Tuesday, February 18

Frugal Fashion: just say no to Polyester

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We’re in a fashion crisis: everything is made of polyester. And consequently, everything is awful.

Polyester is a terrible fabric that has ruined fashion. Many designers and manufacturers have chosen to use polyester because it’s cheap. However, while it saves on margins, it sucks for consumers.

How to curb your shopping by avoiding polyester

I browse my favorite stores online all the time. It’s especially easy if they have apps where I can just flick through gorgeous dresses to kill time while waiting for the bus or in line at the grocery store. I’d probably be racking up $300 clothing shopping bills every day if it wasn’t for one simple tactic:

I don’t buy clothing made of polyester.

don't buy polyester

Dear polyester, we’re over. xoxo B.

My hatred of polyester has been a long time coming. However, it’s only recently that I have been able to commit to vanquishing it from my life entirely.

It started out innocently enough. A brand new dress I bought felt incredibly hot and uncomfortable whenever I wore it in the summer. What’s it made of? 100% polyester. I wishfully believed it was just that dress, but as soon as I started paying attention to how my clothes felt and less on how they looked. I noticed a pattern.

Wearing polyester feels about the same as going about your day in a stinky plastic bag

Polyester is uncomfortable and hot. Because it’s essentially a plastic, wearing it on a hot day means your sweat gets trapped between the fabric and your skin, making you hotter. Unlike natural fabrics like cotton or wool that wick moisture away from the skin and keep you try, polyester will leave you damp. Or even dripping with sweat.

To add insult to injury, it also holds odors. If you dare sweat in a polyester piece, it’s essentially ruined. Aside from B.O., it will also hold scents from perfume, deodorant. Any other kind of smell from cigarette smoke to pets will also become embedded in the fabric. There’s no delightful clean scent post laundry to cancel the nasty smells out, either. Polyester seems to selectively hold on to all the bad smells of its lifetime in its threads.

Now whenever I see an adorable dress with a 100%-polyester tag my first thoughts are: “I would be miserable wearing that on any summer day”. Because I would!

Even if it feels like silk, it’s actually polyester

I’ve been tricked once or twice. A soft, slinky shirt from Aritzia that I thought was silk was actually just a really fine polyester blend. I was almost fooled by the $100 price tag, but apparently charging a premium for this cheap fabric is par for the course now!

Polyester is tricky like that: it makes you think it’s something it’s not. It is not something you want to put on your body. Resist or pay the price of misery later!

What is made of Polyester? Nearly everything.

Now when I do any shopping online or otherwise, I always check the tag before I buy. If it’s more than 90% polyester, I won’t pay good money for it. Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 7.41.30 PMPolyester is a mass market favorite because it’s cheap, easy and relatively durable… so long as the wearer isn’t standing next to an open flame or anything. Polyester is flammable, but you’re unlike to catch fire even if you are living dangerously. To keep polyester’s desire to ignite under wraps, our clothing is sprayed with toxic flame retardants.

Other synthetic fabrics like polyester

Polyester isn’t the only man-made fabric clothes are made of. In fact, you’re more likely than not to find polyester blended with something else. Other synthetic fabrics to be wary of but I have not yet concluded are as loathsome as polyester:

  • Rayon
  • Nylon
  • Spandex
  • Acrylic

Choose natural fabrics when you add to your wardrobe

When it comes to natural fabrics, you have more choices than you might initially think. Some you might want to keep your eye out for are:

  • Cotton
  • Wool
  • Silk
  • Cashmere
  • Hemp
  • Flax

Cotton, on the other hand, is this marvelous sort of thing that keeps you cool in the heat and warm in the cold. It washes clean after every wear and emerges smelling like your laundry soap instead of your hairspray. Wool is another one of my faves, but some people are allergic so it’s not always an option. Silk is a luxurious natural fabric, but can be expensive.

Good quality clothes are worth the price tag. Not only will the keep you comfortable, they fit well and will stand the test of time.

By avoiding polyester, you can curb wasting money on clothes.

If you tend to spend money on clothing and then regret it, an easy way to curb your spending might be to commit to purchasing clothing that’s made from natural fibres only.

Buying clothing that’s uncomfortable to wear is a waste of money. I know avoiding this one fabric has seriously curbed my daily ModCloth habit.

