I watch my fair share of fashion-related TV programs…from Project Runway to What Not to Wear and every so often there is always someone who cries out, “Ugh…polyester!”
When polyester was first introduced to the textile industry, it had several advantages over cotton. It did not absorb moisture, was pretty resistant to stains, did not shrink or stretch after the finish process, was considered “wrinkle free”, durable, and was easy to dye. Soon, polyester garments bombarded the garment industry in the 1960s and 1970s. After the novelty of polyester wore off as with many trends of the 60s and 70s, people started having negative connotations with polyester.
Some people developed allergic reactions. The clothes created with polyester double knit fabric were uncomfortable, non-breathable, and itchy. In case of a fire, polyester would melt onto your skin…which increases the severity of your injuries. The clothing styles and colors associated with polyester garments were very dated and “old-fashioned.”
There have been many improvements to polyester materials since the 70s, so why not rethink our love/hate relationship with polyester?
Most athletic sportswear use a new type of polyester to wick away sweat from your body…aka microfiber…or Dri-fit apparel. Another type mimics the look and feel of silk. The price of polyester hasn’t changed much, you can still find cheap polyester material, but there is also higher quality and more expensive versions available.
Polyester is pretty versatile and it makes for a great fabric when you’re designing for cheap, fast fashion stores. However, with fast fashion, the quality is on the lower scale and so is the construction, which is why many of those items are labeled as dry clean only. But many designers, from low-end retailers to high-end designers use polyester in many items. From linings to jacket shells and dresses, it can be pretty difficult to escape from polyester.
As with any kind of fabric, the quality varies depending on the price point. If you want something luxe from polyester, check the sheen, the construction, and durability of the material. Stay away from super shiny satin-like polyester and opt for a more subtle shimmer or matte look. If you didn’t have the tags or labels, would you know the difference between polyester and cotton, wool, or silk?