woman wearing white 100% mulberry silk shirt

Is silk breathable? Here’s what you should know

I have become obsessed with getting more breathable fabrics into my wardrobe. Ever since I learned the difference between types of fabric and the benefits they can have in your wardrobe, I’ve experimented with different types of breathable fabrics to see which one worked best for me including silk!

Just to be clear, I am not talking about a fabric that just feels silky and has a sheen to it! Don’t be fooled. A silky texture can be imitated by polyester, rayon and nylon which definitely do not have the same breathability benefits as clothing that is made of 100% real silk. It sounds obvious but all you have to do is check your clothing labels to be sure you’re getting the real thing. So in this blog I want to help you understand exactly how breathable silk really is and how it can be a great addition to your wardrobe.

What is breathable fabric?

So first of all what is breathable fabric and what makes a fabric breathable? Well, unfortunately there are no standardised tests that measure the breathability of a fabric that brands and manufacturers can put on their products to make it easily identifiable. However some basic principles of physics can help us to figure this out pretty logically. 

According to webmd, when your body gets hot, you sweat to keep cool. But it’s not enough to just sweat for your body to be able to keep cool. For your body to actually cool down and stay cool, you need that sweat to be able to evaporate off of your skin because that is how heat is taken away from your body ie. in the moisture vapour. 

A breathable fabric refers to a material that allows air, including moisture vapour, to pass through its fibers in both directions. There are a few factors that impact how breathabe a fabric is: the type of fiber it has, the thickness/weight of the fiber and the tightness of the weave that holds the fibers together.

Type of fiber: Natural fibers have more space between them than synthetic fibers making it easier for air to flow through them.

large ball of untreated raw mullberry silk fibers
ball of untreated synthetic polyester fiber

Fiber weight & weave: The more silk there is and the tighter the weave the harder it is for air to pass through it. The looser the weave is and the less silk there is, the easier it is to allow airflow.

black woman wearing lightweight organza silk top
white woman wearing long heavy 100% raw silk coat

According to ScienceDirect, this means that fabric has a direct impact on how much airflow can pass through to your skin and how much sweat can evaporate off of your skin, keeping you cool. Therefore, you should focus on finding clothes that are made with natural fibers like linen, silk or cotton or at least a blend of these natural fibers to ensure your clothes don’t trap in too much body heat and are comfortable to wear all day long. Check out my blog below on beautiful fabric combinations.

Related: Best fabric cominations for timeless and elegant oufits

Is silk breathable

So where does silk sit on the scale of breathability? Even though silk can have different weights (which is measured in mommes) and different weave densities, silk is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a breathable fabric for either summer or wintery days. Granted you may need some additional layers for insulation during cooler months but you can always choose a thicker, denser silk fabric as it’s breathable but still suitable to layer if needed. 

Silk, as a fibre, is breathable because it allows air to flow through it easily. Fabrics that are made with silk fibres can have different silk weights and weave patterns that affect its overall breathability. Nevertheless, all types of silk fabric are considered to have a high level of breathability.

For example a silk fabric that has a 40 momme weight and is made with a tight satin weave, will technically be less breathable than a 16 momme silk fabric with a looser georgette weave. However in comparison to other fabrics both are still considered to be breathable. To make silk weights and fabric weaves a bit easier to understand I’ve created a table below that shows what weights and weaves more suitable for different situations.

Weave type

Momme

Result

Gauze

3 to 5 mm

Organza

4 to 6 mm

Chiffon

6 to 8 mm

Habotai

12 to 16 mm

Crêpe de Chine

12 to 16 mm

Charmeuse

12 to 30 mm

 Raw silk

35 to 40 mm

heavier silk appear more “wooly”

Is mulberry silk breathable

Mulberry silk originated from the traditional Chinese practice of sericulture and is produced by silkworms that exclusively consume mulberry leaves. Mulberry silk is considered one of the highest quality silk you can buy because the mulberry leaves are packed full of vitamins, minerals and amino acids allowing the silkworms to produce fine, long silk fibers that are soft and luminous. This in turn produces a fabric that has a high-end and luxurious feel.

Similar to other silks, mulberry silk is a natural fiber and is considered to be the most breathable type of silk. The level of its breathability depends on the weight of the fibers and the tightness of the fabric weave but generally speaking, all mulberry silk fabrics are considered to be highly breathable. 

Mulberry silk is also particularly known for being hypoallergenic and moisture absorbent making it an effective fabric to wear on warmer days. Even though mulberry silk is more expensive compared with other silks and fabrics, I have always found it very comfortable to wear all day long, it helps to keep you drier for longer throughout the day and helps to prevent any unwanted body odor. It requires a little extra attention when it comes to washing but the benefits are worth it and it’s one of my favourite additions to my wardrobe this year.

woman wearing black 22 momme charmeuse silk shirt

Can you wear silk in summer?

So, can silk be worn all year round or is it only suitable for certain times of the year? This depends on a few factors including the intensity of the environment or climate you are in. Generally in order to assess how appropriate a fabric is for a particular season, you need to consider three key principles ie. thermal comfort, aesthetic comfort and tactile comfort of the fabric.

Wearing silk is ideal for most summer weather because it’s breathable and moisture absorbent, making it easier for your body to keep cool and comfortable. From an aesthetic perspective, silk is also a beautiful fabric to wear in summer because of the way it drapes on the body and its ability to reflect light. 

In addition to that, most silk garments are designed to be loose fitting and floaty so that the fabric glides on your skin and has fantastic hypoallergenic properties. This also makes silk ideal because it’s gentle and comfortable against your skin during the summer heat, when high temperatures can cause your skin to be more active and sensitive than usual.

asian woman wearing breathable silk dress in summer
black woman wearing breathable silk shirt in summer

Does silk make you sweat?

A fabric that is made with 100% silk does not make you sweat. Unlike a lot of synthetic materials that trap your body heat and sweat vapor inside, silk allows air and moisture to pass through it with ease which actually helps to keep your body temperature down so you sweat less in the first place.

Can you wear silk in winter?

Depending on what type of winter weather you are used to, silk can be suitable to wear in the colder months. Even though silk is mostly thought of as a fabric that keeps you cool, silk also forms an excellent insulating layer against the skin, keeping you warm even in cooler temperatures.

Silk’s ability to absorb moisture means it will keep you dry underneath all your winter layers as well. You could also opt for silk fabrics that have a heavier weight like 22 or 31 momme silk with a tight satin weave. This kind of silk fabric would work well for outer shells coats and windbreakers especially if it’s blended with another natural and warmer fabric like wool. Garments made with this much silk are usually very well crafted and designed and can be therefore be a great investment piece.

Personally I like to wear my 22 momme 100% mulberry charmeuse silk shirt especially if I need to work in the office because it allows me to stay comfortable underneath all my layers outdoors and and cool when I enter the heat of the building. I also have a 18 momme 100% mulberry silk trench coat that I love wearing as a transition piece for Fall and Spring but have also used on some occasions in winter when I’m already wearing heavier base layers.

Related: How to master the modern classic fashion style

I hope you have you found this blog useful and inspires you to incorporate my silk pieces into your wardrobe. I would love to see what silk pieces you like to wear so please tag me on Pinterest because I would love to see!

About the author 

Mish has a Masters in Fine Art and she’s passionate about classical design, style and culture. She loves to analyze fashion and style through this lens to help people develop a personal style that’s authentic and tasteful.