What is Taffeta?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Taffeta is a type of fabric which was historically made from silk, but today can be made from many different fibers, including artificial fibers like nylon, and engineered fibers such as rayon. There are a number of uses for taffeta, ranging from lining windbreakers to making wedding gowns, and many people associate this fabric with luxury and high end garments. Many sewing stores carry taffeta, and it can also be ordered directly from fabric manufacturers.

Taffeta is a fabric often used in making wedding gowns.
Taffeta is a fabric often used in making wedding gowns.

The term “taffeta” comes from the Persian words for “twisted” and “woven,” which suggests that this fabric probably originated around this region, or that it was introduced to Europeans through Persia, a major stop along European and Asian trade routes. People have been familiar with taffeta for centuries, with documentations of the fabric being used in Medieval Europe. China, Japan, India, and Iran all have a history of taffeta production, originally on hand looms and eventually on modernized machine looms.

This fabric usually has a very tight weave, and the weave is plain. Taffeta is famous for being very stiff and crisp, generating rustling sounds when people move in it. Yarn-dyed fabric tends to be especially stiff, while piece-dyed garments are softer and more flexible. The fabric is also very soft and smooth to the touch, and it has a famously lustrous and glimmery appearance.

Silk taffeta, the finest version of this fabric, is used in specialty and designer garments such as gowns. Taffetas made from other fibers are utilized for a wide variety of garments, and they are especially popular as linings, because the taffeta can add insulation while helping the garment keep its shape. This fabric can also be used for applique and piecework.

Care directions for taffeta vary, depending on how it is used and which fibers are involved. With silk, it is usually best to dry clean only, and the fabric should not be spot treated. If a garment does become stained, it should be taken to a dry cleaner as soon as possible, and the stain should be shown to the cleaner's staff so that special care can be taken. If a garment is an antique, it may require special attention, preferably from a dry cleaner who specializes in vintage and antique garments, such as a dry cleaner who handles costume care. Nylon and rayon garments may be washable by machine, and they usually include tags which indicate the best options for fabric care.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Not sure if my other comment/questions will be posted. I have a gown that was made by my mother in 1969. It is a taffeta and lace wedding gown with a detachable train. Any cleaning suggestions? It has yellowed and I want to continue to display it on a mannequin to remind me of my mother's handiwork and love for me.


I can't believe that taffeta was around in Medieval Europe! It's so hard to imagine people so long ago wearing the same materials that we wear today.

Although, I suppose taffeta fabrics would have been a great choice for making the elaborate dresses that were around back then. It would probably be perfect for a dress meant to be worn to a ball!


I had no idea that taffeta was made from silk. Taffeta fabrics are usually so stiff, that I wouldn't have thought it possible!

I also had no idea that it could be so difficult to care for. I've never owned any article of clothing that you couldn't even spot clean! I think I'll stick to my normal, every day cotton and polyester made clothing!


When I was little I wanted to be a ballerina, partly because I wanted to wear the taffeta tutus all of the really great dancers got to wear. It wasn't until years later when I had friends who were really good dancers that I realized how annoying wearing things made out of taffeta can sometimes be.

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