What is Polyester Fabric? An Introductory Guide

close up of polyester fabrics and polyester fibers

Written by Ben Chuang

When it comes to crafting the perfect men's shirt, the choice of fabric is paramount. The world of men's fashion offers a diverse array of materials, each with its unique characteristics and appeal. Among these options, polyester fabric stands out as a versatile and increasingly popular choice.

Polyester fabric has become a staple in the modern man's wardrobe, thanks to its exceptional durability, wrinkle-resistant nature, and affordability. In this article, we'll delve into the world of polyester fabric, exploring its composition, benefits, and why it has become a preferred choice for both casual and formal shirt designs.

So, if you're curious about what sets polyester clothing apart from other shirt fabrics and why it deserves a place in your closet, read on to discover the ins and outs of this remarkable textile.

History of Polyester Fabric

Polyester is a synthetic fiber that has become ubiquitous in the world of textiles. Its history dates back to the mid-20th century, and its development has significantly impacted the fashion and textile industries. Here's an overview of the history of polyester fabric:

Early Development (1930s-1940s):

  • The history of polyester fabric began in the 1930s with the research of British scientists John Whinfield and James Dickson. They were working on developing new synthetic fibers and stumbled upon polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a polymer with promising textile properties.
  • In the United States, American chemical company DuPont also began researching synthetic fibers. In 1941, DuPont introduced a synthetic fiber called "Fiber B" (later known as Dacron) made from PET.

    close up of historical polyester manufacturing

    Polyester Blends and Innovations (1980s-1990s):

    • In the 1980s and 1990s, polyester fiber was often blended with other fibers like cotton or wool to enhance its properties. These blends allowed for greater comfort and breathability while maintaining durability and resistance to wrinkles and moisture.
    • Innovations in polyester fabric production techniques improved the overall quality and texture of the fabric.

      Sustainability Concerns and Recycled Polyester (2000s-Present):

      • In the 21st century, concerns about the environmental impact of synthetic fibers like polyester emerged. Polyester fiber is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. However, efforts have been made to produce eco-friendly polyester fabric, such as recycled polyester fiber from post-consumer plastic bottles.

      Today, polyester fabric remains one of the most widely used synthetic fibers in fashion fabrics globally. While it has faced criticisms for its environmental impact due to its petroleum-based origin and microplastic shedding, ongoing research and development seek to address these issues and make all types of polyester fabric production more sustainable.

      teal polyester fabric texture

      What Type of Fabric is Polyester?

      Polyester fabrics are synthetic textile materials made from a type of polymer known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Polyester fabric is a synthetic polymer created through a process called polymerization, where PET is melted and then forced through tiny holes to create long, thin fibers.

      These fibers are then woven or knitted together to form continuous fibers of the fabric. Modern polyester fabrics are made with polymers derived from petroleum; essentially, they are a type of plastic product.

      Polyester fabric is used in a wide range of applications, including clothing (such as shirts, dresses, and sportswear), home textiles (like bedsheets and curtains), upholstery, bags, and even industrial products like conveyor belts.

      Its popularity is partly due to its affordability and the ease with which it can be manufactured in various textures and finishes to suit different needs and preferences.

      What Are the Characteristics of Polyester Fabric?

      Polyester fabric is known for being a breathable fabric that's moisture-wicking and resilient. It is often blended with other, natural fabrics and fibers, to enhance these qualities further. Some key characteristics of polyester fabric include:

      1. Durability: Polyester fabric is known for its strength and resistance to abrasion, making it a long-lasting choice for various applications.
      2. Wrinkle Resistance: Polyester fabric is naturally resistant to wrinkles and retains its shape well, making it a popular choice for clothing that requires minimal ironing.
      3. Moisture Wicking: It has moisture-wicking properties, which means it can pull moisture away from the body, making it suitable for activewear and sportswear.
      4. Quick Drying: Polyester fabric dries quickly, which is advantageous in wet or humid conditions.
      5. Colorfastness: It has good colorfastness, meaning it retains its color well, even after repeated washings.
      6. Versatility: Polyester fibers can be blended with other materials to enhance specific qualities. For example, a polyester cotton blend fabric (known as polycotton) combines the durability of polyester fabric with the softness of cotton.

        moisture wicking quick drying fabric

        Is Polyester Stretchy?

