Is Polyester Really The Devil?

Let’s bust the ‘cheap and nasty’ myth.

Polyester and other synthetic fabrics cop a lot of flak in the clothing world. They are cheaper than all-natural fabric, they can feel less luxurious than natural counterparts such as wool or cotton and they have a negative misconception when it comes to quality. Some people may have an image of a polyester suit or shirt with an unattractive, unnatural shine pop into their heads when thinking of the fabric. It can be stated as a general rule of thumb that polyester and poly blend garments are not luxury items. However, synthetic fabrics are not just a method of cheapening manufacturing. They do have several positive attributes.

Characteristics of Polyester

Polyester fabrics are often seen as a cheaper alternative to natural fibres such as wool and cotton. They are denser than their natural counterparts and do not allow the skin to breathe as much; this means that a thin polyester will retain more warmth than a thin cotton. This is an advantage for winter climates and a disadvantage for summer climates. This density also gives polyester a higher strength.

Pro 1: Durability

Compared to natural fibres, polyesters are more durable thanks to their density. A polyester fabric will likely put up with more wear and tear, and has the added advantage of being less likely to rip.

This durability is the reason that it is popular to manufacture garments in wool-poly or cotton-poly blends. While polyester is a cheaper material, adding a small amount of poly to a natural fibre is a good way of strengthening a garment at the textile end of the equation. The warmth provided by the density is why wool-poly blends are popular in garments such as overcoats, like my overcoat in the images below:

Pro 2: Ease of Care

Another positive for polyester fabrics is ease of care. Polyesters are much slower to wrinkle and crease, making them a popular choice for travel suits. Naturally, this also means less time spent having to iron your garment. Companies that offer an easy-iron shirt will likely have a fairly high percentage of polyester in the mix.

Polyester is more stain resistant, requiring special dyes to even colour the garment in the first place. The material is also known for being shrink resistant, which could be a bonus for that pair of pants you desperately do not want shrinking on their first wash.

These options make polyester a provider of attractive functional benefits for people who do not enjoy or do not want to spend much time on clothes maintenance.

In the below images, the pair on the right has been worn for 3 hours while the one on the right was taken after a day’s worth of work and running errands. The left one is a pair of wool trousers. The right is polyester.

Pro 3: Affordability

Thanks to its synthetic nature, polyester is more affordable than some materials such as wool. Because of this, it is used as an alternative to cottons or wools. This is where the use of polyester becomes a cheapener rather than a strengthener for a garment: the higher the poly count, the more chance of the polyester being used to cheapen manufacturing. The caveat of course comes at the expense of the environment; manufacturing synthetics is more harmful than harvesting natural resources.

So what is the devil when it comes to synthetics?

As a rule of thumb I like to avoid viscose. If a garment is made of a polyester-viscose blend, that is when the ‘cheap and nasty’ alarm bells go off in my head. Viscose is a weak material, becomes baggy/loses shape easily and is highly absorbent of water/stains/odours. Unlike polyester which has a number of functional benefits, viscose – if we want to be grandiose with our wording – could be called something close to a devil.

That’s all for today!

Hopefully this will clear up some of the common misconceptions about polyester and cheapness. If you are buying a garment that is not at the higher end of luxury clothing, be open to a little bit of polyester in the blend; there are benefits.

Thanks for reading!

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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