Do you have a problem wearing synthetic fabrics like polyester or is it just me?

by Sylvia

What is polyester - properties and advantages and disadvantages of fabrics
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I was out shopping with a young Singaporean woman last week, when she noticed me checking the clothing labels. I explained to her that I always check the labels before buying anything as I’m keen on only wearing quality fabrics and preferably no synthetic fabrics. I was surprised to learn that she wasn’t aware of all the different fabrics and their qualities. To her it clearly didn’t matter what fabric a garment was made of (so lang as it looked good of course) and price was a far more important factor.

I also see these fabrics on some of the most stylish bloggers. Unfortunately, many times when I really like a garment from a picture, I’m disappointed that it’s 100% polyester. This is a fabric I will just not buy in the stores. It certainly limits a lot of my clothing choices as a lot of the bright garments are made from Polyester.

Understanding the different fabrics

Even I don’t always know the specifics of the different fabrics and to be honest I SHOULD know as I once completed cerfification for the knowledge of fabrics (above an image of my notes from all the fabric testing we did). I carried out (burning) tests knew all the fabric’s names and their qualities and could distinguish them by smell. It’s surprising how much I have forgotten.

So for a little brush up for us all, here are some of the main fabrics and their qualities (most of the research was done through Wikipedia):

FabricWhat is itAdvantagesDisadvantages

ANIMAL FABRICS

woolHair of domestic goats or sheepLess conbustible than cotton or synthetics, easily returns to original shape, keeps you warm, is breathable, resistant to tearing.Pills easily, dull fiber, stronger dry than wet, can itch, can mildew/mold, will deteriorate through sunlight exposure.
CashmereHair of the indian cashmere goatSoft, lightweight and silky.Can be expensive.
MohairHair of the North African Angora goatSoft and easier to dye, light, absorbant, non-flammable, absorbs moisture, resistant to creases.
SilkAnimal textile made from the fibres of the cocoon of the Chinese silkworm Most hypoallergenic of all fabrics, soft and beautiful shine, highly absorbant and lets your skin breathe, durable, light.expensive, yellows with age, needs special care and dry cleaning, leaves water spots.

PLANT FABRICS

CottonA soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium.Hypoallergenic and dust mite resistant, durable, environmentally friendly, soft, breaths well.Creases, easily soiled, burns easily, weakens with exposure to light.
ModalA cellulose fiber made by spinning reconstituted cellulose, often from beech trees. 50% more water-absorbent than cotton, can be dyed like cotton and is colourfast, resistant to shrinkage and fading, lightweight, appearance of silk, soft and smooth.Prone to stretching and pilling.

SYNTHETIC FABRICS

PolyesterPolyesters include naturally occurring chemicals, such as in the cutin of plant cuticles, as well as synthetics. Used in all types of clothing, either alone or blended with fibres such as cotton.Easily dyed, strong, light weight, and resistant to shrinking, stretching, mildew and creasing. Sun resistant. Main disadvantage is that Polyester does not breathe. Fabric shine can be unattractive. Stains are difficult to remove. Not environmentally friendly.
AcrylicA fibre used to imitate wools, including cashmere.Woolly feel, durable, soft, colour fast, easy to clean.Not as warm as wool, can irritate the skin.
Viscose or rayonViscose is a viscous organic liquid used to make rayon and cellophane. Viscose is becoming synonymous with rayon, a soft material commonly used in shirts, shorts, coats, jackets, and other outer wear.Viscose rayon has a silky appearance and feel, breathable similar to cotton, inexpensive.Not environmentally friendly, creases easily.
NylonA tough, lightweight, elastic synthetic polymer with a proteinlike chemical structure. Used to imitate silk.Very resilient, easy to care, resistant to insects, fungi and mildew.Not absorbant, can have an unpleasant sheen, environmentally unfriendly, prone to static electricity.
Spandex or LycraA polyurethane product that can be made tight-fitting without impeding movement. It is used to make activewear, bras, and swimsuits.very elastic, good resistance to lotions oils and perspiration, light weight, strong and durable, soft, smooth, easy to care for.Does not breath very well, slippery on surfaces, sensitive to heat, will show every blub on your body!

COMBINATIONS

VelvetA closely woven fabric of silk, cotton, or nylon that has a thick short pile on one side.Depends on the fabric it's made of.
SatinA smooth, glossy fabric, typically of silk but also nylon or polyester, produced by a weave in which the threads of the warp are caught and looped by the weft only...: "a blue satin dressLuxurious, smooth, silky, drapes nicely.prone to water spots.
OrganzaA thin, stiff, transparent fabric made of silk or a synthetic yarn.Lightweight, fine, crisp and sheer.

