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What Is Polyester? The 8 Most Vital Questions Answered

what is polyester

Among the most popular fabric options for fashion, design, and interiors is the renowned polyester. But what is polyester fabric?

We know polyester is a fabric, and that it has certain qualities that make it a great choice for clothing. It has a slight stigma in fashion, as it’s a man-made fabric and not a natural choice such as silk, cotton, or wool. But even though it is not natural, it’s gotta have some positive qualities, right?

1. What is polyester?

Polyester is a generalized term for any fabric or textile, which is made using polyester yarns or fibers. The name is shortened from a synthetic, man-made polymer, which is most commonly referred to as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It is made by mixing ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. That all sounds extremely scientific, but basically, polyester is a kind of plastic.

2. When was it introduced into fashion?

First invented in 1941 by British chemists John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson, it became increasingly popular in the 1970s, thanks to the way it was advertised: “A miracle fiber that can be worn for 68 days straight without ironing, and still look presentable!” Controversy has always surrounded this fabric. Thanks to those loud, shiny and… shall we say, slightly plastic-looking suits from the ’70s, polyester became known as a cheap and uncomfortable fabric. However, it has come a long way since the days of Saturday Night Fever and the Brady Bunch, baby!

saturday night fever suit
The 1970s were the height of the infamous polyester suit

When the fibers are made into polyester fabric, it can be used to create clothing, furnishings, textiles and more. If you love your clothes, you probably know that if you check the labels, you can see what they are made from. If a natural fabric is mixed with polyester, you’ll see the percentages of each on the label.

3. What are some characteristics of polyester fabric?

  • Polyester is very durable and resistant to many chemicals
  • It is resistant to shrinking, stretching, wrinkling, and abrasions
  • The fibers used to create polyester are very strong yet lightweight
  • The fibers are easily dyed
  • It retains its shape very well
  • Polyester fabric is easy to look after and it can be washed and dried at home
  • It is a quick-drying fabric, so a popular choice for outdoor clothing

4. Why choose polyester?

It is a popular choice for apparel because polyester fibers are thermoplastic, or heat-sensitive. This means that fabrics, which are 100% polyester, can be given permanent pleats and decorative shapes and patterns can be laser-cut into them. They are also highly stain-resistant, so great for cleaning.

You might notice that when a garment is 100% polyester, that is it prone to static build-up. This is a nightmare when it comes to ensuring your hair looks good, and you might find yourself being able to give people static shocks – which, although harmless, can be pretty annoying! To eliminate this issue, polyester is often blended with more stable fibers, such as cotton. This is then known as polycotton and it embodies the benefits of both fabrics; strong, durable, wrinkle-resistant and far more breathable than 100% polyester.

Polyester clothing tends to be slippery and almost silky to touch. The fibers can be woven or knitted to create the fabric, although knitted will maximize its flexibility. It is a naturally bright fiber and can be modified easily for different uses.

what is polyester fabric
A close-up view of polyester fabric

5. What are popular uses?

  • Fashion
  • Sportswear
  • Fleeces
  • Coats and parkas
  • Bedding such as sheets, comforters, and sleeping bags
  • Footwear
  • Fillings for comforters (due to its insulating properties)
  • Sewing threads
  • Soft furnishings and upholstery
  • Textiles
  • Luggage and other bags

Industrial polyester fibers are also used in things like conveyor belt fabrics, seat belts, plastic reinforcements and more.

6. Are there disadvantages in using polyester?

Some people only love to wear or use natural fabrics and yarns, such as cotton, cashmere, silk, wool, etc. The benefits are they are generally breathable, hypoallergenic, and durable. They can also be more expensive than manmade fibers and need more care in regards to washing and drying.

The main issue regarding synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, is that they don’t breathe. When wearing it, some find that they can feel sweaty or have a feeling of humidity, which can be uncomfortable. This is because the moisture absorption of polyester is very low, compared to natural fabrics like cotton. However, modern manufacturing is now starting to create more moisture-wicking polyesters, which are great for work out and leisurewear.

People with very sensitive skin might find that they get a small reaction to wearing synthetic fabrics, however, this is usually not as common when it is a blended fabric.

Pure polyester is highly flammable so take care, especially if wearing or using 100% polyester near an open flame.

As polyester is made from plastic, there is a question as to whether it is bad for the environment. True, it does come from an unsustainable source, however, plastic bottles are actually recycled into polyester fabric, which is pretty amazing! But on the downside, plastic is not compostable, which means it doesn’t break down well in soil.

how polyester is made
How polyester is made

7. Is it easy to design your own polyester?

As sewing and making your own clothes has become hugely popular, it is easier than ever to design your own polyester fabric. At Contrado, you just need to upload an image or your favorite pattern to our design interface. From there you can alter the size, position, and repetition of your design, before choosing dimensions and your quantity and placing an order. Start small and try a test print first.

8. So, what’s the bottom line?

It is undeniable that polyester fabric has a huge variety of beneficial uses, in a wide variety of sectors. As with any synthetic material, reactions can occur, but these are pretty limited, especially when polyester is blended with other fibers, such as cotton. Adverse reactions to fabrics and textiles (even natural ones) are always a possibility, but overall, the use of polyester can be extremely beneficial and useful.

Polyester is stigmatized due to the popular old-fashioned polyester from the 1970s that fell from grace due to the uncomfortable double-knit polyester fabric. However, modern polyester has come in leaps and bounds, now regarded as a higher-grade fiber. Technological advances have dramatically improved the feel, drape and look of polyester, so it blends right in with more natural and expensive fabrics. As with all synthetics, it will remain relatively unbreathable, so for anyone who experiences hot flushes, excess body heat or lives in a humid environment, polyester might not be the best fabric option for you.

Modern polyesters can feel and look as beautiful as real silk and wool, but it is all about ensuring you opt for a high-grade version or the right blend. A lot of high-end brands use polyester in their collections, mainly to increase durability, ease of care and exciting effects.

It is all about being savvy when it comes to choosing your fabric. Remember, not all polyesters are created equal. Do your research, check labels, always try on, and there is no reason you and polyester can’t be friends.

If you wanna know more about other fabrics and feel the difference, try our Swatch Pack.

discover more poly fabrics

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