Do you have any tricks for your comfort and happiness that also boost your budget? Tell me your secrets, readers!

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About Author

Student debt killer, super saver, and stock market addict. BSc. in Chemistry from the University of Alberta, MBA in Finance from the University of Calgary. CEO x 2 and MOM x 1. Currently residing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but hooked on travelling.

49 Comments

    • Agreed! I feel like because they’re more expensive fabrics, the clothing is usually more expensive to make and therefore better quality (with the exception of some cheap cotton pieces)

      I love anything made of silk <3

  1. This is such a great post!
    I also ditched anything polyester some time ago, and now I see the value of clothing items in a totally different way. For example, recently I tried on a really cute top, and it suited me perfectly. But then I saw that it was 100 % polyester, and it’s just not worth it, because, you know, I can buy a sweater with a certain percentage of cashmere or viscose (definitely my favourite!) which is a little bit more expensive, but will last longer and is way better for me!
    Self-care does put things into a perspective!

    • Agreed! I also find natural fabrics wear out nicely — my old polyester dress is starting to look kind of cumpled and weird, whereas cotton just gets softer and more comfy the more it is washed.

      I only have one cashmere sweater, I treat it like gold.

  2. Great article Bridget.
    I also avoid nylon because it gives me static electricity every time! I also avoid clothes that wrinkle easily by doing a “scrunch” test before I buy.

    • ohh good point! Nylon is so static-y. I don’t usually wear a lot of nylon except for well, nylons 😉

      Wrinkling is the worst, though I will dote on my favorite pieces with steam or a gentle iron as needed!

    • I haven’t bought anything from lululemon in more than 5 years — are their pants made of polyester? I thought it was their own creative fabric “luon” or whatever?

      • Luon is made with synthetic fibers. I would like to only wear natural fibers but it is difficult to eliminate when it comes to work out wear.

    • honestly I never thought about what my clothes were made of until I started paying attention to how I felt wearing them! Now that I look at the tags and decide, it’s saved me a lot of anguish.

  3. My everyday clothes are cotton, or cotton with a small amount of spandex. I do buy polyester dresses though, as it can be hard to find affordable, non-poly dresses for an event.

  4. I love Modcloth too, but I agree that the quality of the items can vary a ton. I never thought of completely eliminating polyester from my wardrobe though, I’m definitely going to keep this in mind in the future.

  5. Good call, polyester is awful. Although I have to say (as much as it pains me, because I love any reasons to shop for clothes) that silk is no absolute guarantee of quality. It’s a bit of a crapshoot. Depends on the brand, and sometimes even then quality is not consistent 🙁

  6. I’ve honestly never thought about this until I read it! Last night I wore a cute but polyester shirt and realized it right away. I’m not sure if I could do completely poly free but right now I’m trying to think about three things any new clothing purchase will match with, but I will think about this as well

  7. Actually you shouldn’t wear cotton in extreme colds. It actually sucks the heat away from your body and there’s a saying around my state in the winter “Cotton kills”. But other than that mistype up above I agree with you. It makes you feel warmer in slightly cooler weather especially if its a thicker blend. I read somewhere that wool is actually breathable too if you get a really thin blend and of course it is great for winter but nobody wants to wear it in the summer but the British men from back in the day. I don’t even really want to wear it in the winter.

  8. Bridget, this post is SO up my alley. (See me blabbering on about it on my own blog here: http://galaboutmtl.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/lets-talk-about-polyester/)
    My problem is, now that spring is here (ish), I am realizing how difficult it is to find retailers that sell stylish, reasonably-priced clothes, that are not sell poly/rayon/acrylic. To find 100% cotton or 100% silk in any store you find in a mall or a downtown area (Jacob, Zara, Tristan, Forever21, Banana Repub, Aritizia, H&M, etc etc x infinity) is like a wild goose chase. I know GAP has some cotton stuff now and again, but many items are cotton/poly blends, and frankly, my budget does not allow for a wardrobe exclusively found at Holt Renfrew, Ogilvy, or any of the ones that frequently do offer high quality cottons, linens and silks (and even then, there is a ton of poly!)