My main issue with synthetic fabrics like polyester

The main problem for me of synthetic fabrics like polyester is that they don’t breathe. This results in a feeling of humidity all the time and I find it generally unpleasant. Many synthetic fibers also look too shiny and cheap to me and just don’t give me the same sense of luxury, comfort and happiness as natural fabrics like cotton, wool and silk.  Synthetic fabrics when worn as trousers also hugely irritate my intimates and I have learnt never to make the mistake of buying 100% synthetic pants.

So I’m very picky about the fabrics I buy and always check the labels. I’m always astonished as to how few natural fabrics are on sale in a humid country like Singapore. Even expensive brands like Diane von Furstenberg stock a lot of synthetic materials and charge high prices for it!

So I really wonder: is it just me or are you picky about your fabrics as well? Do you check the fabric label before you decide to buy something? How particular are you about fabrics and what are your favorites? How much more are you willing to pay extra for a quality fabric?

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{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

Tanya

I am very picky about fabrics and refuse to buy anything made of polyester, mainly because it doesn’t breathe. I completely agree with you on the disappointment of finding out that designers charge an arm and a leg for polyester.

I used to work in technical sales and picked up some advice about dressing/looking like I don’t need the sale, which meant selecting richer-looking fabrics for my suits. I started with polyester suits due to budget, but after reading that piece of advice, switched to wool and the occasional cotton or cotton blend. What surprised me was how much cooler light-weight wool pants are, even lined, in the heat than polyester.

I also take a note from men’s clothing. Although synthetics are becoming more prevalent, their clothes are still mainly made of natural fibers.

My budget is still limited, so I usually wait until the end of a season to pick up pieces in wool and silk. I’ve been giving viscose/rayon some thought as that fabric is prevalent in the fast fashion stores, but after reading your note on its environmental effects, I may have to reconsider.

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Sylvia

You are so right about wool. When buying a suit I always went for (cool) wool. Cooler and so much better looking. However, I no longer work in an office and since Singapore is hot, I tend to go for cotton more now.

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Tangobabe

I understand where you both are coming from. For me too, certain fabrics just are too (what I call) ‘plastic’, so I skip those. For underwear, like Sylvia writes, I definitely want cotton to avoid irritation. And for socks cotton and wool, to avoid sweaty or cold feet.

If money was no issue and if my favorite articles would be available in fabrics like cotton, silk or wool, I would choose for that if I consider the feeling, the breathability and sometimes the look.

For me, there is however one other important aspect besides cost and comfort and that is maintenance. The first thing I check in the labels is the wash prescription. My preference is ‘machine washable': a cheap and easy method. ‘Handwash only’ is not handy, but still acceptable. ‘Dryclean only’ is something I will try to avoid, except for coats. Way too expensive in maintenance and too complicated.

This criterium unfortunately often contradicts the one of comfort and breathability, since fabrics like wool and silk are usually not the ones you just throw in your machine ;-).

And since my style is more one of loose, sheer layers, then of body hugging clothes, breathability is not such a big problem, in general.

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Sylvia

Totally understand that as well. But the labels are not always reliable. Afraid of claims, labels will always be rather safe than sorry. I find that my silk tops can be washed in water, but yes, they do take additional work…

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Chicatanyage

Interesting. I do try to avoid polyester. Thought viscose was more natural and made of wood pulp. I find it a lot in quite expensive clothes

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Sylvia

You are right, that is why viscose is still breathes like cotton. But there are chemicals involved with the creation and apparently it’s very polluting. Here is what wikipedia says:

At first wood pulp is dissolved in caustic soda and after steeping it for a specified period of time it is shredded and allowed to age. Aging contributes to viscosity of viscose. The longer the ageing time the less viscosity it will have. The aged pulp is then treated with carbon disulfide to form a yellow-colored cellulose xanthate, which is dissolved in caustic soda again, but of a lower concentration. This is the starting stage of viscose formation. During the process an acetate dope is added to alkali cellulose which is necessary for the yarn lustre. Viscose currently is becoming less common because of the polluting effects of carbon disulfide and other by-products of the process, forcing some factories to close. One way to comply with sulphur emission standards is to install a wet sulfuric acid process unit which recovers sulfur compounds to sulfuric acid or use the Lyocell process which uses N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide as solvent.

Let’s hope they do that.

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Ana

No, it’s definitely not just you. As a general rule, I absolutely detest completely synthetic fabrics. I’ve accepted that a lot of times, I’m going to get something with a pretty low synthetic mix — say 5-15% — and I can live with that. I don’t mind a tiny bit of spandex in a pair of otherwise cotton jeans, and such, but pure polyester or acrylic just gives me the shivers. Very much a case of too-often being cheap and shoddy-looking, and also, I just hate the way it feels. Borderline synthetics like Modal and Viscose are basically OK with me, because they breathe.

If I lived in a climate as hot as yours, I’m sure I’d hate it even more than I do.

