What is French Terry?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Terry cloth is a type of cloth that features loops and soft piles of yarns, resulting in very absorbent, moisture wicking material. Almost everyone recognizes terry cloth, and we most commonly see the material used for bath towels, hand towels and the like. The way the fabric is made is perfect for drying off the body after baths, showers or swimming. Conversely, french terry can be called a version of terry cloth, most commonly used in clothing.

Soft, absorbent French terry is a popular choice for baby clothing and blankets.
Soft, absorbent French terry is a popular choice for baby clothing and blankets.

There are several differences between this material and more standard terry cloth. First, french terry tends to feature looping and piling of the fabric on one side only. The other side of the fabric has a flat unlooped back. Second, and perhaps one of the most valuable features of the material, is its stretch. The fabric could be called stretchy or jersey terry cloth.

You can find the occasional french terry towel, frequently ones especially designed for putting up the hair in a turban style after a shower. Yet you’re much more likely to see it used in clothing. For many years now, women have especially enjoyed robes made of this material in a variety of lengths and styles. These are usually preferred to standard terry cloth robes that may be worn in the winter because they are much lighter and cooler. You may also find stretchy terry swimsuit cover-ups that will help dry the body more quickly after a quick swim.

French terry is popular in sporty or casual clothing, such as in the athletic two-piece or jogging suit, made for jogging on cooler days. This suit is a great alternative to the warmer velour suits worn in the winter months. You’ll also see french terry in clothing like shorts and athletic shirts. For a while in the early 1980s, terry cloth shorts, shirts, and tank tops were popular wear not just for athletics, but more for summer mainstream clothing.

Another common use of french terry is in infant and toddler clothing. Footed and non-footed one-piece pajamas are often made in the fabric. Like the jogging suit made of this material, stretchy one-piece suits for young children are much more comfortable for use as weather turns warmer. A little stretch to the fabric accommodates a growing child, at least for a while. If you buy a terry outfit for a little one, you can always buy it a size larger to get a bit more wear out of the garment.

The moisture wicking nature of stretchy terry cloth has inspired other athletic clothing. You can now find french terry yoga or Pilates pants, which some feel are some of the most comfortable to wear for workouts. The fabric is still most used in infant clothing, workout clothes, and in light summer robes.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


French terry robes are looped on the inside like a sweat shirt.

I don't know why it's called "French"-- sounds better than "sweat shirt material"?

Most are preshrunk by the manufacturer.

By the way, if you are looking for absorbency don't buy polyester fabric. It will not absorb. Go with cotton for absorbency.


when robes are made is the looped side in or outside?


We are a women's clothing retailer and someone just asked "Why is French Terry called "French"? None of us "experts" actually know. Does anyone out there? I don't want to hear because the French invented it unless you have some evidence! Thanks. Tom Kennedy


Hi! I was wondering if anyone could tell me if french terry fabric shrinks and if so, how much?

Thank you!!

Post your comments
Forgot password?