What is Crinkle Cotton?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Crinkle refers to a textured fabric that has been treated to create a wrinkled effect. The fabrics that are prepared in this way include cotton, silk, velvet, and wool. Crinkle wool is produced by chemical treatment with sodium hydroxide, while crinkle velvet and crinkle silk, also called plissé, may be chemically treated or mechanically produced. Crinkle cotton is either woven to create crinkles, or they are created by rolling the cotton fabric in a bag that is sold along with the product along with a how-to guide for storage to maintain the effect.

Crinkle cotton may be used to make sleepwear.
Crinkle cotton may be used to make sleepwear.

Crinkle cotton is an easy to care for material. The pressure from sitting may temporarily reduce the crinkles, but they will return when the garment is washed. Air drying is often recommended, and some manufacturers recommend twisting or a three-step process of rolling, twisting, and tying before drying to maintain the look.

Gauze can be made with this texture, and when dealing with such a fragile fabric, it is especially important to make sure it is of high quality. This is true whether a person is buying it off the bolt by the yard or as a finished piece of clothing. Fair trade fabric is available, for those who seek it.

The material comes in a wide range of colors, including white and pastel shades of pink, yellow, and blue. Deeper shades and patterned designs, including Indian patterns and other ethnic designs, can be found as well. Embroidered and sequined fabric is also available.

Crinkle cotton has a wide range of uses. It can be an ideal material for travel clothes and is also used for Capris, sleepwear, unstructured shirts, gathered skirts, and circle skirts. The fabric can also be used to good effect in period costumes for museums, reenactments or theaters. It is also used for bedspreads.

Although there has been a resurgence of interest in crinkle cotton in the first decade of the 21st century, it is not a new fabric. Bedspreads made from it were advertised for sale in the late 1920s and this seems to be the most common early use. Gowns of crinkle crepe begin to be mentioned in the 1940s and then pajamas and robes. In 1966, Swiss crinkle cotton is mentioned as being “all the rage since early spring in Paris” in the New York Times. By the 1980s, the fabric was being used for boys’ shorts and stadium jackets. In 1991, the Dick Tracy yellow double-breasted crinkle trenchcoat made a hit.

It was again “all the rage” in 1995, and a 2006 New York Times style article is actually titled “I Am So Excited About Crinkle Cotton.” This fabric has been an enduring presence and has caused fashion excitement repeatedly over a 40-year span.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


So lets just say i ironed out the 'crinkle' from the crinkle cotton. How do i get it back?


I saw a post online about how to wash a broomstick skirt and keep the crinkle look. I tried it and it works.


How do you keep a crinkle cotton shirt from losing it's crinkle? All mine seem to get stretched out and then I'm left with a circus tent rather than a shirt. Is it the way I launder them or what?


While I really like crinkle cotton clothing, especially crinkle cotton tops, I feel like it doesn't do very well for other types of clothing. For instance, can you imagine a sleek pencil skirt in crinkle cotton? A tulip skirt, sure, but a pencil skirt? Or a pair of business trousers? Not so much.


Crinkle cotton shirts and dresses are really great for traveling. Since they're already kind of wrinkly, you don't have to worry about them looking dirty or shabby if you don't wash them for a few days (or weeks, if you're like me).

I couldn't travel without my crinkle cotton tunic blouse -- definitely a staple for travelers everywhere.


My favorite weekend lounging clothes are my crinkle cotton skirts! I've never even heard of crinkle silk though, why would anyone want to do that to silk? For me at least, the pleasure of silk is its "slippery" smoothness, seems like crinkling it would totally ruin that.

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