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Sylvia

Yes, I’m ok with Spandex too and if the fabric looks decent and I really like the garment, I sometimes go for mixes…

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Kris

I agree totally. I will occasionally buy blends, and like Ana, I don’t mind a bit of spandex to make things more comfortable, but totally polyester- no way! As “hot flash Hannah”, I have to be cool and comfortable, or I am not a nice person! As a bit of a contradiction, however, I am finding that exercise-wear made of microfiber are comfortable, and I even sleep in “long johns” made of poly microfiber, because they DO seem to breathe, and I have found that keeping my body temp relatively constant helps to stave off night sweats. I think that is because they are knits, and not wovens, and they are a far cry from my grandmother’s bright green polyester doubleknit pants. Microfiber feels ok on my skin, and in athletic weaves, it seems to wick the perspiration away pretty effectively. Maybe manufacturers are actually using their brains for a change!

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Sylvia

Good point Kris. Most of my sportswear is synthetic too. Special fabrics that keep you drier when you sport. For some reason I can tolerate those and specially made dry-fit fabrics do help with sport!

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Cynthia

When the hot southern summer sun hits polyester, it is NOT a pretty thing. I have a whole Pinterest board called “Too Bad It’s Polyester” for things I like the look of but will never buy.

I learned in lampworking class that many synthetic fabrics basically conduct heat into your core. I made the mistake of wearing a cotton/rayon or maybe cotton/poly blend tee to class one day and could feel the fabric heat up and heat me up. Had to change so I wouldn’t heat stroke. Sun on any kind of high poly blend has the same effect at a lower intensity.

For day wear, I can do viscose/rayon, although I notice that it heats up in the sun more and doesn’t breathe as well as cotton or linen. Microfiber exercise wear and woven technical fabrics are a totally different animal and don’t seem to cause the same issues as poly. My Athleta capris are comfortable in the summer.

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Sylvia

What a great idea to make such a pinboard! I might consider doing that as well. Perhaps it will make manufacturers more aware that we DO care about fabric quality.

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Anne @ the Frump Factor

I buy a lot of cotton/polyester blends, which (in my view) give me the best of both worlds while avoiding the pitfalls of both. I also like viscose and some rayons. Mostly, though, I don’t go by the label; I go by the look and feel of the garment. If it looks too shiny, feels scratchy, or doesn’t breathe, I probably won’t buy it. And even some all-natural fabrics fail this test.

Synthetic fibers have come a long way. I don’t think it’s quite true any more that all polyesters don’t breathe. (Isn’t athletic wear often made of polyester fabrics that actually wick sweat away from the body?) So I really just go by look and feel. Do I love well-made garments created exclusively from high-quality, natural fabrics? Yes, of course. Can I afford to buy them all the time? No.

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Anne @ the Frump Factor

Oops — one of your alert readers already pointed out the athletic wear issue. Sorry! :)

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Sylvia

A cotton/polyester blend can work well. I guess I have just become extra sensitive to polyester as it really is too hot for Singapore. Synthetics are definitely great for sports!

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Aleya Bamdad

I always prefer natural fibers because my skin can breathe more freely in them. However, today the quality of the synthetic fibers are much better that what they used to be so once in a while if I love something I’ll pick it up. As far as evening gowns go, I don’t have much of a choice because silk can go for a thousand or more.

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Sylvia

Yes, you will need to be creative with evening gowns. Lucky I don’t have many black tie events!

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Kate

As a lady who attends many white and black tie events, I cannot agree that silk dresses will go for that much money. I’ve been able to find wonderful dresses and gowns made of pure silk at incredible bargain prices. I don’t shop in designer boutiques, but rather on-line, in vintage shops and dress agencies. Also, I am a decent seamstress and that certainly helps.

I loathe synthetic fibres, and avoid them at all costs. I am dismayed that so many clothing manufacturers offer polyester, nylon, and other man-made materials. Is it my imagination or was there lots more silk clothing in shops just a few years ago? I seem to remember that not even 10 years ago many dresses were made of silk. I have some Ann Taylor Loft dresses from that time, and they are 100% silk. Now, even Ann Taylor offers more polyester than anything else.

The first thing I do when looking at a garment is checking the label for fibre content. If it doesn’t meet my specifications I won’t buy it. I don’t care how pretty it is. I do make an exception for viscose, which, although it wrinkles easily, is fairly pleasant to wear. I find that viscose can be handwashed and dried on a towel without losing its shape or shrinking too much.

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issy

I am 48. I avoid polyester in most cases. Though I will buy something in polyester if it is lightweight and “breezy” and for just a season or two. Now that I am having hot flashes, synthetic fabrics are harder for me. But I do love a ponte knit pant or skirt in the Winter.