    I’ve recently discovered Everlane, which is lovely, but…with often with small US retailers, with quality comes shipping and customs charges. so I would LOVE tips from anyone with suggestions of North American retailers that do a good job of staying away from synthetics, and still offer stylish clothes.

    galaboutmtl.wordpress.com

    • Honestly you know where is a great place to get great clothes from great materials? Etsy. There are BEAUTIFUL summer dresses and t-shirts that are handmade but priced reasonably because it’s just people getting started. I love it! Also local farmers market usually has people selling their own made clothing. A friend of mine back home always had a booth where she sold tshirts and hoodies! Great stuff that’s from natural materials and still affordable!

  9. So Rayon is actually a really wonderful alternative to polyester (which I hate hate hate as well for all the same reasons)… You have to be gentle washing it because it wears quickly, and shrinks easily, though. Although it’s synthetic, it’s made from wood pulp which makes it very cool and breathable for summer. It has a very similar flowey look to some polyester dressy-type cloth, but also doesn’t hold onto smells. You should note it’s flammable, though, although I don’t know the comparison between it and other fabrics. It may not be any more so than polyester.

    Linen blends are also nice. Depending on the blend, linen can be worn most of the year and is a natural product with the same breathability and washability as rayon. Pure linen wrinkles easily, though, and can be itchy depending on the quality.

    Both of these fabrics are fast drying as well.

    Glad to know someone else out there sees the flaws in polyester!! Plus, it’s bad for the environment!! Fewer and fewer man made things are biodegradable now, where will it all go!?

  10. I could not agree more! I have been really shocked how many boutiques in my area (Charleston, SC) are filled with the stuff. The clothes are trendy and cheap but it’s hot down here. I won’t put it on my body.

  11. I checked out my wardrobe and found that half of them don’t tell what type of fabric it’s made from. Is there a way to tell what type of fabric it is?

    I started buying clothes that are 100% synthetic fabric about a year ago and I have yet to experience any of the problems that everyone else seems to be having. Before that, all my clothes were 100% or mostly cotton.

    To be honest, I find synthetic clothing more comfortable than cotton. I find it strange that you say that it’s harder to remove the oder from synthetic fabric than natural. It’s the exact opposite for me because cotton contains the body heat in the summer, making me sweat and stink like crazy. On the contrary, my body heat escapes more easily from nylon, spandex, polyester, and rayon which reduces oder and sweat.

    Wearing cotton in the winter and synthetic clothing in the summer is what I do to keep myself comfortable year round.

    But seriously, there are so many cute clothes made from synthetic fabric that those pricey and natural clothing can’t hold a candle to.

  12. I am about to do a major work wardrobe overhaul, and I wanted to start by taking an inventory of what colors, fabrics, etc. have actually worked for me in the past. I found that rayon makes up most of my wardrobe, and it only works if a) the fit of the garment is very loose, b) the weave of the thread is very tight and c) the fabric is very soft to the touch. I have this one coat that’s 65% polyester that I love for the fit and how lightweight it is…. but it has always had a certain weird smell to it and now, thanks to this post, I know why I could never get the smell out!!! Other than that, what works is cotton. It’s softer and more breathable than polyester and if it gets stained under the arms, Shout will take it out (whereas with polyester… no luck). So I’m saying goodbye to some brands I used to love (the Limited, a big chunk of Banana Republic), in favor of cotton, linen, and honestly anything but polyester from now on! If anyone else wants to do the same, thefabricofourlives.com has been an awesome resource and introduced me to some new stores, while into-mind.com got me asking this whole “what fabric lasts?” question in the first place.

  13. Could not agree more!! Another bad one is viscose. But polyester, I will not buy anything with even 1% of that fabric. Gross.

    • Somewhere in the early 70’s My mother discovered our polyester problem, one day when we’d gone to Riverside in MA. She wore a new dress, it was pretty, but she felt sick all day, after we got home, and she undressed she felt better. this happened a couple of times to me also. In fact I hate to sound paranoid but my kids also had sick feelings when they wore it. So we figured out polyester was not for our family. When I see an article of clothing I first look at what it’s made from. If I see polyester, I dismiss it, that’s the end of that. Sometimes it’s really hard to find dressy clothes, like now I”m trying to find a dress for my granddaughters wedding and not having much luck. To me it often feel like the pink filling in insulation from the attic. like spun glass.

