In the clothing industry, bouclé is used to refer to a type of fabric that has a very rich bumpy texture. To be completely accurate though, bouclé is the name of the yarn from which the fabric is woven. Bouclé means “loop” or “curl” in French, which makes sense when you take a close-up look at the fabric or the yarn of the same name. The texture is created by a series of loops within the yarn which form a wider network of bumps when woven into a fabric.
The appeal of this unique texture is not only visual, but it also forms a surface that is very soft. This is why bouclé has been used in clothing and furniture since the mid 20th century.
How is Bouclé Made?
The creation of bouclé yarn is actually quite simple. When at least two strands of fiber are combined, and one of them is given much more slack than the other(s), that slacked strand will naturally create one or more loops as it runs along the length of the finished yarn. Bouclé controls those loops by organizing them in uniform or varying sizes as they come in and out of the yarn. You can have bouclé yarn with loops of any size and the larger the size, the more depth the fabric woven from that yarn will have.
Bouclé was originally made from wool and that is still the most common material used in high-end Bouclé clothing. Since bouclé can be made from any material that can be formed into a stand, the fabric can be found in virtually every textile material in existence. Polyester, nylon, and other artificial fabrics are much cheaper and easier to produce so they make up an overall majority of the bouclé clothing out there.
When clothing manufacturers work with bouclé, they have to decide how big they want the loops to be in the fabric. For most men’s clothing, you’ll typically find smaller loops because you still get that unique texture and softness but the overall look is less fuzzy. Smaller loops also provide a degree of durability because bigger loops can create a snagging hazard. However, some designers want that ultra fuzzy look created by bouclé with big loops. You can also get even more depth of texture when you use a bouclé fabric with varying-sized loops.
A Brief History of Bouclé
The uses for bouclé yarn are limited to ornamental decoration but once that yarn is woven into a fabric, the uses are practically endless. Bouclé became popular as a furniture upholstery in the 1940s. It was chosen because it looked unique and non-traditional which fit right in with the modernist furniture movement of the time. It also made great furniture and pillow fabric because it was so soft and tactile.
The first use of bouclé in clothing is credited to none other than the legendary Coco Chanel. Beginning in the 1950s, Chanel used the richly textured fabric in women’s jackets and skirts. Often woven into plaids and houndstooth, the fabric gave an appearance similar to tweed, yet it was softer and much less rugged – qualities that were seen as more appropriate for women’s clothing at the time. Chanel’s matching jacket and skirt sets have been a fundamental equivalent to men’s tailored suiting ever since.
After Chanel introduced the fabric into fashion, bouclé took off in the 1950s and 1960s. It has come in and out of popularity ever since but has never really gone away. The 2020s have seen a resurgence in bouclé’s popularity, first in women’s clothing and now in men’s as well. All things are cyclical in fashion but the combination of rich texture and soft feel make bouclé perfectly suited for our current emphasis on comfort in fashion.
How Do You Care for Bouclé?
Since bouclé can be made from any kind of textile material, the care depends greatly on the material used. If you have an original wool bouclé sweater for instance, you would care for it like any other wool sweater. Meaning wash only after several wears or noticeable soiling, machine wash on gentle with Woolite or a similar wool-friendly detergent, and hang dry only. A bouclé made from 100% cotton can be machine washed but should avoid the dryer. If it’s made from polyester, nylon, or other artificial fabric then it can potentially be put in the dryer but it should be avoided if possible. Always check the label, folks!
All those little loops in your bouclé garment that make it soft and look cool can be delicate little things when it comes to the washing and drying process. If the loops are on the smaller side then you have less to worry about. As mentioned above, men’s clothing tends to use smaller loops because they’re more durable. However, if you have a bouclé garment with loops big enough to fit the point of a pen in, then treat it with extra care. Separate it out in the wash like you would cashmere or silk and wash on delicate only and absolutely never put in the dryer.
The other big points of care for bouclé are snagging and lint. All those little loops act like the soft half of velcro, allowing anything small and hooked or pointed to catch on. If you get a snag that pulls a bit of loop out then the best remedy is to cut the loose yarn off. This should prevent any further damage and will be unnoticeable. Mending a hole or tear is trickier than a traditional weave but the same darning techniques work, though they will be more noticeable. As for lint, make your life easier by keeping a lint roller handy.
Where to Find Bouclé
The recent resurgence of bouclé has been in both clothing and furniture. At the time of writing, the fabric really is having a stylistic moment. For clothing, it first reappeared in women’s sweaters a few years ago before making its way button-down shirts and accessories. Bouclé crossed over into menswear around 2021 and really became noticeable in 2022. Just as with women’s clothing, the fabric exists mostly in sweaters and button-down shirts but can also be found in hats and scarves.
In sweaters, you’ll mostly find richer bouclé made with bigger loops that create a big fluffy feel and look. Shirts tend to use finer bouclé with a smoother look that appears almost like linen. In 2023, we’re starting to see bouclé transition into warm-weather clothing like short-sleeve shirts. These offer a look and feel similar to the terry cloth shirting trend that blew up in the summer of 2020 and started to wear off by the end of summer 2022.
Our Legacy Bouclé Box Shirt
What makes a perfect summer shirt? Start with short sleeves and a collar. There has to be buttons, preferably all the way down. Then you need a fabric that is soft and light but also breathable.
Our Legacy checked all these boxes with their new Bouclé Box Shirt. It comes in a boxier fit (fitting name, eh?) with a soft slouchy shoulder, wider sleeve that hit closer to the elbow, and loose-cut body. The collar is spread wider to match these bigger dimensions, and the single breast pocket is simple and timeless.
The whole thing is very much on trend but the fabric makes it different enough to stand out. If terry cloth had its moment the past few summers, this could be the replacement in 2023.
Available for $225 from Lost & Found.
Corridor NYC Pearl Bouclé LS
If Corridor is known for one thing, it is great textures. The relatively young brand has made an impact by taking traditional designs and making them in big, bold textures that can easily fit into even the most texturally conservative wardrobe.
Thus, bouclé is the perfect fabric to fit into their design scheme. It has a different look to it but it works perfectly in the boilerplate two-pocket button-down shirt silhouette utilized by Corridor. Since they used a 100% cotton version with a looser weave, you get that breathability that comes with linen with even more three-dimensional texture. The overall effect, especially in that natural color, is almost like a magnified linen.
Available for $135 from Corridor.
Portugese Flannel Moscatel Cotton-Blend Bouclé Shirt Jacket
Bouclé can be used to get that tweed look in a much softer fabric by mixing different colored yarns. Portuguese Flannel achieved the look of a gray tweed by mixing black and white bouclé. The result is a fabric that can be made into a classic two-pocket work shirt that has the textural appeal of a blazer. This was the trick that Chanel used when they introduced bouclé into the fashion world nearly a century ago.
Available for $315 from Mr. Porter.
Howlin’ Cortez Bouclé Crew
Bouclé first made its comeback in sweaters because it just looks so damn cozy. The best part is that it feels just as cozy as it looks. You get that fuzzy wool look without all the scratchy wool feel, even if there is wool in the fabric.
The Cortez crewneck from Howlin’ is the perfect example of the bouclé sweaters in question. You can feel like you’re wearing a cozy blanket without getting all those odd looks you got that time you actually went out in a cozy blanket (we all did weird things in 2020).
Available from END. for $135