August 15, 2012

Reader Question: The P Word

Dear JJ,

I’ve been shopping for some new clothes (and checking my care labels!) and I’ve come across a bunch of shirts that contain polyester. I’ve always heard such bad things about polyester, but these are higher end shirts, so I don’t want to pay a lot of money for something that isn’t worth it. Why are the prices so high, isn’t polyester cheap?

- Brian


Hi Brian,

Glad to hear you are looking to invest in quality! The 70’s gave polyester kind of a bad rap and one that I think is only partially deserved. Things got so hideous and, yes, cheap-looking that there was a major backlash against polyester. In recent years, more labels are re-embracing synthetic fibers. You can find pieces that are either completely or partially polyester from a wide range of labels like BOSS, Nautica, Lacoste, Theory, Michael Kors and Alexander Wang. The list gets even longer if you expand it to all synthetic fibers.

Despite the renewed interest from designer labels, there are some markets that never stopped using them. Synthetic fibers, like polyester, have always been a mainstay in activewear (particularly golf) because the benefits they provide are surprisingly impressive. Polyester also has excellent moisture wicking properties that help keep you dry, wrinkle resistance and durability for easy care, and increased color retention to keep it looking fresh.

There is a flipside though. Because it is synthetic, polyester doesn’t breathe well, which is why you will often find it blended with a natural fiber, like cotton. It also usually feels and occasionally looks unnatural which can be a definite drawback. Now don’t run out and stock up on just any polyester piece you find, quality is still important and so are weighing the benefits against the drawbacks.

You can pick up a polyester shirt at Kmart or JC Penney, but those are exactly the kind of quality issues that you are trying to avoid. Think of polyester the same you would any other fabric. If you want a really warm sweater, you would opt for wool over cotton. If you want denim with a little give, you look for a little bit of spandex. Decide what your intended purpose will be for the piece you want to buy and that will go a long way towards deciding whether polyester is a good choice.

Thanks for reading and stay stylish,

- JJ

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