I do however, not like cotton for exercising. It is just too hot and sticky to work in AND get approriate coverage. So I do tend to go toward synthetics for excersing.

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Sylvia

Thanks for your comment Issy. I too use sportswear for exercizing. Should probably have mentioned that in my article!

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Heather Fonseca

WOnderful post! I love that list of fabrics as I’ve forgotten so much as well.
On polyester, I think I dislike the idea of it more than the reality. I do have polyester garments and they don’t bother me at all physically. Wool, on the other hand, is impossible on my skin as I have a lanolin allergy. I do really dislike acrylic sweaters though and I won’t buy the,m as they tend to pill. Wish I could afford more silk! And cashmere!

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Sylvia

I usually wait for the sales to snap up the silk. It’s just the most perfect fabric for dressy blouses and tops in Singapore!

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Greetje Kamminga

I like your list. Now I finally know what “Modal” is. Always wondered about that.
Synthetics don’t bother me at all. Not even during my hot flashes period (which, thank God, are over). They might bother me a bit more when it is really hot. But when you live in Holland you don’t really have to take sunshine into consideration. LOL.
Therefore I never look at the label. Which sometimes gives me a nasty surprise: like a white shirt that calls for dry cleaning only….. And I know you are right Sylvia, that manufacturers put these things on labels for no reason other than to avoid claims, but I don’t dare to take the chance of washing it myself.
Wool is difficult for me. It irritates often, which I feel immediately when I put it on. And it pills quickly which means it looks shabby in no time. Exceptions to that rule are cool wools and cashmere. And then we are talking serieus money.

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Sylvia

You are lucky. Unlimited choices in the shop!

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Greetje Kamminga

In that respect, yes I am. But it is not a frase my bankmanager would use haha.

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Nanne

I try to stay away from some synthetic fabrics, and I won’t buy for instance acrylic knits. I don’t like polyester either, at least not anything that’s 100 % polyester, but some blends can be ok, like in blazers which is not worn in direct contact with my skin. And I do like milano fabric in pants and dresses for winter, which I think contains a small amount of polyester. I like wearing viscose garments too, too bad that it’s not environmentally friendly. And of course I totally agree when it comes to sportswear, as I’m a jogger and need moisture wicking clothing for that.

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Sylvia

I think they CAN make it environmentally friendly if companies are just willing to make the investment of getting the proper filters. I agree polyester can fine in blends or for blazers. I have succumbed to a blazer with a blend as well. Will see how it goes…

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Kim,USA

I do have a problem with polyester. It sticks on my skin when I am sweating and just don’t have any flow or body. I also feel very uncomfortable it hug the bulges on the body, lol! I love cotton. ^_^

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Sylvia

Exactly why I don’t like it!

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Robin

Kim-What do you wear for exercising? Almost all workout wear is made of polyester or poly blends. It’s purpose is to wear while sweating.

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Kate

I am not the one you asked, but I wear cotton leotards with a bit of lycra. I used to dance ballet at a professional level (3 hours of training 5 days per week for 20 years) and am very fit. The problem is that an athlete’s body sweats more than average people, because their bodies are so efficient. I sweat quite a bit.

Of course, cotton absorbs sweat, and I just live with the fact that my leotard or other clothing will be soaked after 15 to 20 minutes. I’ll just take it off when I am done, shower, and put it in the wash. I went for a 10km run with my husband the other day, and wore cotton shorts and a tank top. It was okay. I just don’t like the feel of artifical fibres.

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tania

I am so happy I read your opinions! I was in London this weekend and I was shocked to discover that about 95 percent of clothes in the shops was from polyester!!!! I would never buy it, it’s disgusting, you immediately sweat, it’s full of static electricity and it looks cheap… At the end I didn’t buy anything which never happened to me in LONDON! I stilll wonder who wears it? And why is it so widespread this year?! please STOP IT!!!!!

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Sylvia

Hi Tania, I think it’s because people want more clothes for less money. I think we have to get the focus back on quality again and getting people to buy less clothes but higher quality. This is one thing I will try and do more this year.

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Kate

This is very true: fewer clothes and more quality! I love vintage shopping, and thanks to growing up with a hobby seamstress mum, I know quite a bit about fabrics and sewing techniques. Most modern clothing — even in the middle to upper price ranges — cannot hold a candle to vintage items.
I don’t know if you are familiar with Marks & Spencer, a British retailer in the lower-price category — what I’d call typical high street. They’ve been around since the 1880s and used to have all their clothing made in the UK. Their house label was called St Michael. Two years ago, I bought a 1950s tweed skirt with box pleats from that label. The fabric is amazing: thick wool tweed woven in Scotland; ample seam allowances, finished edges, hand stitching (in the pleats, buttonholes), darts in the lining to prevent bunching, etc. The attention to detail is amazing, and is only available in couture clothing these days.

