Is Silk always better than Polyester? – Part 2
Note: When I sat down to write this opinion post, it became so long that I decided to break it up into 3 parts. I’d recommend you start with the Part 1 here. Below is the Part 2
So here we are! Let us discuss the negatives of Polyester first and look at each of them in detail.
Cons of Polyester:
Con #1 Polyester is not breathable – The biggest complain I hear is that people don’t want to feel synthetic fabrics against their skin. But why? I think what they really mean by this is that they want the fabric against their skin to be breathable. Out of all the fabrics out there, cotton is the most breathable one. Having said that, ‘Breathability’ is decided by the two factors – the raw material used to manufacture the fabric AND whether the garment you are wearing is loose enough to allow air circulation. If you plan on wearing a very tight, black, body-con, Vegas party girl polyester dress and do heavy lifting in the hot sun – yes, you will sweat so profusely that you could loose a few pounds! But the comparison is not to Cotton. It is between Polyester and Silk. In my experience, you will end up sweating as much in a Polyester top as in a silk top, if you are outdoors.
Many of us have sedentary desk jobs where we enjoy the sweet, sweet luxury of air conditioning. So is a polyester garment still bad to wear if it looks good, is well made, and you work indoors at a desk?
Furthermore, today’s blends and refined polyesters are much more breathable, much more beautiful and not the same as those of my grandma’s era. For instance, there are many types of polyesters that are used in high-performance athletic wear, which are as breathable and comfortable against the skin as they can be. My guy friends swear by Cotton-Poly blend shirts!
It might come as no surprise that I do own some really well made clothes that are polyester. No, I wasn’t looking to buy polyester. It just happened. When I look at the label and it says polyester, I just recheck the quality of the stitching and the fabric twice!! I check if the fabric looks too shiny and cheap. If all is good, I go ahead and take a chance. 8 out of 10 times I’m happy with my purchase.
Con #2 Polyester is Cheap – I am still trying to understand when this rhetoric started. I mean, Which decade? Which designer? Which PR machine started telling Polyester was cheap and tacky? Did you ever look at vintage dresses from the 1960s and 70s, in beautiful prints and bright colors? Here are a few to whet your palette. I am not saying all of those dresses would be completely relevant to today’s style. But, polyester clothing was common even before the 21st century.
I can think of two reasons for why Polyester has become eternally associated with Cheap.
#1 Polyester was at the heart of some of the most ‘cringe-worthy’ fashion choices in history. Think full-on neon colored polyester suits of the yester-years!
#2 Given that polyester is significantly cheaper than cotton and silk when it first hit the market, some of the upper class, society women and blue bloods may have snubbed it. I read somewhere that one society woman famously remarked that she wouldn’t want any man-made fabrics to ever touch her skin*. I am sure she is resting in a bundle of ‘luxurious-silk-and-cotton-heaven’ up there, but somebody needs to tell her that even these natural fabrics are actually man-made. I’m 99% positive that she did not wear grey fluffs of cotton and silkworms directly on her body!
Jokes apart, I get her outlook. Polyester may be too cheap for her refined style. To each their own! But, nice polyesters do exist. Yes, there are enough polyester clothes that are cheap and ‘plasticy’. Let us not even get started on the poly **** that comes out of most fast fashion chains these days. But, I’m sure there are exceptions as I found some without even looking for them!
Like I said before, Polyester has come a long way since the double-knits of the 1970’s. For example, there are some fine grades of polyester that are a lot easier to maintain! Many high end brands end up using polyester in their jackets and coats to increase durability of outerwear or to achieve that nice ‘shine effect’ you can’t get with natural fibers sometimes.
Con #3 If it is NOT Polyester, I’ll love it and wear it longer:
This is a very personal one for me! I have to admit that I believed #3 for very long, until I accidentally stumbled across some fine polys. Consider my case:
I have a really well made Zara dress that despite what all the fashion and style blogs would like me to believe has actually lasted more than 10 wears. No, this is not a short, trendy piece. It is more of a basic silhouette which will always stay relevant.It is fully lined, in a work-appropriate style. For the amount I spent on it (less than $40) and the number of compliments I get when I wear it and the fact that I can wash it with my usual clothes, I started looking at Polyester in a new light. Yes, it may not last me 4 years, but I see it lasting me at least 40 to 50 wears. This comes to once a week, less than $1 per wear.
As much as I’d like to believe that I am on my great path to minimalism, where once I find this perfect dress, I’d be all set and don’t need to look anymore, the reality is far from it. I like to shop once in a while. No, I am not an impulsive buyer, but come next year I would feel the urge to look around a bit and add something new to my closet.
Now, let us say that I find this beautiful silk dress, and I choose to spend upwards of $150. The price is absolutely justifiable for the quality! What happens next? It fits me perfectly now and it will last me 4 years. But, what if I choose to has a baby, or maybe I put on weight or my lifestyle or geographical location changes. Furthermore, what if this dress bores me after a year?
The sad reality is that I’m only human and my attention span wavers. And when it wavers, I don’t want to regret every ‘thoroughly curated’ purchase that cost me a lot. I am not advocating instant gratification and I am not saying we should stop buying really beautiful, luxurious silk clothes! While I love to have SOME beautiful, high quality clothes in our closets, I don’t want ALL my sartorial purchases to be so expensive that there is no room for ‘mistakes’.
Normal people cannot afford to buy expensive clothes each and every time, then purge them whenever they don’t ‘fit’ their bodies, lifestyles and re-buy expensive clothes all over again! Everything in my closet doesn’t need to be beautiful, whimsical, sooo long lasting that I pass it down to my kids!** So, a well made Zara dress that lasts an year is fine by me***. And that’s why I don’t have a ‘NO – POLY in My Closet’ policy.
Note: Please feel free to conclude here if you find the discussion boring already! 🙂 But, If you would like to read more, kindly head over to Part 3 where I discuss the real positives of polyester.
P.S. * There are quite a few people who cannot even consider wearing synthetic fabrics. For instance, people with skin conditions like eczema cannot bear to wear anything other than cotton. I am aware that there are many such special cases and preferences. Please understand that I am not referring to them here.
P.S. **There are indeed some items in my closet that have lasted really long. A few good coats, some good shoes and a bag or two. I see myself using them for a few more years. Apart from these, I have very few items that lasted four big moves across 3 countries with very different climate types, changes in my lifestyle and body type. Overall, my handbags and shoes last longer and who knows I might be able to pass some of them down to my children.
P.S. ***I am not advocating that people go looking for clothes in Zara or other fast fashion stores. I have pretty much given up shopping at Zara or other fast fashion houses since the beginning of 2016 for various reasons. My point for discussing the Zara polyester dress is to show that Silk vs Polyester is not as black and white as we make it out to be.