Martini Minute
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Martini Minute

Polyester. It’s not a natural fiber.

When most of us think of polyester fabric, we think double knit leisure suits or loud butterfly color shirts popular in the 1960s and 70s. Polyester actually has a much longer history. In the mid-1930s, W.H. Carothers, a DuPont employee, figured out that he could create fibers by mixing carboxyl acids and alcohols. Sadly, (or maybe not so sadly) the technology was shelved due to the discovery of Nylon. In 1939, two British scientists picked up where Carothers left off, and two years later the first true polyester fabric, Terylene, came into being.

Photo © iStock/karammiri

By the early 1950s, polyester fabric was being marketing to housewives as a miracle fabric: cheap, wrinkle-free, convenient. Eventually double knit polyester was all the rage. Sadly (or again, not so sadly) by the 1970s polyester began to fall out of favor. By the 1980s, with a little help from Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta, polyester and polyester blends got a makeover. Today, new technologies has vastly improved the quality and properties of polyester and polyester blends, bearing little resemblance to their double knit, practically unwearable brethren.

Photo © iStock/Willrow_Hood

The Good, the Bad, and the Sweaty

Obviously, the scientists who figured polyethylene terephthalate (polyester) should be woven into fabric didn’t live in a hot climate or they’d have realized it‘s not breathable. Seriously. Have you ever seen people in desert climates wearing double-knit polyester? They know better. Loose-fitting cotton…that’s the way to go. That said, polyester, with its long history, has its benefits as well as its drawbacks.

The BENEFITS of wearing double-knit polyester:

  • It’s cheap
  • Durable (Anything made out of polyester will be around long after mankind.)
  • Color-fast
  • Can support bold, exciting prints
  • And can go 68 days without ironing

The DRAWBACKS of wearing double-knit polyester:

  • It’s cheap (it cuts both ways, honey)
  • Lacks breathability
  • Is a derivative of petroleum — BAD for the planet
  • Bold, tacky prints (or was that a benefit?)
  • Is now hopelessly out of fashion (i.e. something your grandma would wear, or a guy wearing a shit-eating grin and gold chains)

Given that I grew up in Memphis, then moved to Dallas—both localities known for humid, hellaciously hot summers—how did I develop such a penchant for wearing double-knit, bell-bottomed trousers and butterfly-collared shirts? The answer? Air-conditioning, sweet, sweet air conditioning…a wondrous invention that allows one to wear the most tightly-woven, industrial fabric ever made.…even as temps top triple digits for 90 days in a row!

Yep, that’s a much younger yours truly voguing in just some of my MANY polyester outfits!

Making more responsible fashion choices

Before moving to California, where I’ve resided for nearly 20 years, I worked in office buildings where it felt like the thermostat was set at a brisk 55 degrees. I wore polyester with reckless abandon, without fear of sweat stains. Then I moved to San Francisco, and everything changed. Here, air conditioning is NOT the norm, and summer is the coldest season of the year. Thanks, Karl the Fog! In pre-Covid times, our office building often felt more like a greenhouse than an ice house. As you can imagine, my penchant for vintage fabrics soon left me, shall we say, feeling a little less ‘Sure®’ of myself. What if I failed the sniff test? As my sweat strained to escape it’s prison of polyester, I realized it was time . . . to switch up my “go to” fashion.

So I started wearing 100% cotton, graphic T-shirts instead.

Hmm, guess, I should’ve taken off my glasses to preserve my secret identity.

One Last Thing . . .

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Martini Minute

Hi Everybody! I’m Roberta Morris, Founder and Creative Director of Leave It to ’Berta. Read my take on all things colorful and creative.