This skirt was made for the average woman, not a society lady, and it is almost 60 years old, but it still looks great. I am almost certain that most of our clothing won’t be around anymore in 60 years as it will have fallen apart.

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Melinda Nowers

So glad I found your blog….and yes, I am picky. Although every once and awhile, I do break my own rules. I am a stylist and explain this every time to my clients. It’s very frustrating when the higher end labels use synthetics. Thanks to your chart though I did not realize Modal was a combo. Good to know….Melinda
thestyleexpress.com

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Elizabeth

This becomes a problem when you are into vintage clothing……. :P

In any case, I start itching if I so much as LOOK at acrylic.

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Sophie Davis

I have long held a passion for quality fibres and, if selected carefully, they can be a fantastic investment.

The first myth I would like to dispel is that they need to cost a lot more than man-made fabrics. Yes, they can be extortionate, but shop around and you can find some very good items which are realistically priced. The initial outlay for man-made fibres may be less, but in all likelihood, the product won’t last as well or look as good.

Secondly, I couldn’t agree more with Sylvia about the qualities of nature fibres versus man-made fibres. A scarf made of 100% acrylic may be a bright splash of colour on a dull winter’s day, but it won’t keep you as warm as one with cashmere or silk.

Additionally, a beautiful silk scarf needn’t been reserved for cold days – it can still be worn on a summer’s evening because, as Sylvia points out, it allows the skin to breath. You’d look pretty daft with an acrylic bundle wrapped around you, so that scarf is going to stay in your drawer for half the year unused! Doesn’t seem quite such good value now, does it?

As a retailer of pure silk scarves, I come across a percentage of ladies everyday who simply wouldn’t spend the money on this sort of item. They love it, they stroke it, they covet it – but they won’t buy it because they consider it too extravagant. Sure, we all have a budget. However, spending a few more pounds on something wonderful can make us feel top of the world.

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Kate

Dear Sophie,

How very true! I, too, pay lots of attention to fibre composition and details such as stitching. You are spot on in your assessment that most people only look at the purchase price. I have a formula that I use when buying clothing: purchase price divided by the number of times I wear the item. I have a lovely Diane von Furstenberg silk wrap dress that I bought at Harrods (fellow Brit here :-) ) for full price several years ago along with a Burberry jacket.

Both items together were quite expensive indeed (almost 800 quid), but this is a dress that I can wear all year long. I probably wear it 25 times in an average year — with tights and a woolen coat in winter, and with bare legs and open-toed shoes on a cool summer day. I handwash it and put it on a towel to dry. The same is true for my Burberry jacket — lots of wear and washes (despite a dry cleaning only label), but it still looks great. I figure that my “cost-per-wear” for the DvF dress, which was roughly £275, is little more than £1.

The lesson is to not just look at the price on the shop’s tag, but to calculate how much wear you’ll get out of it. You may be surprised to find that the seemingly high-priced designer item is less expensive than a £25 dress from Primark or Matalan that falls apart after two times in the wash.

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Anthea

I loved reading your comments here – I’ve often thought I’m alone in the irritation I feel – physically – if I try to wear polyester or acrylic – and mentally, when I see shops full of these fabrics. But now I’m noticing how many garments say that they’re viscose, when they look and feel like polyester. I’m wanting to buy some summer clothes to head off to Africa: it’s only when I reach the heat that the acid test hits I you know the truth of what I’ve bought [it's snowing now where I live so little chance of finding out at home]. Does anyone know a way – prior to reaching the sunshine – of telling whether something truly is viscose or polyester?

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Sylvia

In school we always did burning tests. Viscose, being cellulose, would burn rapidly, leaving an ashy residue that smells of burnt paper. Polyester melts and has a more oily smell, with black smoke. All this will not be of much use in shops though, so all you can do is trust the label…

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Marlena

Yes, there is a good way and that is to feel the fabric. Viscose has a cool feel to it. When you touch it you will know what I mean, it just does not seem to warm at all even if you have warm hands. It always seems cooler. It also has a more “meaty”, or “weighty” feel in your hand.
Polyester on the other hand feels more rough and unbreathable. It feels like plastic, as if you can wrap your hand in it and it will almost be waterproof. Feels like if you rub your hair against it it will be static.
If you do not feel this way about the fabric then it ia probably a blend with cotton or similar, and the bad effects will not be as strong and I would say it is safe to buy.
Hope it helps! Please check out my blog as fabrics and accessible quality fashion is the topic as I am so passionate about it!
Marlena
http://Www.thehighstreetdaily.com

