Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Not All Polyester Is Evil!

I am a fabric junkie. I love the look, feel, and textures of fabrics of all kinds. In fact, I think that part of the reason I collect, wear, and sell vintage clothing is for love of fabric. The right fabric makes a good design better, and can turn a mediocre design into a masterpiece.

We “vinties” love our silks and rayons, don’t we? But today I’m going to talk about polyester. Yup, that omni-present synthetic “stuff” that appeared en masse in the mid 60s and seemed to be all anyone made clothes out of for about the next decade.

Alas, polyester has a bad rep—in some cases. In others, its reputation as an evil fabric is deserved. Many buyers, sellers, and collectors of vintage apparel shudder at the thought of polyester. I assume they associate all polyesters with the cheap double-knit polys we saw in the “old-lady” pantsuits and outlet-store clothing of that era. Often it was spongy and “saggy,” and when you bent your knee, it didn’t bend back with you. So you walked around all day with knee molds in your slacks!

However, polyester was/is a very well-rounded fiber that lends itself to a variety of fabric types: single-knit jerseys, better-quality double knits, wovens, and pile fabrics. It also blends well with cottons, linens, and rayons—its better characteristics offset the less-desirable ones of those fabrics. For example, a cotton/poly blend won’t wrinkle or shrink like 100 percent cotton will. Linen will drape better and wrinkle less, and rayon is more readily washed and stronger in a blend with poly.

Polyester can be made to mimic many other fibers—we all know today’s smooth, lightweight polys that feel almost exactly like silk, but yesterday’s could be just as nice. I worked in a fabric store in the 70s, and we had high-end polyesters in shantung weaves, crepe-backed satins, drapey jerseys, soft double-knit crepe, fabulous jacquards, etc. Polyester opened up a world of easy-care clothing for the busy working woman: Most everyday fabrics were washable and didn’t need ironing. Throw them in the washer, toss in the dryer, hang, and wear. One could say that if polyester had not been introduced for commercial use in clothing, women would have been even more harried as they embarked upon the modern “Superwoman” path.

And polyester was not relegated to the world of cheap and moderate ready-to-wear fashion. Many, many high-end labels and famous designers used it back then, and still do so today. So, if you think of vintage poly as being the low rung of the fabric ladder, think again! We have here from the 60s and 70s some examples of “good” polyester fabrics. If we can find some of our memorable “bad” polyester items (such as butt-ugly wide ties), we will post them next time!

Recently sold by
MyVintageCocktail: Late 60’s/early 70’s psychedelic print dress by Mr. Dino, who was noted for the use of very fine polyester jersey.


Trevira polyester maxidress by Goldworm, another maker that used wonderful knit fabrics in its apparel.

And, from Catseye Vintage, this 70’s men’s Lilly Dache polo shirt, typifying the wild prints we saw in that era.


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