Simply stated, polyester is a synthetic fabric comprised of a type of plastic. Less simply stated, polyester is made up of molecular polymers associated with the ester group of chemical compounds (hence the term “polyester”). While there are many variations of polyester, a common one is "polyethylene terephthalate," or PET, a type of plastic found in clothing and packaging. Liquid polyester is stretched and spun into fabric using an industrial spinneret machine.
One of the most common questions surrounding what polyester is has to do with where it can be found. Following its invention in the early 1940s and its introduction to the public in 1951, polyester would go on to dominate decades’ worth of yearbook photos in the form of lightweight jackets, leisure suits, and brightly colored A-line dresses.
Today, polyester can still be found in dresses, blouses, and slacks, though most often in conjunction with other fabrics like cotton, wool, and nylon. Because of its remarkable versatility (and relatively low-maintenance care instructions), polyester is also found in a wide array of outerwear, athleisure, and fitness apparel.
There are a number of reasons that polyester has gained such widespread appeal. It’s highly wrinkle-resistant, making it an attractive choice for activewear and travel attire. It’s also moisture-resistant and flexible, which makes it a popular choice among many athletes.
On the other hand, research has shown that polyester may not be the best fabric for those with sensitive skin, especially since it’s not particularly breathable. It’s also not ideal for those who prefer clothing made from natural, biodegradable materials. If you’re not sure which of your clothing contains polyester, the best education on polyester may be found by taking a look through your wardrobe.
Up next, keep reading to learn how to wash polyester in four steps.
This story was published at an earlier date and has been recently updated.