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AO

As someone who sews I have a passion for fabrics and can tell what a cloth is by the feel and so understand the pros and cons of synthetic fibers. The cons are many the pros are few. Why anyone would want to wear a cheap synthetic fiber I can’t understand. Especially as underpants – eck. People forget we are ourselves organic creatures. Wrap smoked ham in plastic wrap and it will sweat and smell yet if you use a ham cloth it will last a while. Common sense. Ego overcomes sense and the desire for fashion at an affordable price dictates & guides the ego. I do own some synthetic items (its almost impossible to avoid them now) yet I look at the quality feel and weigh it against the price, however in some case they make sense as in quality outdoor and protective clothing, and women’s bras have used synthetics for years but are still able to be comfortable and long wearing. What most people don’t understand is that its all about price and making a buck. The almighty bottom dollar. Natural fabrics take time and money to produce. Synthetics quick and easy. The price of cotton world wide has risen and so producers are adding synthetics to make it stretch out and cut their costs. Bottom line is if people buy they will continue to use it. Its is the consumer that dictates. I personally have spent big money on gorgeous silk and natural fiber items. In turn I look after my garments and they last. I’m not adverse to a bit of viscose/acrylic but the items don’t last and end up in the rag bag. I’m sure many readers have been devastated when they have to throw out a cherished silk, linen or cotton item, not because it looks like a dish cloth or has little lumpy bits, or even lost its shape but because after years and years of wear it just simply wore out, yet it still managed to look and feel great right to the end – and I bet compliments have been given on it as well. Think quality over quantity. But the world of fast food fashion is brain washing the masses.

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Alice

I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on this. I live in Brisbane, a sub-tropical climate with usually hot, humid summers. The only way I can keep cool is to wear cotton garments. I’ve been dismayed lately at the amount of viscose clothes in the cheaper clothing shops recently. I bought a couple of viscose tops (one woven, the other knit fabric) to see how I went with them but they wrinkle badly after hanging in the wardrobe, even when they came off the line fairly wrinkle free after drip-drying; and I’m sure they’ve also shrunk – so I think these will be heading for the bin soonish – a waste of money. So back to reading labels on garments in the search for cotton. Good quality cotton, knit or woven, can have very good wearability properties, but it’s hard to find. So the shops won’t be making much money out of me buying new clothes as I’ll be on my perpetual search for cotton. I find it great even in winter – as well as allowing your skin to breathe, it insulates your body to the temperature you need.

Something new that has appeared lately are garments made of knit linen. I’ve bought a few and find they’re very comfortable to wear, don’t wrinkle and don’t need ironing like woven linen.

Has anybody had any experience with clothes made from bamboo, which also seems to be around?

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Sylvia

thanks for your feedback Alice. I’ve personally not experienced bamboo yet, but hopefully others will see it and give you your feedback..

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Greetje

No sorry, I don’t have any experience with bamboo either. Am intrigued by the knit linen. Should be lovely, linen and not creasing. Wow. Have not seen that in the shops yet.

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Carmen

Most of my casual blouses are made of bamboo. I purchase them from Chicago’s Merchandise Mart during a once a year One Of A Kind Christmas shopping featuring different designers in the USA and Canada, sometimes Asia. I love this material. I was not careful with washing them the first time, now I treat them with TLC as I replenish them. Gentle wash cold and delicate or no heat dry process. Hang to completely dry, no need to iron.

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Sylvia

Thanks for great feedback Carmen!

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Sheil

I’d add my voice to everyone who doesn’t touch polyester with a barge pole. It’s both uncomfortable and ugly, cheap looking. I can spot it at 100 metres. I don’t mind viscose since it seems breathable and keeps well. I’m ok with buying mixed garments – cotton or other natural fibres with man made, as long as there’s not too much in it. I find in the right proportion, they help each other and can make for a good product.

I won’t buy acrylic products either because they degenerate very quickly and find it an inferior ‘wool’.

In a tropical climate, I would certainly want to buy natural fibres. I don’t know how people manage to wear anything else. I can only assume they are made into very loose garments(?)

I do prefer natural products, but can’t always afford them, and some/many are often of inferior quality. Some linen garments are really itchy. I don’t know if it’s just me. A good linen product is a thing of love, to me. It is cherished.

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Sylvia

Thank you for taking part in this conversation Shell and giving feedback!

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Crissy

I recently became aware of the natural feel of wearing 100% cotton clothes. I haven’t purchased anything synthetic this entire year and I’ve never felt better in my clothes. I also switched all my bed sheets, blankets and towels to 100% cotton as well. The feel of natural fibers in your life is so worth it, i recommend it to anyone!

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Sylvia

Yes, it makes a real difference. Thanks for your feedback Crissy!

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Omkari

Not only are synthetics (especially polyester) uncomfortable to wear, they are not healthy for you or the environment. They off-gas in the landfill, take years and years to decompose (if ever) and don’t allow your body to naturally release toxins. People who have to manufacture this “textile” and make garments from it are at a great health risk. Studies have proven that these workers are showing higher incidents of breast and lung cancer. Don’t buy polyesters!! This is the only way the clothing industry will listen…. when their polyester, health risk garments remain on the racks and the natural fibered ones are purchased and adorning our beautiful, healthy bodies.

