough. So, if you need tough clothing, look at heavier weights.

But these aren’t hard and fast rules – some fabrics are very lightweight and extremely tough.

 

This next section will go into the weights, uses and strengths of specific varieties of broader materials, such as cotton. This will help get you an even better picture of what material you should look for.

 

Specific Material Weights

 

Weights of Cotton Fabric

Cotton is one of the most widely used fabrics in clothing today, and comes in many different forms with many different weights and suitability:

 

General categories:

  • Light Weight – Up to 200 gsm.
  • Medium Weight Cotton – 200-400 gsm
  • Heavy Weight – 400+ gsm

 

Chambray (135 gsm) – Often confused with denim, chambray is a medium-light fabric that is commonly used in shirts.

Chino (237-339 gsm) – A definite medium-heavy weight fabric that is usually woven in a twill weave and used to create ‘chino’ trousers.

Corduroy (140-300 gsm) – Associated with the older generation, typical corduroy is very heavyweight and thick. However, ‘needle cord’ is thinner and lighter. In any case, corduroy is a smoothly textured, vertically ribbed fabric that is usually used in trousers and jackets.

Jersey (140 gsm) – Jersey is a lightweight cotton, usually with a tight weave, that typically makes up t-shirts. Weights of jersey fabric are generally quite light.

Moleskin (255-440 gsm) – Moleskin is a medium-heavy cotton cloth that features a soft brushed surface, and is used for a multitude of items.

Muslin (203 gsm) – Usually ecru, weights of muslin fabrics usually come in at about 6oz. The fabric is used heavily in theatre, photography and bandages.

Poplin Weave (130 gsm) – Light weight cotton with a tight weave that is usually found in dress shirts. Can be a bit transparent.

 

A field of cotton.
A cotton field that will make many different cotton materials.

 

Seersucker (100-160 gsm) – Seen on summery casual shirts or nautical themed sports coats, seersucker can usually be found in a contrasting stripe pattern.

Towelling (300-400 gsm) – Used for towels and classic polo shirts.

Twill Weave (180-280 gsm) – A medium weight cotton weave categorised by ‘diagonal’ lines.

Velvet (34-600 gsm) – Velvet is a smooth and soft cotton fabric, and is generally used for special and luxurious garments, such as awesome dinner jackets. However, due to a multitude of uses, velvet weight can vary from very light to heavy weight.

 

Is 180 gsm Cotton Good?

It all depends on what you’re using it for, and what type of cotton it is. 180gsm cotton is generally ‘medium’ to ‘light’ weight, so is good for use in all seasons. But if you’re looking for something heavier for the winter, it’s probably too light.

 

Weights of Denim Fabric

Though a derivative of cotton, denim has even more sub categories.

When it comes to the weight of denim, it is traditionally measured in square yards, or oz, as we have been referring to it.

 

Denim weights vary from about 5-30 ounces:

  • Light Weight – 12 and under
  • Medium Weight – 12-15
  • Heavy Weight – 16oz+

 

However, this is just a generally accepted range, and is, again, rather subjective.

 

Light Weight Denim Fabric

Very lightweight denim, such as five ounces, is only suitable for shirts, and other items that require a drape.

However, denim used to produce light weight jeans and jackets comes in at about 9-10 ounces, and is advantageous because it’s generally easier to wear and break in compared to heavier varieties.

Because of this, it’s less sweaty, making it the best denim weight for summer. Also, in most cases, it’s cheaper than heavier denim.

That said, a disadvantage is that the ‘fade effect’, obtained by wearing the jeans for a long period of time, isn’t usually as aesthetically awesome as a heavier pair would produce. However, the less cool fade on a lighter pair of jeans appears quicker.

 

Light denim fabric weight.
Light weight denim won’t be able to achieve such a good fade as heavier weight denim.

 

Medium Weight Denim

This is the classic denim weight category for most jeans, and is a good progression if you’re used to wearing lightweight denim.

Medium weight denim takes it up a notch, and will generally be noticeably stiffer on initial use than lighter varieties, and will need more breaking in.

But this stiffness allows it to develop a better fade and patina. Additionally, the medium weight makes the jeans more appropriate for wear year-round, especially in the winter as they are slightly warmer.

 

Heavy Weight Denim

Finally, heavy weight jeans are even stiffer on initial purchase, are sometimes so stiff that they’re painful, and take months or years to break in. But in many cases, this means that they are tough and well made enough to potentially last you forever.

Also, with the added weight, the fade you can achieve is the best.

Heavy weight denim isn’t suitable for most garments though, as it’s too tough.

 

Super Heavy Denim

The final category, that I didn’t bother mentioning in the summary, is the supposed ‘heaviest denim fabric in the world’. Created by Naked & Famous, this 32oz denim cloth has the ability to stand up on its own, and takes months of hard work and pain to break in.

I can’t say I’ve tried it myself though – it sounds horrible.