  14. Great post! I’ve just turned 31 and am doing a wardrobe/style overhaul. 3/4 of my wardrobe was polyester & I had to bite the bullet and throw most of the things away! I adore Modcloth dresses too, but it’s simply not worth it! I have ruined so many expensive coats and blazers from sweating (a normal amount!)… NO MORE!!! Thanks everyone for the tips, I’m looking at etsy now & there is some great stuff!

  15. Help! Severe polyester allergy and cannot find tops/sweaters that are 100% cotton. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you!

    • I on the same boat unfortunately. It’s hard to find a place that sells natural fabrics for reasonable prices.

  16. This was such a great read! Too bad I read it after I hit the buy button on a 100% polyester dress (seriously, I just hit buy!).

  17. I despise synthetic fabrics… The shape of clothing just dies after a couple of washes… also it gives me backne :(.
    I NEVER bought synthetic before it was only until recent years I started to buy more polyester stuff because dresses were cute and tops too. I hate it because it is soooo hot to wear! Also makes me sweat more and smell unless I bathe in perfume after a shower.
    I fell into the high fashion fabric hole… Never again waste of money! Especially the brand names are buying shitty fabrics and wanna charge $$$. Nope! I thought if I bought a top from a brand it would last a little longer… I learned my lesson! Imma try my luck with thrifting and living off cotton tees and jeans lol.

    • Hi everyone, i just want to thank you all for all the informations you’ve shared, it really helped me since i’m designing a flight attendant uniform for my major project in year 12. I was actually doing some research to find which fabric is not flammable and which is best for a female flight attendant uniform, and i found all the answers to my question here. Thanks very much guys. I choose cotton! 🙌

  18. Evelyn Danielle on

    I typed in the search bar: “no more polyester tops!” and your article was the first to come up. While I was reading it, I just kept thinking “I could have written this!” I’m so glad there are others out there that are looking for something other than polyester. I cannot, will not ever, ever, ever wear polyester ever again. My youth was in the 70s when polyester everything was the rage. We didn’t have a lot of inexpensive options, so we had to buy what was available. Ever since I started the menopause phase of life, polyester has been my worst enemy. I am allergic to wool, and nylon also makes me sweat; but really – polyester is just like wearing a plastic bag in the desert. Mind you, I can wear it in pants if it’s not touching my skin (I wear pantyhose). The next thing on my hit list is Spandex. Why do they put spandex in everything? I don’t want my clothes to cling. I want my clothes to drape – to cover the unsightly bulges – and also to create air flow for comfort. How can we convince the fashion industry to stop using polyester and spandex? It’s an epidemic! We also have to tell them that just because you’ve reached the age of 50 you don’t necessarily want to wear 3/4 sleeves (I can’t stand them); and when I buy a tunic top, it should always cover the crotch area. I love rayon, modal, viscose – but if it’s made of cotton I’ll buy it right off. Thanks!

  19. Rayon is made from plant cellulose rather than Petroleum like polyester.
    Rayon, viscose, modal, tencel, and linen are made from plant cellulose such as tree pulp, bamboo, flax, or hemp and are usually soft and breathable. Chemicals are evidently used in the processing of at least some of these fabrics and so they may not be environmentally friendly. It is amazing how nice some cottons are, for example the material that Hanro uses in their clothing. It is expensive though.
    I hate acetate and acrylic in addition to polyester. I wish everyone would stop buying clothing made from these fabrics so clothing companies would stop using it. We live in a throw-away world. People buy junky stuff, use it a few times, throw it away and buy more.

    • Yvette Harry-Wright on

      Totally agree thanks for the education… did not realise so many are made out of plants

  20. I totally agree with you. I don’t wear synthetic fabrics either but just wanted to note that rayon is not synthetic – it’s man made. It’s essentially wood pulp and a great affordable alternative to pricey silk.

  21. Well…not to mention how harmful making, washing and then the disposal of polyester is to the environment. That’s the biggest deterrent for me.

