Although fiber content labels give pertinent information to consumers, they don't tell you fabric's characteristics. Because dresses made of silk or taffeta vary in silhouette, the design quite often influences the textile selection. This is especially evident for dress styles that require fabric with specific properties -- drape, sheen and weight are generally at the top of the list. Though silk and taffeta have similar characteristics, the material is significantly different, affecting the overall appearance of the dress.
Silk Fiber and Characteristics
A natural protein fiber, silk is the only fiber type reeled from the silkworm's cocoon in filament form. Whether cultivated or wild, this fine fiber is naturally strong and long lasting. Because a cocoon yields from 300 to 1,600 yards, long fibers are reeled while the leftover shorter fibers are spun. Several strands of reeled silk are twisted together to produce one silk yarn. When weaved into fabric, this yarn type creates a lustrous surface. Though the yarn has tensile strength, the material has a soft hand and drape. Spun silk is made of shorter fibers, so more twists are required to produce the yarn, creating a less lustrous surface.
Durable silk fiber is woven in different ways to produce various types of dress textiles -- charmeuse, chiffon, crepe de chine, organza, habotai, double-faced satin and taffeta. Although silk dress silhouettes vary, the styles generally emphasize a soft drape with contoured side seams and flyaway or full skirt hems, referred to as sweep. Whether you choose to wear a sheath, T-shirt or strapless silk dress in solid colors or patterns, this luxurious fabric proves versatile for day and evening wear. For example, wear a sleeveless silk dress in a pastel hue with a skinny belt and pair it with metallic slingback shoes for an early afternoon brunch with friends.
Although taffeta is primarily made from silk fibers, it is available in blends that incorporate synthetic fibers. This smooth textile -- the name originates from the Persian word "taftah," meaning "silk cloth" -- is easily identifiable by the bright sheen on the right side of the cloth. Though a plain weave is used to produce taffeta, this fabric is also divided into separate classifications -- antique, faille, moire, pigment and tissue. Antique taffeta -- made of duppioni silk or synthetic fibers -- has an iridescent effect when the textile is produced using two colors. Faille taffeta is recognizable by its crosswise rib effect, while moire taffeta has a wavy appearance and is made of rayon or silk.
Versatile taffeta, often used for dress linings, is also the fabric of choice for many elegant cocktail, prom, wedding and other formal dresses. Taffeta comes in many weights, ranging from medium dress weights to sheers. Dress details in taffeta, such as large back or side bows as well as multiple tiers, retain their shape without collapsing because of the textile's smooth yet rigid texture. Although silk taffeta has significant drape, strapless dresses generally retain body around the bodice. Whether you're dancing the night away or mingling at a cocktail party, your taffeta dress with a scalloped bodices, trumpet shape or balloon skirts will look fresh all night long.