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

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!

Brands that feature a lot of natural fabrics

Here are some recommendations of brands that feature natural fabrics. Please check the specifications of each individual item though! If you have some further recommendations, please let me know by leaving a comment below and I will update this list.

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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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

metta jr

Hii……am from Tanzania….
I always prefer to wear cloth made from cotton since it makes me comfotable

Reply

Rasna

Hello!

I am very picky as well! It is nice to see that I am not the only one. It doesn’t matter how beautiful a garment is, if it is polyester or rayon I don’t buy it. I stick mainly to cotton and silk, and sometime cashmere if I can afford it.

Thanks for this great article.

Reply

K. Louise, Spoonie Style

I have a facebook page and fashion blog for people living with chronic illness and/or chronic pain–a common side effect for many medications is sweating for no reason, in addition to the fact that many chronic illnesses come with a “broken” personal thermostat and/or extreme skin sensitivity. This makes polyester a very difficult fabric for my readers to wear, and probably 2/3 of the research I do on clothing is spent just checking fabric content. I make a point of including plus-size items (weight gain being another common side effect of maintenance meds and limited physical activity) and about 97% of plus-size clothing, including very high-end items, is polyester. I do allow, with some caveats, clothing made of nylon or occasionally acrylic, since these at least have slightly better moisture permeability….and since virtually every bra in existence is made of nylon or polyester, it’s an important distinction at times. For the commenter Jessica, looking for a mother-of-the-groom dress, you may want to look into Rent the Runway–an option which allows you to rent extremely high-end gowns for an event rather than purchasing them outright. Soft Surroundings is a nice source for highly embellished pieces and items in quality fabrics that come in regular and plus sizes. For simple basics, J. Jill is perhaps the best at reliable quality and timelessness–their fit model is very boxy, however, so sizing down or having small alterations made may be advisable for some who prefer a more curve-skimming fit.

Reply

Pauline

Im With You. Cannot Wear, Or Wont Wear, Synthetics.

Reply

Ann

Couldn’t agree more about polyester and other synthetics. I too am an avid reader of labels. I have to disagree about wool however. I have sensitive skin (made worse by chemotherapy) but I wear woollen underwear in winter—I have some which feels like silk. It all depends on the right wool. Superfine merino is the way to go, not cheap stuff from China. And I have to also disagree about other fibres keeping one just as warm as wool. The only ones that do that are other natural fibres such as alpaca or cashmere —which can be obtained for a reasonable price if you shop around.

Reply

George Kiama

I am also concerned about Polyester because it is hard to clean I have some few Polyester clothes.I normally don’t look at the fabric when buying.In Africa many people are not aware of fabrics and their qualities.

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Nikki Franklin

I also always read labels anything cotton silk linen mix are good for me. I have also recently tried viscose & does seem to breathe quite well. I find assistants in shops seem a bit mystified when request what fabric contains & wish sometimes the writing was a big bigger as very hard to decipher. Thanks for the list of fabrics & their qualities

Reply

Cindy

I find polyester hot, and I am upset that it is almost all the jeans I have shopped for including Gap, Old Navy and Loft.

If anyone knows of jeans that are cotton only with some spandex maybe, let me know.

Reply

Kate

Hello Cindy,

I don’t know what type of jeans you like, but when I wear denim, which doesn’t happen very often, I choose Seven for all Mankind. Mine are 96% cotton with a bit of spandex. I also have a pair of J. Crew jeans that are cotton with just a bit of stretch, and Banana Republic still makes 98% cotton jeans with a hint of spandex for better fit.

Reply

jennifer

Hi there. For jeans and t-shirts that are mostly cotton with a bit of spandex try American eagle outfitters! Infact I found very few with polyester and I look very carefully as I appear to have a sensitivity to polyester.
Many of aeo have viscose as well which is so soft and comfy.
T-shirts are 100% cotton. Check out the yoga pants as well .
I hope this helps. Their prices are agreeable too.
Jen.

Reply

Mavis

Hi there – I could not agree more – I cannot wear synthetic materials as I get so hot and water really does run down me (perspiration)! Why are so many garments made of it. Even expensive clothes. Don’t they realise it causes so many problems and is so bad for the environment. What can we do apart from not buying the goods but others do not see it and just buy all the time.

Reply

mxine

Hi, im a graphic designer living in rarotonga, cook islands. I found this blog because of my research on buying a sublimation that print designs on fabrics for display and hoped of printing on a variety of fabrics but to my dismay it will only on POLYESTER, the thank you for the info its important for us to use breathable and environmentally friendly fabrics and in the last 15 years we have been seeing an increase in polyester sarongs and fabrics not suited to our island climate…puzzling? Like why? I almost was going to purchase this amazing printer but only by cause the colours looks so hood and vibrant. Thank you:-)

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Carla

I am a label checker also, polyester makes me sweat. It also affects my deodorant. 100% cotton or silk for me.

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Jessica

I love the look of polyester shirts and love that they last longer than other materials like cotton. However, all of my polyester shirts stick to my skin which cause a very unattractive look (shows my stomach) and is obnoxious. Any advice on how to help this issue would be very appreciated! I have thought about a cotton undershirt? I have polyester undershirts and that makes everything stick together.

Reply

Sylvia

Yes a cotton underskirt could help. Of course this issue is one of the reasons I avoid polyester skirts myself.

Reply

VICKIE

Your list failed to mention the most wonderful fabric for clothing or home furnishings, and that is natural flax linen. As I have grown older, comfort is my number 1 issue in clothing, due to health and other concerns. I began making my own loose style of clothing with linen because I could not find the style and fabric I wanted in the stores. Linen is the way to go for all clothing as it is breathable, antibacterial, and comfortable in all seasons. I suggest that anyone dealing with health issues, menopause, or just want a more organic way of living to try linen. I wear nothing else!

Reply

Sylvia

Thanks for letting us know Vickie!

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Valerie

Its such a relief to find someone who thinks like me …. I really hate all of this synthetic fabric that seem to be everywhere these days. Polyester, nylon and spandex are the worse ones for me. I know of many women who shop in ‘second hand clothing’ stores for just this reason where they can pick up items with quality natural fabrics.
AND … whats with the use of Merino wool ??? When I was young this was only used for carpet and the like because it was so tough. Why are we not using the softer wools – you would think Merino was the only sheep that roamed this planet.
Anyway Vickie, thanks for publishing … its a very interesting read .

Reply

Ann

I don’t know where you live Valerie, but it is well known in Australia that Merino sheep produce the finest wool. It may have been used for carpets when you were young but years of careful breeding have reduced the micron reading so that it can now be used for all-season wear, even summer. I do agree with you about the synthetics though—horrible and uncomfortable.

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Andrew

I have to disagree; A poly-spandex blend such as in activewear is almost exclusively all that I’ll wear. The colors don’t fade, the fabric is taut and durable, it’s supportive, looks vibrant, much easier to wash, less expensive to wash (cold water, gentle cycle, low heat dry), doesn’t hold onto water and sweat like cotton and similar fabrics do, stretches and conforms to the body, more resistant to shrinkage, and is not a source of nutrition for bugs or other pests.

Plus, what difference does it make if a cotton shirt or a polyester shirt is out in a landfill? It’s still gonna take years and years for either one to decompose.

Reply

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