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Sylvia

Thanks for the feedback Omkari. I hope many women will read this and stop buying less polyester. Sofar the amount of polyester only seems to increase in shops….

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EmilyAnn Frances May

I agree with your commenters about the quality and beauty of natural fibers. I want to add a different point of view concerning the price of clothing and affordability. Given the ongoing difficult times many are having in this economy, many people are obtaining necessities like clothing by buying the lowest price items possible. Synthetics and blends are widely available for many lower income people. Consider how much money a wardrobe for the office would cost a secretary making $30K per year. A pure wool suit would be at least $200. A wool blend much less and a polyester suit would cost maybe $50. When rents consume over half the monthly take home pay, there are many considerations to make when purchasing things like clothing.

For those who can afford natural fiber clothing and fabrics for sewing one way to help out is to donate these high quality garments to charities that help outfit women who are re-entering the workforce after completing an educational program. Or pass the clothing on to people you know who need some helping out.

I think some solution can be reached by finding ways to recycle synthetic fibers like they do in Japan.

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Sylvia

Yes very good point EmilyAnn and great suggestions!

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Nina

Tired of suffering through scoring desert summers, I jumped on the not-polyester train with gusto in the fall of 2012. My closet is now cotton, linen, silk, and rayon. It’s heaven.

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Sylvia

Yes it can make a real difference!

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Ariel

The thing with polyester textiles is the wide variety of types of fibers that are not included in the tag. Polyester is a polymer, basically plastic. That means that you can mold it into whatever you want, and there are polyester threads of widely different properties. In most cases, the more noticable difference comes in the filament count. There are many polyester fabrics that are indistiguishable in comfort and properties to cotton, because of a high filament count and a good quality texturizing process (not to mention microfilaments, which have great properties). But it is harder and more expensive to make than polyester with a higher filament count, so most clothing made from polyester is of the lower-grade. The thing is, in the cases where higher quality polyester is used there is no mention of it in the tag, because, in essence, it’s still polyester. You can also give the textile all kinds of inherent properties, from flame-retardancy to impermeability. My point is, don’t hate on polyester because most of is low-grade, and don’t rely entirely on the tag; feel the clothing first, usually it’s enough to tell.

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Sylvia

Yes very true Ariel. But as you say it’s not easy to determine how good the polyester is when you’re in the shops….

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Laura

There would be no way to know how hot a garment will feel in the summer without buying it first, so I just do not buy it. Feeling it by hand is not enough. It all feels awful to me anyway.

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GalAboutMtl

Hi all! I am ALSO trying very hard to avoid polyester in my wardrobe….but its REALLY difficult! Any suggestions of North American retailers that do a good job of staying away from synthetics, and still offer stylish clothes?

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Keith

I just looked at all the shirts I love the most and they are either 100% polyester or a high percentage mix. To me, when polyester is turned into the right kind of fabric, it is the coolest, most breathable, and no unsightly sweating color change when outdoors in some nice hot sun. My exercise wear is all polyester, and I have grown to hate cotton for all it’s flaws in the heat. If I want to keep warm, then I’ll use cotton. Wool is an itchy nightmare. Hand or gently washing my synthetics, and hanging to dry, keeps them so perfect compared to cotton. I wonder why women’s polyester clothing isn’t as wonderful as I think it is.

I got here looking for more info about fabrics, so surprised to see dislike for synthetics.

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Kate

Keith, I apologise for being blunt, but polyester really isn’t a wonderful fabric. As polyester is essentially plastic (it’s a petroleum-based polymer), science has proven over and over again that it does not breathe at all. I really don’t know why you would call your polyester shirts breathable, when every chemist will confirm that polyester fibres do not possess breathability unless you cut holes in the fabric. When wearing polyester you are essentially wrapping your body in a plastic bin liner (from a chemical persepctive): http://www.essentialchemicalindustry.org/polymers/polyesters.html
Also, cotton doesn’t really keep you very warm at all. It is a breathable fibre with a high water absorption capacity (polyester repels water, btw). Cotton is a fibre suitable for warm climates. It’s not good for cold, wet weather as it has quite poor insulation capabilities. This is a fibre characteristic, and not dependent on the weave.