  22. Polyester and acrylic are the bane of my existence. No matter how much I baby something made from acrylic, or even a blend containing acrylic, I end up with wispy fibers everywhere, and it often looks like the clothing has gone pill-crazy. Either those fibers will flatten out with heavy ironing, which is annoying enough, or they’ll never go back to normal, and the clothing is then unwearable. Polyester is a slightly different story – for the past couple years, I’ve been buying clothes that look like they’re silk without checking the tag, then proceeding to sweat up a storm whenever I went outside. Lo and behold, after checking the tags of my entire wardrobe, a good 80% of my poor clothing was made from polyester. Yuck! Did a thorough wardrobe exorcism and now I’m only filling it with well-made cotton, silk, and wool. It’s a bit of a chore trying to find stuff that isn’t polyester or acrylic these days, though… Holy smokes. It’s obscene how much clothing looks nice, but is made from such a cheap, crappy material.

  23. Ranch Girl in Vegas on

    Fantastic post….where do you shop to avoid this dreaded fabric? I’m allergic to polyester and have a hell of time finding work clothes.

  24. Don’t diss rayon. I sew and I’m here to tell you that well made pre-shrunk rayon will last, is breathable and beautiful. The rayon the cheap chains use is – well – cheap. I too am ditching polyester. For all those that have sung polyester praises in this post please consider how long your discarded garment will last in the landfill. 200 – 1000 years depending on conditions. Most of the donated poorly made garments never make it to second hand stores – they end up incinerated or in landfills. No one wants cheap polyester clothes – not even third world countries. This is about caring for a world you may never see. It’s about caring about the world your grandchildren’s children will inherit. There’s nothing wrong with wanting novelty but what if it comes with a cost? I’ve decided to go with a highly curated much smaller wardrobe. We all have those items we reach for over and over again. Why not have more of that and less of the cheap/instant gratification type clothing ?

  25. Randy Dollar on

    I think polyester should be banned. I am only buying 100% cotton or 100% wool depending on the garment.

    • wool is great but many of them are itchy and wool tends to attract carpet beetles to feast on them and create holes.

  26. Cheisa Harris on

    I cannot wear polyester blouses because it makes me itch and the constant rubbing on my skin gives me goosebumps.  I cannot wear wool it makes me really itchu.  Also i do not like to wear jean pants as it is rough tol my skin.  When those times that I have to wear polyester pants I wear Colton leggings underneath my pants. It is  hot during the summer but  it is what it is and I just have to get through the day. I like wearing  Hawaiian dresses it is very freeing.

  27. The worst feeling imaginable is wearing a 100% polyester dress in August in Mississippi. I’ve done it, survived it (barely) and refuse to do it again. Being in college makes it really desirable to by cheap clothing that still looks interesting and unique like me. Even worse, it feels like more and more plus size clothing is made with majorly polyester. Makes it nearly impossible to shop some of my favorite stores.

  28. Jamaica Knauer on

    So why doesn’t someone start a petition on Change.org that’s geared to the fashion industry, demanding that only natural fabrics be used in clothing? I came across this article looking for such a thing.

    I’m not a clothes enthusiast. I hate shopping with every fiber of my being, and so rarely wear anything other than jeans and a t-shirt. Every once in a while, I’ll want to buy a dress for a very special occasion – this time it’s to see a play on Broadway – an extremely rare treat. It’s looking like buying that dress won’t be possible.

    Nearly everything is polyester, (and if a pretty dress is made of silk chiffon, the lining is polyester). If it isn’t polyester, it’s rayon. After wearing those fabrics in my childhood, and loathing them for all the same reasons as the rest of you, I avoid them if I possibly can, but sometimes that’s all the budget will allow for a reasonably attractive blouse for church, or a date night with the hubby. Theatre night is looking like a jeans and t-shirt night, thanks to a fashion industry that doesn’t care about their customers’ comfort (not to say the health of the planet), and a customer base that probably doesn’t even know they could be asking, heck demanding, better.

  29. Love your rant. Rayon is actually synthetic cotton and has all the great benefits of cotton. I really wish people would stop lining pretty dresses with awful, cheap polyester linings. 🙁

  30. I too can’t wear polyester clothes next to my skin but I like the colours and prints they come in. I’ve thought about lining polyester tops and dresses with light cotton. I wonder if that would work to make things less clay and hot?