Towel choice is intensely subjective — for every full-throated waffle obsessive, there are plenty willing to argue the merits of a flat-weave Turkish set. Still, there are a few characteristics that are vital across the board: No matter the style, a towel needs to dry quickly and stay soft after a couple hundred runs in the wash. To find the ones that are as good-looking as they are durable, we spoke to 24 designers, hoteliers, and shop owners, unearthing the checkered style by textile company Baina preferred by multidisciplinary design-studio founders and decorators (seen above, $110), a mildewproof option that dries so fast it can be used twice a day, and one that has held up through years of “emergency potty-training accidents.”
What we’re looking for
Absorbency: The most important quality of a towel is its ability to absorb water from your body while staying plush, not getting soggy. Absorbency is measured by GSM, or grams of fabric per square meter. The higher the GSM, the thicker, softer, and more absorbent the towel is going to be.
Material and feel: Egyptian cotton has longer fibers, making it soft, plush, and particularly thirsty. Turkish-cotton fibers are shorter, which means they’re lighter and faster drying than Egyptian-cotton towels (if not quite as absorbent). Then there’s American-grown Supima cotton, which has extra-long fibers but doesn’t feel quite as plush.
Style: Over the past few years, brands like Marimekko and Dusen Dusen Home have made swirly, striped, dotted, and otherwise over-the-top printed towels popular. But, of course, it’s still easy to track down ultrasoft whites (and monogrammed towels with tempered trims) if your style skews more classic.
Very high absorbency | 100 percent zero-twist Turkish cotton
With the highest GSM (820) on this list, Brooklinen’s Super-Plush towel is our overall favorite pick for its feel, absorbency, and value. Architectural designer Madelynn Ringo calls it “more robe than towel … incredible at soaking up water, and the threads are really durable, no snagging.” It comes in nine colors, including mossy gray, cream, and goldenrod.
High absorbency | 100 percent Supima cotton
Made from American-grown cotton, this Lands’ End towel is a favorite of creative director Mark Warren’s. He says the bath-sheet size is “super-plush and huge and stands up to hundreds of washings.” And those aren’t light-use washes: “I have a kid and am a pretty dirty person, and these have withstood a few years of what is probably excessive wear and tear, including cleaning emergency potty-training accidents.”
Medium absorbency | Long-staple zero-twist Egyptian cotton
The way Matouk’s Milagro towel is woven contributes to its supersoftness: Instead of the cotton fibers being twisted, which results in a rougher feel, they’re looped. In the sweet spot between plush and lightweight, it’s a favorite of both home stager Meridith Baer and Okin; the latter says it holds up “for years,” washes well, and never sheds.
High absorbency | Long-staple Egyptian cotton
When choosing towels, interior designer Rayman Boozer says he “always starts with a color in mind.” And lately, “Garnet Hill seems to have all the perfect colors.” This thick towel, made in Turkey, comes in shades like melon and cornflower blue and in multiple sizes for mixing and matching.
Medium absorbency | Deadstock Turkish cotton
This towel dries so quickly, says Strategist writer Sanibel Chai, that she is able to use it twice a day. That’s thanks to the weave, she adds, which “simulates thickness. If you look closely, you can see gaps between patches of towel because every other square is left blank,” meaning that the “the terry loops that are usually densely packed on a normal towel are staggered. So water is only being absorbed into half as much fabric.”
High absorbency | 100 percent cotton
According to furniture-and-lighting designer Lulu LaFortune, “The more you wash this towel, the softer it gets, like a vintage T-shirt.” (She also likes how fast-drying it is.) It’s a favorite of Decorilla interior designer Devin Shaffer, who says the towel is so comfortable he often finds himself “waking up from a nap wrapped in it in bed after a shower.”
High absorbency | 100 percent long-staple cotton
Interior designer Ariel Okin especially likes this long-staple cotton towel made in Portugal, which comes with a subtle piped border. “They can be monogrammed, which I love,” she says. “I purchased a set in light blue. They are really soft and have a classic look to them.”
Best Turkish hammam style
Medium absorbency | Turkish cotton
Flat-woven Turkish towels are known for being lightweight, highly absorbent, and super-fast-drying, which is why shoe designer Mickey Ashmore prefers them. “There are a lot of cheap Turkish towels out there — machine-made and digitally printed,” he says. “Oddbird’s are shuttle-loomed using a high-quality cotton-linen blend; they get softer with every wash.”
Very high absorbency | 100 percent Turkish cotton
Dusen Dusen’s striped towels are a favorite of critic Alexandra Lange’s. She says they are “very plush, the colors hold up well over many washes, and it is kind of freeing that they don’t match anything in anyone’s bathroom.” They’re available in a few colorways: Decorator Carrie Carrollo likes the new two-tone reversible style with a narrow checkered trim at the ends.
High absorbency | 100 percent organic cotton
Nick Spain, founder of multidisciplinary design studio Arthur’s, loves Melbourne-based brand Baina’s checkerboard-patterned towels, also stocked at Ssense and the Break. “Even though lots of brands are using checks in bright and bold colorways right now, executing them in this velvety brown gives them a decadent, old-world feel,” he says.
High absorbency | 100 percent organic cotton
Several of our experts, including designer Beverly Nguyen, named this as their favorite-looking towel. Laura Reilly of the newsletter Magasin owns the bath sheets in Racing Green, a white towel with thin dark-green stripes, and likes to feature them prominently in her linen storage “in open shelving, in public view.” She says they have “a great bounciness, almost like a marshmallow.”
• Leah Alexander, founder, Beauty Is Abundant
• Mickey Ashmore, owner, Sabah
• Meridith Baer, owner, Meridith Baer Home
• Siya Bahal, freelance creative producer
• Jess Blumberg, interior designer, Dale Blumberg Interiors
• Rayman Boozer, principal designer, Apartment 48
• Carrie Carrollo, freelance decorator
• Leanne Ford, owner, Leanne Ford Interiors
• Nathalie Jordi, co-founder, Hotel Peter & Paul
• Kelsey Keith, editorial director, Herman Miller
• Lulu LaFortune, furniture-and-lighting designer
• Alexandra Lange, design critic
• Daniel Lantz, co-founder, Graf Lantz
• Conway Liao, founder, Hudson Wilder
• Beverly Nguyen, owner, Beverly’s
• Ariel Okin, founder, Ariel Okin Interiors
• Laura Reilly, editor, Magasin newsletter
• Tina Rich, owner, Tina Rich Design
• Madelynn Ringo, creative director, Ringo Studio
• Sandeep Salter, owner, Salter House
• Devin Shaffer, lead sales designer, Decorilla
• Nick Spain, founder, Arthur’s
• Mark Warren, creative director, Haand
• Alessandra Wood, VP of style, Modsy
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