 

So, all in all, light weight denim is softer and easier to wear, whereas heavier denim is more durable and produces a better fade.

 

Weights of Linen Fabric

Linen is a non-cotton fabric made from the ‘flax’ plant, and is known for being lightweight and breathable, giving it popularity in spring and summer clothing. As with cotton, it has many varieties with different weights.

 

Medium-light linen fabric weight.

 

Belgian Linen (340-509 gsm) – Used as a bedding and upholstery fabric.

Chambray Linen (203 gsm) – Used for lightweight apparel.

European Linen (288 gsm) – European linen is said to weight in at around 8.5oz, making it light-middle weight.

Irish Linen (237 gsm) – Another light weight linen that weighs around 7 oz, and is found in home decor items such as bedspreads and napkins.

Linen Burlap (305 gsm) – With genuine ‘burlap’ traditionally being used for sacks, and having a less than pleasant signature smell, linen burlap has the properties of linen, but has the same look as burlap. It comes in at around 9 ounces, and is of a medium linen weight.

Metallic Linen (237 gsm) – A linen with a subtle metallic shine on the right side of the fabric, which comes in at around 7oz.

 

Canvas Fabric Weights

Canvas is a medium-heavy cotton cloth that is strong and durable.

General canvas fabric weight categories are as follows:

  • Light Weight – 4-5 oz
  • Medium Weight – 6-8 oz
  • Heavy Weight – 9+ oz

 

Here is a good video that looks at the differences between the weight of different canvas types in greater detail.

 

Weights of Wool Fabric

Wool is a favourite material of mine, as it is the most common material used in tailoring:

  • Light Weight – 7-9 oz
  • Medium Weight – 9-12 oz
  • Heavy Weight – 12-14 oz
  • Very Heavy Weight – 14+ oz

 

Light Weight (7-9 oz)

Wool in this range is usually easy to wear and breathable. However, as these fabrics are so lightweight, they sometimes have a poor and unflattering drape, and wrinkle easily.

On top of this, again due to their lightweight nature, they sometimes don’t provide much protection from the elements. 

That said, this weight of wool is generally the most appropriate for the warmer climates.

 

Medium Weight (9-12 oz)

In most places, medium weight wool usually constitutes all-year-round use, and is usable on warm and colder days.

Using the example of tailoring, if you are looking at purchasing a new suit, you should look at getting one in this weight category.

 

Dark grey wool.

 

Heavy Weight (12-14 oz)

Heavier weight wool is not suitable for warmer climates, but will provide insulation and protection benefits in the autumn and winter.

 

Very Heavy Weight (14-20 oz)

Heavy weight wool is mostly used for woven outerwear, such as overcoats – this means that very heavy wool should be reserved for wear on cold winter’s days.

Tweed and heavy flannel would be a specific material in this category.

 

However, in all cases, be careful when purchasing from historical mills. Depending on their geographical location, weight category labels such as ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ vary per brand.

For example, one brand may consider 290gsm fabric to be a ‘all-year round’ weight, though another may consider it more in the 310-360 range. So, you’ll really have to pay attention to what you are purchasing, and consider the exact weights rather than just labels.

 

What Determines Fabric Weight

There are a few factors that determine how much a fabric weighs.

The weight of fabric varies depending on what material you are looking at, its weave, and its fibre type. This makes some weights more appropriate than others for certain situations.

 

Material

The material a fabric is made from is the biggest determining factor of fabric weight.

It’s time for a short science lesson.

All materials weigh differently because they have different atomic densities, or ‘mass per unit of volume’.

 

A stack of materials.
All of these fabrics are going to weigh slightly different amounts, due to their atomic composition.

 

This means that the atoms that make up one material may be more closely packed together compared to another material, meaning that for two items of the same size, one will have more atoms, and will thus be heavier.

On top of this, even for materials that have the same amount of atoms, atoms can differ in weight depending on the specific element, making one material heavier.

 

Fabric Weave

The weave of a fabric itself doesn’t directly affect fabric weight. It does however affect how much material is used to create the fabric.

So, given two identical materials, a fabric with a tight weave will require more material than one with a loose weave, and will therefore be heavier.

On top of this, a tighter weave is generally more durable, as it will take more force to tear through and pull apart the threads.

However, fabrics with a tighter weave will be less breathable because there is less opportunity for air to circulate, compared to a looser weave where holes are plentiful.

 

Thread Fibre Thickness

Usually, fabrics created with larger, thicker, fibres are heavier than when fine fibres are used. This is, again, because thicker fibres have greater volume than thinner ones, so are heavier.

 

All in all, it’s a combination of all three factors. You can’t make a universal claim that ‘a garment with a tighter weave is heavier than one with a looser weave’, as other factors may differ that alter the weight.

 

Conclusion

So, now you know almost everything there is to know about weights of different fabrics and cloths, and which are suitable for which situations.

Use it to your advantage, and find a fabric to suit your needs!

 

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