You’ve heard every reason under the sun about why you should buy clothing made of polyester: The synthetic textile is strong, long-wearing, easy to wash, shrink- and mildew-resistant and you can roll 100-percent poly garments into a ball for an infinite amount of time and wind up without a single pesky wrinkle. But there are downsides to polyester clothing that may not make it the ideal fabric – particularly if you’re a person who’s concerned about health and the environment.
Hot, Hot, Hot. Polyester doesn’t breathe like natural textiles and if you wear it, things can get hot. Really hot. Particularly if you hang in warm climates. The heaviest weaves are extremely dense. Without the inclusions of natural threads, there’s literally no ventilation in the garment. Likely, this was not a consideration of J. T. Dickson and J. R. Whinfield, the guys who first whipped up a batch of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid to produce the first poly threads in the early 1950s, but they sure accomplished their mission of pioneering wash and wear fabric. By the way, choose a winter jacket with poly fill and you’ll add a few pounds to your svelte silhouette since it weighs more and looks bulkier than down fill.
Requires Toxic Color Dyes. Raghavendra R. Hegde, Atul Dahiya, M. G. Kamath, Ramaiah Kotra and Xiao Gao undertook a major research study on polyester fabrics at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus in 2004. The team discovered that polyester-based fabrics don’t absorb conventional dyes like natural textiles, so manufacturers can’t reproduce colors in poly that match those on silk, cotton and wool. For that reason, “disperse” dyes are substituted for organic dyes. According to Medscape.com, “disperse dyes (DDs) are the most common sensitizers among textile dyes.” Dermatologists continue to find disburse dye reactions to poly clothing across the globe.
Doesn’t Break Down in Landfills. When natural fibers like wool, cotton or silk break down after they have been relegated to the trash, each textile’s organic makeup allows it to disintegrate naturally over a fairly short period of time. Polyester fabrics, on the other hand, have no organic roots and the amount of time it takes for the material to decompose is lengthy. Consequently, in order to quickly destroy a coated fabric like polyester, your only option would be to burn it, thus disbursing toxic elements into the atmosphere and delivering yet another toxic blow to the environment.
Favorable Impressions? Not So Much. If you want a topic that gets fashion experts hot under the collar, mention polyester. Mergers and Acquisitions.com, a website devoted to helping people make an impression on the job, states the prejudice succinctly: “We’re no longer in the 70s and man-made fabrics just look bad, so steer clear of them. They wrinkle, develop shiny patches, retain dirt, and don’t breathe – making you look and possibly smell funny.” Harsh, but with so many upscale discounters dotting shopping plazas around the country, buying clothing made of organic textiles needn’t result in taking a bag lunch to your work site after the non-poly garment helps you land that job.