Sea Island Cotton

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Turnbull-Asser-Shirt-Connery
Sean Connery wears a pale blue Turnbull & Asser shirt in From Russia with Love that is probably made of Sea Island cotton.

James Bond has a long history of wearing Sea Island cotton. Ian Fleming wrote in his novels that Bond wears a “dark blue Sea Island cotton shirt” in Moonraker, “dark blue Sea Island cotton shirts with collars attached and short sleeves” in Diamonds Are Forever, a “white sea-island cotton shirt” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and “sea island cotton underpants” in The Man with the Golden Gun. Sean Connery’s Turnbull & Asser shirts were likely made of Sea Island cotton poplin, and some of Pierce Brosnan’s Turnbull & Asser shirts auctioned with his suits at Bonhams were made of “Sea Island Cotton Quality” royal oxford.

Sea Island cotton is an extra-long staple cotton, and due to the fibre’s fine diameter and long length it has a silky look and feel. Sea Island cotton is also a very strong fibre, which is what allows it to be made into finer shirtings. It is typically spun in a 140 yarn count. Originally it was grown on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia in the United States, but now it is grown in the British West Indies. Turnbull & Asser has not sold genuine Sea Island cotton shirts for some time and now sells “Sea Island Quality”, which is extra-long staple cotton grown in Egypt. Turnbull & Asser’s”Sea Island Quality” shirts are at the top of their ready-to-wear range.

Though Sea Island cotton is both durable and has the silkiest feel of all cottons, there are downsides. It doesn’t have much body, and in a poplin weave it can be somewhat translucent in white. Because Sea Island cotton is so fine, it is very difficult to iron and wrinkles easily. Underpants, like what Bond wears in The Man with the Golden Gun novel, may be the best usage for Sea Island cotton since they touch one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and it doesn’t matter if they wrinkle.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I have had several bespoke sea island cotton shirts made at TA and they both look and feel superb. Never felt closer to 007 himself.

    • I agree…but this whole thing about sea island quality….reminds me of the time my family was too broke to buy orange juice, so we instead bought orange drink…

  2. Though I don’t doubt they feel luxurious, the issue of wrinkling easily and being difficult to press are dealbreakers for me. I’d rather have a good, solid two-ply 100s cotton.

  3. I must say, the one time I had a shirt made with Sea Island cotton, I regretted it. I thought the material heavy and not breathable in LA weather. I don’t care for silk either, so perhaps that explains my reaction.

    Connery’s shirt has quite the full cut. Certainly looks like the end of long day of belly dancers, girl fights, gun fights, raki, and assassination.

  4. I havent yet forked out for a Sea Island cotton shirt but I recently had two shirts made from Hemrajani (the company Matt recommended here some time back) in a fine cotton material called Popeline. It too has this fine almost silky appearance but is very pleasant to wear and easy to iron. Frank Foster also made me a shirt recently in zendaline which I take to be similar to the Popeline in terms of texture and quality. I havent actually worn this shirt yet though.

  5. you never see these ads “100% sea island” most of these shirts are not 100% sea island cotton.you always have to go on price. -too expensive.

  6. It’s a very depressing thing. Not even the Jermyn Street Makers stock Sea Island Cotton the way they used to. I have ( over the years ) visited 15 Shirt Shops in London :
    1) Emmett
    2) Grosvenor
    3) T M Lewin
    4) Hawes and Curtis
    5) Charles Tyhitt
    6) Hilditch and Key
    7) Hewitt and May
    8) Santa Maria Shirtmakers
    9) The Cad and the Dandy
    10) Emma Willis
    11) Budd
    12) Harvie and Hudson
    13) New and Lingwood
    14) Turnbull and Asser
    15) Frank Foster
    From among these 15 , most sell Sea Island QUALITY cotton. The only ones who sell genuine Sea Island Cotton are Budd and Turnbull and Asser. Turnbull and Asser has 4 sea island cotton dress shirts in their current ready to wear line : A Sky blue with three button Cuffs , a white with three button Cuffs , a Sky blue with Double cuffs , and a white with double cuffs.
    Emma Willis Prefers Swiss cotton Poplin.
    Budd is the only London Shirtmaker ( that l know of ) , who stocks sea island cotton shirts consistently.
    I was very surprised that even Hilditch and Key ( the Company from where Frank Foster himself got his first personal bespoke shirt , a silk one none the less ) no longer keeps genuine Sea island cotton.
    Frank Foster seems to prefer Zendaline more for luxury All – Cotton Shirtings .

    • Frank Foster has Sea Island cotton fabrics, but I don’t know if they’re the real thing or just the quality. Genuine Sea Island cotton is not necessarily the ultimate mark of quality.

    • I recently had a bespoke shirt done at T&A and inquired about sea island quality vs. west indian sea island cotton… they made no effort to “upsell” and tbh, seemed quite skeptical themselves about whether there was a significant difference.

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