What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

We cut through the jargon on one of the more eco-friendly materials on the market today

If you’ve recently been doing rounds of the retail hubs with one eye on overhauling your wardrobe for the coming months, you may have found yourself swimming through swamps of late-summer-sale detritus; deciphering which Michelin-man-style down coat is right for you; and questioning what exactly is ‘Tencel’, the enigmatic-sounding name that seemingly every sustainable fashion brand worth its rhino-saving recycling scheme is currently popularising.

First developed in 1972, Tencel is the trademark name for a semi-synthetic fabric (made of lyocell and modal fibres) produced by Austrian textile company Lenzing – and its production involves several steps, including collecting wood pulp, dissolving it, and pushing it through small holes to form fibres.

Though not as gentle on the environment as, say, recycled cotton, Tencel is still one of the more eco-friendly textiles on offer today – the wood is sourced from sustainably harvested forests; up to 20 per cent less water is used during the Tencel production process than during that of regular cotton; bleaching isn’t necessary; and it’s biodegradable, as long as it’s not blended with synthetic fibres.

Being a bio-based material, then, it’s quickly become a go-to for green-thinking fashion brands. 

In terms of practicality, Tencel can be cut to various degrees of thickness and can also be combined with other fibres, such as silk and wool, to bolster durability, meaning it can work across different sections of your wardrobe. Known for its cooling properties and ability to whick away moisture (Lenzig claims that it has an absorption rate that’s 50 per cent higher than normal cotton), it’s an ideal base material for your casualwear, athleisure gear and underwear – and, especially during this transitional period where autumnal breeze can swiftly turn into balmy heat, it’s a great material for when the mercury rises. It’s also known for having a soft feel and an ability to hold vibrant colour dyes, while its minimal crinkling makes it perfect for travel.

So if you’re looking to incorporate this contemporary, versatile fabric into your sartorial arsenal, here are the essentials to invest in now…

Back to basics: the tees you need

Let’s start with the foundations and build from there. You’ve likely cracked out the heavy-duty plaid shirts and cable knits in anticipation of autumn’s gust and gales, which is, of course, an apt move given the dour climes that these shores are so renowned for. But with temps rising year on year, Octobers and Novembers of late have been showcasing the odd moment of heat and humidity, forcing you to start peeling off those bulky layers. Accordingly, having a breathable, moisture-reducing t-shirt as a base layer will pay dividends in ensuing months. 

This option by Son of a Tailor is a versatile piece that can blend in with most of your dark-toned winter ensembles, and will also minimise any appearance of perspiration – and, should you not like the fit of the tee, you’ll receive a new one gratis. Derek Rose’s option is blended with pure cotton, to ensure longevity of structure throughout years of wear. And menswear master Tom Ford has produced something in a straighter cut, meaning it can work for a wider range of upper-body shapes.

What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

Son of a Tailor undershirt

£59

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What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

Derek Rose Ramsay t-shirt

£110

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What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

Tom Ford cotton crew t-shirt

£170

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Making strides: forgo flannel for something with stretch

While you’re swapping out the light cotton chinos for some thick, robust, rugged corduroys, or that all-time classic pair of pleated flannels, consider integrating a pair of Tencel trousers into your legwear department, too – because not only are they lightweight enough to keep everything below the belt feeling cool when you’re strolling through countrysides and woodlands, but they’re also hardy to the point where they’ll last for autumns to come. 

Despite its moniker, the versatile ‘smart trousers’ by A Day’s March has a dual ability to be paired not just with formal, structured shoes (brogues, heavy-duty winter boots, et al.), but stripped-back, winter-friendly sneakers, too. Heritage denim brand Levi’s has updated its classic 502 model with lyocell, resulting in a tapered fit and slight stretch, both of which offer a contemporary slant. For languorous, off-duty moments, the lounge trousers by Hamilton + Hare provide a soft landing for any Sunday morning.  

What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

A Day’s March smart trousers

£110

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What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

Levi’s 502 taper jeans

£80

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What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

Hamilton + Hare lounge trousers

£115

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Don’t sweat it: upgrade your activewear

Given Tencel’s absorption properties when paired with other fibres; its ability to keep the wearer cool; and its easy feel that maximises comfort when worn during arduous activities, more and more sports and athlesiure labels are incorporating the innovative material into their lines. It can also retain highly saturated, bold colours – a hallmark for activegear across the board – in order to help you make a sartorial statement, whether on the field, the court or the pitch. 

The SilverTech Active longsleeve shirt by OrganicBasics minimises odours, making for a more pleasant experience when running a few miles on the treadmill or lugging around the dumbbells – and it comes in a pack of three, allowing you to have a constant rotation if you’re heading to the gym multiple times a week. Swedish label Klättermusen proffers an option that’s bold but doesn’t veer too far into garish fluoro territory, and it’s abrasion-free, meaning it retains its shape even after relentless wash cycles. On rest days, circumvent the tattered band t-shirt and loose, flowing joggers; instead, step into the elegant, sumptuously soft Ipu drawstring shorts by A Day’s March.

What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

OrganicBasics SilverTech longsleeve shirts

£117

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What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

Klättermusen Fafne t-shirt

£90

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What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

A Day’s March drawstring shorts

£75

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Boxing clever: upgrade your underwear

From Calvin Klein to Sunspel, there are myriad underwear options for men today – but many still skimp out on investing big into this everyday essential, especially because of the idea that it (largely) goes unseen throughout the day. Smoother than cotton and renowned for being more hard-wearing than your standard high-street duds, a Tencel pair of boxers or briefs are a boon when it comes to foundational layers that are big on support, style and comfort.

If big logos and brash branding aren’t your thing, OrganicBasics’ minimal boxers in navy make for a subtle purchase, as does CDLP’s offering, which comes in a slightly looser, more classic fit. For ultimate lounging about, pair either option with Hamilton + Hare’s henley which is designed in a timeless marl grey palette – its corozo-nut button loop closure is also a detail you’re unlikely to find on other garments of its kind. 

What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

OrganicBasics lite boxers 2-pack

£50

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What is Tencel, and how could it whip your wardrobe into shape?

Hamilton + Hare lounge tee

£85

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Want more autumn style? Read about the stride-making trousers that are an everyday essential…

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