What is Gabardine?

Malcolm Tatum

Gabardine has long been a fabric choice that comes to mind when the order of the day is durability and style. Here is some historical background on the creation of gabardine, how it is manufactured, and some of the common uses for the fabric.

Gabardine overcoats are popular among both men and women.
Gabardine overcoats are popular among both men and women.

Thomas Burberry created gabardine during the latter part of the 19th century. As the founder of the Burberry house of fashion in Basingstoke, the idea was to create a versatile fabric blend that would hold up well to a lot of wear and tear. Burberry drew his inspiration and the name for his new fabric from the gaberdina of the Middle ages. Gabardina were loose and long garments that were worn over the breeches and blouses. Typically, beggars used them for extra protection from the elements. Often, the gabardina were tied around the waist.

Gabardine became a popular choice for women’s jackets.
Gabardine became a popular choice for women’s jackets.

In order to create his new material, Burberry came up with a tightly woven fabric that relied heavily on worsted wool. The weave of the worsted wool was relatively smooth on one side, and had a ribbed appearance on the other side. From the perspective of the weaving, this made gabardine a twill fabric.

A twill weave.
A twill weave.

Burberry used the new fabric to produce several garments that caught the eye of the public quickly. Twill suits and trousers became favorites with men, as well as the wives and house staff that were responsible for making sure the suits remained in top condition at all times. Gabardine has a tendency to hold its shape and not wrinkle too easily, which was a huge plus for anyone that had to keep up the wardrobe.

Over time, gabardine blends became popular, adding cotton and synthetic fibers into the mix of the fabric. The addition of fibers other than wool helped to create a high sheen fabric that still worked well as twill. The sheen made gabardine ideal for creating fashions for women as well as men. Along with suits and trousers for the men, gabardine became a popular choice for women’s skirts and matching jackets, slacks, and pantsuits. Overcoats for both genders are another enduring use of gabardine today.

Depending on the fibers contained in the gabardine, some of the garments produced today can be cleaned by using a gentle cycle on the washer, and a low heat setting on the dryer. These same garments do well with hand washing. However, gabardine blends that rely heavily on worsted wool require dry cleaning to avoid shrinkage and a general breakdown of the material’s ability to hold its shape. In either case, a warm iron set on a low setting is usually fine for quick press, but care should be taken to not use too much heat, as it will scar the fabric permanently.

Depending on the fibers contained in a gabardine garment, the item may be machine washed or hand washed.
Depending on the fibers contained in a gabardine garment, the item may be machine washed or hand washed.

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Discussion Comments


I think the picture you posted above would be more commonly classed as a herringbone, no? While that involves a twill, alternating in direction from panel to panel, a twill is probably more clearly expressed to the novice as going across the whole fabric in one direction, referred to as a right or left hand twill when looking at the face of the fabric.


@widget2010, The idea of a gabardine dress, to me, seems like such a timeless and pretty piece. Like you, though, I will need to really save some money before I can buy one that I really like, unless I happen on one in a thrift store, which is always possible too.


Wool gabardine especially can be incredibly durable and also attractive, however it is also often expensive. Maybe someday, when I can actually afford to shop somewhere like Burberry, I can buy myself a nice, warm gabardine wool coat.


for years i wondered on and off what gabardine pants were. now i know and can check that on my things to do before i die list. gee with each item i scratch i'm another step closer to the end. i better sign off and look for more things to add to my list

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