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!

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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{ 90 comments… read them below or add one }

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.

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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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