Saturday, June 15, 2013

In praise of polyester - again

Polyester gets a bad rap. The very name conjures up some of the worst fashion excesses of the 1970s. It's synonymous with cheap, tacky and over-the-top.


But here's the thing: I kind of like polyester. And I'm not even talking about today's more sophisticated synthetics. Nope, I'm talking about your granny's double-knit pant suits and pussy-bow blouses. I'm talking about those cheap-and-cheerful, dime-a-dozen disco dresses. And I'm talking about, yes, those crazy prints and patterns that made the 70s such a dizzying cacophony of color.

Why? Because what made those garments so successful when they made their debut is the same thing that makes them work today.

A 1954 advertisement for Dacron - the first polyester introduced to the U.S. clothing market - makes the case pretty plainly.

image from tuppence ha'ppeny vintage

Synthetic fabrics resist stains and wrinkles. 'Nuff said. Add to that the fact that they are extremely colorfast, and won't shrink, and you've got a winning recipe for clothes that can really take a beating and keep looking good.

Don't get me wrong: I love natural fibers. I grew up on a sheep farm, for cripes' sake, so the smell of wet wool makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. When it comes to woven fabric, cotton can't be beat for comfort. And silk is nothing short of miraculous. (If you've never worn silk long underwear, you have no idea what you're missing.)

But ... let's be honest here. I am not always kind to my clothes. I'll toss a shirt into my closet, only to dust it off a few days later to see if it's still wearable. I rarely iron. I often leave laundry sitting in the dryer overnight. And I visit the dry cleaner's about as often as I visit the dentist. So I truly appreciate a garment that can withstand this type of abuse.

I had this top stuffed in a shopping bag for a month before I hauled it out to photograph it. No joke. 
But that's not the only reason I like poor old polyester. In some situations, I actually find it more comfortable than the natural alternatives. Sure, synthetic fabrics don't "breathe" very well, which means you don't want to be wearing tight polyester around the arms in hot weather. But you know what else I don't want to be wearing when it's hot out? This.



It seems that nowadays you can barely buy a tanktop that isn't body-hugging, like this one from Old Navy. This is great for layering, but unless you look like the model seen here, it's not so great if you want to actually wear said tanktop on its own out in public. I don't know about you, but the only thing I want hugging my body is my husband.

Polyester may not breathe well, but what it does do well is drape. This means that a polyester tank top, in the proper cut and fit, floats away from the body, rather than sticking to it.

Source: etsy.com via e.p. on Pinterest

So, it might be cool to hate on polyester. But I'm not ashamed to say I'm a fan. What about you?