Poplin is the standard shirting for shirts to wear with a suit—known as dress shirts in America. Poplin is almost always cotton—though traditionally it was silk and worsted wool—and woven in a plain weave. Hardy Amies describes poplin in his 1964 book, ABC of Men’s Fashion:
Poplin is a plain weave cotton fabric, characterized by the slightly pronounced ribs running across it. These are caused by the high proportion of warp ends. Good quality poplin will have as many as 144 warp [lengthwise] ends to the inch, to only half that number of weft [crosswise] picks.
The term broadcloth is sometimes used interchangeably with poplin, but poplin is woven with twice as many warp yarns as weft yarns whilst broadcloth has an even number of yarns in the warp and weft. For instance, poplin may have a yarn count of 144×72 (warp yarns per inch x weft yarns per inch) and broadcloth may have a yarn count of 100×100. Poplin’s thicker yarns in the weft give it its subtle crosswise ribs. Overall, poplin and broadcloth are very similar fabrics that are almost indistinguishable from one another. Hardy Amies further discusses what makes a quality poplin:
It will also be of two-fold staple yarn (two single yarns twisted together) used in both directions. Most better quality poplins are mercerized, making a strong, lustrous fabric that is one of the most popular for men’s shirts.
Because poplin is woven in a plain weave—and typically woven of fine yarns—it one of the most breathable and most lightweight shirtings. Poplins of finer cotton, such as Ian Fleming’s Bond’s preferred Sea Island Cotton, are shinier and feel silkier. This sheen can be seen in some of Sean Connery’s shirts in his James Bond films. However, these finer cottons are also thinner and can be somewhat translucent, particularly if the thread count isn’t high enough to make up for finer yarns. Connery’s shirts are woven densely enough that that are mostly opaque. Finer cottons wrinkle more easily and are more difficult to iron.
The majority of James Bond’s shirts are poplin cotton, both the shirts he wears with his suits and the shirts he wears with black tie. James Bond wears poplin shirts in solid white, cream and various shades of light blue, from sky to pale blue. Roger Moore occasionally wears striped poplin or broadcloth shirts in his Bond films.
There are other shirtings that are variations on or similar to poplin. End-on-end is a plain weave cloth like poplin but typically alternates between white and coloured yarns in the warp and has white yarns in the weft. If the colour is very light and the yarns are very fine, they are difficult to distinguish from a solid poplin from a short distance. Pierce Brosnan wears blue end-on-end shirts from Sulka in GoldenEye.
Voile is another similar shirting woven in a plain weave. Alan Flusser describes voile in his book Dressing the Man as “woven from fine hard twisted yarns with reverse twist warp threads, this plain fabric is lightweight, cool, and dry.” Voile yarns are spun to a high twist to allow a low yarn count. A low yarn count means that the cloth is very open and breathable. Voile is a sheer cloth and is either doubled in front, like on Roger Moore’s dress shirt with his ivory dinner jacket in Octopussy, or used on a dress shirt along with a pique bib like on Daniel Craig’s dress shirt with his midnight blue dinner suit in Skyfall.
Zendaline is a similar yarn that, according to master shirtmaker Alexander Kabbaz, is woven of broadcloth yarns in the warp and high-twist voile yarns in the weft. Kabbaz says, “the resulting cloth, for many technical reasons, exhibits the best features of both yarns. Zendaline has an extremely high sheen reminiscent of the finest broadcloths, but retains the soft hand of the Voiles.” George Lazenby and Roger Moore’s shirtmaker Frank Foster is a proponent of zendaline and certainly would have made shirts for Roger Moore out of this cloth.