Is polyester stretchy? – your clothing guide

Polyester fabric
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Whether you realize it or not, polyester has slowly but surely begun to take over your closet and is here to stay for the long haul. 

In fact, you’re probably not aware of just how many polyester clothing items you have, as this popular material is often used as a blend, as well as by itself. 

While once thought of as the cheap, uncomfortable textile that curtains were made out of, it has come a long way. Now, you’ll find it in shirts, pants, socks, and even your most beloved silk look-alike tie. 

Even though you surely have polyester and polyester blends bursting out of your closet at this point, you may have found yourself with some questions, such as – what is polyester? What are its pros and cons? And is polyester stretchy? 

We give you the lowdown on this popular material in this article and discuss whether or not polyester clothing is worth your money.

What Is Polyester?

First thing’s first – what is polyester? Created in 1941 and rising to popularity in the ’70s, polyester clothing is (in most cases) derived from petroleum and is one of the most popular textiles in the world. 

An artificial fiber, polyester, is derived from a chemical reaction involving petroleum, air, and water, and in most cases, is not a biodegradable material. 

Unfortunately, this means that polyester contributes to pollution around the world, so we do not advise throwing your polyester clothing in the trash under any circumstances. Repurposing and donation are always the way to go!

While you’ll still see plenty of 100% polyester clothing in your closet and your dresser drawers, you’re more likely to see this popular textile blended with either cotton or another natural fiber, as this helps reduce production costs of clothing that is made from naturally derived materials.

When Was Polyester Introduced Into Fashion?

Polyester fashion

As mentioned, polyester clothing has been in existence since 1941, when it was created by British chemists John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson. 

We saw polyester clothing start to become popular a few decades later when it became advertised as a “miracle fiber,” with the claims that it could be “worn for 68 days straight without ironing, and still look presentable”. 

While we don’t know if we would recommend doing that exactly, you’ll notice that this sales pitch worked, as many curtain-like suits started bursting into the fashion scene in the ‘70s and were showcased in movies like Saturday Night Fever. 

Thankfully, polyester has come a long way since then and can mimic some of the most luxurious natural fibers in the world. 

How Stretchy Is Polyester?

So, you’re wondering whether polyester is stretchy before you go and knowingly invest your money in polyester shirts, jackets, and pants. The simple answer is that no, polyester itself is not stretchy. 

However, this is only the case with clothing that is made out of 100% polyester and not polyester blends. This can be confirmed by having a look in your closet and finding a piece of clothing that says 100% polyester on the tag – that item of clothing doesn’t have an inch of stretchable material to it, right? 

Find a piece of clothing that is blended fabric with cotton, Lycra, or spandex, and you’ll find material with a certain amount of stretch to it. A good rule of thumb is that the higher percentage of polyester you see on a tag, the less stretchy it will be.

Does Polyester Shrink?

Polyester in washing machine

Let’s put it this way – if you don’t want your polyester clothes to shrink, don’t put the polyester clothes in the dryer or run them under hot water.

Some polyesters will shrink if brought into contact with heat, and the likeliness of this will only increase if you are washing a polyester blend. Before washing any material, it’s important to take a look at its instructions if you want to avoid potentially ruining your clothes!

Advantages of Polyester

So, what are the pros of polyester clothing if it’s not technically a stretchable material? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of this popular textile:

  • Due to the fact that it’s a synthetic fabric material, the price of polyester will remain consistent and will not fluctuate like natural materials
  • Polyester is more resistant to shrinking and wrinkles than most other materials
  • The fibers in polyester are strong and will not wear down easily
  • Will not fade due to frequent washing and wearing
  • Less susceptible to stains
  • Requires much less time in the dryer than natural fibers
  • Lightweight feel
  • Polyester fabrics are great for laser-cutting decorative shapes and patterns and are thermoplastic
  • Polyester blended fabric with cotton is a more breathable, durable, and stronger material than either of these materials on its own
  • It can be easily modified for different uses
  • Retains its shape very well

Disadvantages of Polyester

It’s no secret that polyester hasn’t completely beaten its bad rep from years of being directly compared to your kitchen curtains. 

While polyester has come a long way since its creation in the 1940s, there are still several cons to this popular material. Let’s take a look at some common complaints about polyester:

  • Less breathable, durable, and hypoallergenic than natural fibers
  • Moisture absorption is very low 
  • Polyester is highly flammable on its own, and extra care must be taken when wearing near an open flame
  • Polyester is not environmentally friendly
  • Prone to static buildup
  • Holds onto odors more than natural fibers

What Does Polyester Feel Like?

Modern polyester fabric is known for its ability to mimic silk; it is generally not a soft fabric. However, this is dependent on how it’s created. Different methods of creating this synthetic fabric textile will determine how soft its end result is. The thin yarn is responsible for some of its silky texture and coarse polyester being created using thick yarn.

Odds are, most of your clothing is a poly blend and is created using a combination of polyester and cotton fabric. While the ratio for poly blend material varies, you’ll generally notice that 65% cotton and 35% polyester are the most common, with many 50/50 blends also available. 

A polyblend will make a huge difference in the overall feel of your clothing and will not have the commonly rough feeling of a 100% polyester piece of clothing.

What Clothes Are Made of Polyester?

Polyester sportswear

If you take a good look through your closet, odds are you’ll see a variety of polyester blends, as well as several other 100% polyester pieces of clothing. 

Due to polyester’s quick-drying properties, you’ll see several polyester blends in the form of your jerseys, workout gear, raincoats, swimwear, hiking clothes, and any other items of clothing that are meant to make you feel dry and comfortable. 

You’ll also notice that inexpensive ties will be made of either 100% polyester or contain a high percentage of polyester due to polyester’s ability to mimic silk.

What Fabrics Are Most Similar to Polyester?

Polyester belongs to the manmade or synthetic fiber family, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s similar to any of these other fabrics. While commonly compared to nylon, rayon, spandex, acrylic, viscose, and acetate, none of these fabrics are particularly similar to polyester. 

While many consider viscose and polyester to be virtually interchangeable, they actually have several differences and react to water completely differently. 

Semi manmade material rayon contains polyester and also combines both cotton and rayon. All in all, there’s really no substitute for polyester if you’re looking to mimic the exact qualities of this fabric.

So, What’s the Bottom Line?

Should you buy 100% polyester clothing if you’re looking for comfortable, stretchy fabric material? No. Should you buy a polyester blend if you’re looking for a breathable, durable material that has a certain amount of stretch to it? Absolutely. 

It has to be said that polyester is not known for its ability to stretch, nor is it known to be a high-quality, long-lasting material on its own. However, polyblends can produce some of your most favorite comfortable items of clothing, so long as they are the right blend. 

If you get easily warm or live in a hot or humid environment, then you should try to stay away from 100% polyester fabric material as much as possible. 

Whether or not you’re sensitive to polyester stretch fabric, it’s important to know what you are buying before you buy it. Look at tags, do your research, and try on items as often as possible before purchasing a polyester garment. 

If you enjoyed this article we have another one on What to Wear Under a Dress Shirt.

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