I don’t really understand why you would call wool an itchy nightmare unless you are perhaps allergic to lanolin. Merino wool is well-known for its heat retention and insulation abilities, and has been used by outdoorsmen for centuries. The shepherds and farmers in the mountains of Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland still wear specially woven woolen jackets, cloaks and coats because they protect so well from the elements. Essential in an area where the weather can go from a pleasant 20 C with clear blue skies to a snow and hail storm within 60 to 90 minutes.
http://www.merkur-online.de/aktuelles/bayern/mm-mehr-zuschuesse-bayerische-bergbauern-298562.html and http://www.fotos.sc/gali_+192589/gallery.html

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EmiyAnn Frances May

Keith, well thought out comments based on your own experiences. For me, some natural fibers are also very disagreeable since I’m allergic to goats hair and certain woolens make me itch. I once worked with an interfacing that contained goats hair (I think it was Armo hair canvas) while making a dressmaker suit. My hands began to itch and turn very red. I had not checked the content of the interfacing before buying. Although Armo gives a lovely shaping to a woman’s suit for someone like me it would result in a very costly visit to the dermatologist.

What I’m trying to say is that we all have different needs and different responses to fibers. There should always be a variety available. What needs to be done is find a way to creatively recycle all kinds of fibers when our clothing is no longer serviceable as a garment for ourselves or as a give-away to others.

If I have a year end bonus I could splurge on something lovely but the hard cold reality is that luxury items during this prolonged recession are the province of those who can afford to buy them without having an impact on their other responsibilities. If one can do so they by all means enjoy your shopping and spending. make your choices and respect the choices others make.

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cat

I always check the labels, hate buying polyester for the same reasons – it looks cheaper and makes me feel ‘damp’. Why are manufacturers ignoring more natural products? Why aren’t designers using more viscose, which still breathes and can look like jersey, silk, or cotton? I find shopping incredibly frustrating, as most dresses are either entirely polyester, or a polyester spandex mix. I have heard about higher quality polyester having more breathable properties, but not yet found it, even by feeling the material. I am not a pure material fanatic, as viscose or rayon is fine with me, but having a wider choice of materials available would be nice.

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liz

Yes!! I ALWAYS look at fabric type. Polyester is a total deal breaker for me, too. Bummer as it seems to have replaced cotton in a lot of clothing lately. I, too, have noticed that higher end stores are selling garments with poly, and for an arm and a leg. They would have to pay ME to wear such things.
Thanks for this article.

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Jeanette Ball

Totally agree about synthetics – here in Australia where it is hot and most of the population live on the coast (read:humid) our stores are filled with polyester garments.

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Heather

I hate wearing anything synthetic and living in the tropics means I need natural fibres. I found it really hard to find anything made of natural fibres when I first came to Singapore years ago so I started making my own clothes again. Now I think there is a little more available in natural fibres but I have more selection and control of what works for me with going to the fabric markets and sewing. I do not mind the creases that natural fabric give, and yes polyester fabric does not crease and always looks good but it is not a fabric for the humid weather. I always check the fabric labels before I purchase anything. I wish they were easier to find on the garments as sometimes there are none.

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Sylvia

Yes you’re right that details are sometimes hard to find here. I don’t think there are specific regulations here (as I know there are in Europe). Well done for creating your own clothes!

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Laura

I will not buy anything with any amount of polyester in it. I sweat a lot as it is. UGH. Even stores like GAP are now adding a lot of poly to their tees, etc. Fabric content is the first consideration after looks for me.

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Shirley

I have respiratory reactions to synthetic fabrics; polyester and rayon being the worst. (Even washing the item doesn’t help). I am able to wear a small amount of cotton clothing with spandex content below my waist but cannot wear spandex above my waist – again the respiratory reactions, including a headache. I wear 100% cotton tees, and tank tops when exercising. Cotton and small amount of spandex content for the bottoms. I don’t have any trouble finding cotton tops and I shop online often. For dress selections I am limited to cotton and silk and the search for dresses is challenging. Fabric content is first thing I check. It is a comfort to know that I am not alone in this difficulty of searching for synthetic free clothing.

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Sylvia

Hi Shirley, Wow I never realised reactions to synthetic clothing could be so severe. Thanks a lot for your feedback.

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One Bert

Polyester is superior to cotton. All Nike Dri-fit and Adidas Climate Control apparel is made of 100 percent polyester. It fits better, keeps you dry, keeps it’s size, retains it’s color, and doesn’t stains easily contrary to what the writer would have you believe. This article is nonsense when it comes to that fabric…

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Sylvia

For sport yes as it needs to do different things. Here in Singapore I also prefer the dryfit sportswear to cotton but for normal wear polyester is definitely not the way to go.

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Kate

No, One Bert, this article isn’t rubbish. Polyester is not superior at all. I suggest not buying into the marketing hype, but studying the actual science behind the making of polyester. Feel free to wear your plastic, but don’t tout its superiority to others who know more about fabrics.
http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/polyester.aspx
http://www.popsci.com/article/cotton-vs-polyester-which-gym-clothes-trap-most-body-odor
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/09/05/346055067/stinky-t-shirt-bacteria-love-polyester-in-a-special-way

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