Buying bed sheets is one of those things we all do at some point in our lives. If they are not brought for us, we rock on down to the bedding section ourselves.
The price of bed sheets can vary – from $15 to a ridiculous $859 (the highest I’ve seen). For something so simple, it can also be a complicated task. The fact that a giant sheet of cloth can cost almost a grand and possibly more still amazes my brain and got me thinking — what is it that justifies such a price? Are the threads made out of gold? Is the entire sheet hand woven on a loom? Is it some special organic, fair trade cotton made with specialized NASA backed research breakthrough?
On closer inspection it was none of those things. Rather, it was this thing called ‘thread count’.
Call me ignorant but I’ve never heard of thread counts until Smiths and Caughey decided to do a mid year clearance sale. People lined up on the street to get into the overly expensive but justifiably up market, high end brands department store; one of those people being my University English tutor.
For the first time, I’ve never seen a middle aged man so excited about a sale. He came into class with a giant shopping bag and a look of triumph on his face. He had just won battling against a little old lady for some bed sheets.
But of course, they weren’t just ANY bed sheets — they were Italian percale weave, Egyptian cotton with a half price tag. He paid over $250 for them and was extremely proud of his bargain.
To me, they just looked like any regular white bed sheets, similar to the $25 ones I got online. He wasn’t too happy with my judgement of them.
“They’re made with a thousand thread count” he told me, like it was meant to mean something.
$250 is a lot of money.
Or perhaps I was just a broke University student that didn’t have the motivation to personally experience the finer qualities of expensive bedspreads.
1000 thread count is a bit of a gimmick
Because you can only physically fit about 500 visible threads in per square inch.
There is a general misconception that the higher the thread count, the better. But the truth is, there are many ways to bump up that number based on how you count it.
If you look closely at a piece of thread, you will find that the twisted strand is made from multiple threads. Each of these individual threads is called a ply. This is done to increase the tensile strength of a single piece.
The higher the number of ply in a single twisted thread, the the higher the tensile strength. It increases the overall thickness of the thread as well.
In a 4-ply thread, each individual thread is twisted into a pair and then together again to form a single visible thread. Rather than counting that particular thread as one, manufacturers count the ‘hidden’ threads and add it to the final labeling.
So in reality, there may only be visible 250 threads in a bed sheet per square inch. But if you count the hidden threads instead, but with the added hidden threads (250 x 4 ply per thread), the bed sheet is advertised with 1000 thread count.
Is this deceptive marketing?
Yes and no.
There is a thousand pieces of thread per square inch. It’s not an outright lie. Retailers are merely relying on our general misconception that the higher the thread count, the better the quality.
Ignorance is beneficial and costly.
A higher thread count doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to be worth the money. If it’s made from low grade cotton, there’s no way to salvage or increase it’s overall quality.
But how do you define quality in a bed sheet? Is it the breathability of the material? The feeling of it against your naked skin? Or its ability to survive a nuclear war?
Made in Egypt, imported from China
I’ve always found the emphasis on Egyptian cotton an interesting one. There’s made in Italy, Germany and Switzerland but always with Egyptian cotton. Any other kind and you’re guaranteed that it won’t cost half your rent.
So why Egyptian cotton?
Something about the hot climate, soil and overall agricultural set up in Egypt allows the country to grow stronger fibers that can be turned into thinner threads. These fibers are then used to create stronger and finer sheets. When mixed with marketing and higher prices for the product, having the Egyptian cotton label is an advertiser’s dream.
But real Egyptian cotton is expensive and only makes up 2.5% of global production. So how is it possible that every single bed sheet is made with Egyptian cotton?
Advertising is the art of enhancing something out of nothing. Price is the first indication of fakery.
When bed sheets are selling less than $500, there is a high chance that it’s not 100% the real deal. Cotton sources can be mixed and matched. The lower the price, the smaller the percentage of actual Egyptian cotton in the sheet.
Some even go as far as placing ‘Made in Egypt’ but it doesn’t necessary mean that the cotton used is of Egyptian origins.
In 2001, the Egyptian ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade developed an international trademark logo with the words ‘Egyptian Cotton’ underneath to help promote authenticity. According to the registration certificate, the trademark can only be used by verified and authorized entities and “is intended to certify that the products…contain 100% Egyptian Barbadence cotton”.
The deception of luxury
Paying more for something often gives the feeling of luxury. This also impacts on durability and personal perception of the item. If you’ve spent more than a day’s wage on something, you’re more likely to take care of it.
Would I ever spend $250 on bed sheets?
Most likely not.
While we may spend a good chunk of out lives in bed, I am happy with my $25 set. I may splash out on a $50 set later in the year but currently, I do not find it financially justifiable.
I am curious though what it feels like to sleep on the real deal of 100%, single ply Egyptian cotton and if it lives up to its price. But perhaps I will never know.