        Polyester fibers are known for their limited natural stretch compared to some other materials like cotton or spandex. While it does have some inherent elasticity, it is generally considered to be less stretchy than fabrics specifically designed for stretch and flexibility. However, it's important to note that the degree of stretch in polyester can vary depending on the specific blend and construction of the fabric.

        In some cases, you may find polyester blends that incorporate a small percentage of spandex or elastane, which significantly enhances the stretchiness of the fabric. These blends are often used in garments that require more flexibility, such as activewear or stretchy dress shirts.

        So, while pure polyester fabric may not be particularly stretchy on its own, there are polyester blends available that offer improved stretch and comfort for various clothing applications.

        woman wearing stretchy polyester fibers spandex clothing

        How Are Polyester Fabrics Made?

        Polyester fabric is made through a complex chemical process that involves the conversion of raw materials into a polymer, which is then spun into fibers and woven or knitted into durable fabric itself. Although there are many different types of polyester fabric, here is a basic overview of the steps involved in making polyester fabric:

        Raw Materials:

        • The primary raw materials for polyester fiber are petroleum-based chemicals. The most common starting material is purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and ethylene glycol (EG). PTA is derived from petroleum and is chemically processed to ensure purity.


        • The first step in polyester production is polymerization. PTA and EG are combined in a reactor at high temperatures and under controlled conditions. This chemical reaction results in the formation of long-chain polymer molecules, specifically polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

        Pellet Formation:

        • The polymer produced in the reactor is then cooled and solidified into small pellets or chips. These PET pellets are the raw material for creating polyester fibers.

        Melt Spinning:

        • The PET pellets are melted and extruded through spinnerets, which are small holes in a spinneret plate. As the molten polymer is forced through these holes, it forms fine strands or filaments. This process is called "melt spinning."


        • The newly formed polyester filaments are rapidly cooled to solidify them. This can be done by passing the filaments through a cooling chamber or air cooling.

        polyester fiber manufacturing

        Drawing and Stretching:

        • To improve the strength and orientation of the polymer chains, the filaments are stretched and drawn. This process aligns the molecules, increasing the overall tensile strength of the fibers.

        Cutting and Crimping:

        • After drawing and stretching, the continuous filaments are cut into shorter staple fibers or left as long continuous filaments, depending on the intended use. Some polyester fibers are crimped to give them a textured or bulkier appearance.

        Spinning into Yarn:

        • The staple fibers or continuous filaments are spun into yarn using spinning machines. This yarn can be used for weaving or knitting into fabric.


        • After the fabric is woven or knitted, it goes through various finishing processes. These processes can include dyeing, printing, and treatments to enhance properties like wrinkle resistance, flame retardancy, or moisture-wicking, depending on the intended application.

        The polyester fabric manufacturing process is highly automated and efficient, making it a cost-effective and versatile material for a wide range of applications, from clothing and home textiles to industrial uses.

        Advances in technology continue to improve the sustainability and performance of polyester fiber production processes.

        polyester fibers production close up

        Is Polyester Fabric A Good Material For Men's Shirts?

        Choosing the perfect fabric for your dress shirts can be a challenging endeavor. The fabric you select will not only impact the shirt's appearance but also its comfort, durability, and overall performance.

        Among the many options available, two popular choices stand out: polyester material and cotton blends. Both fabrics have their unique characteristics, advantages, and drawbacks.

        To help you make a well-informed choice, let's take a deeper look at whether a polyester or cotton shirt is more suitable for your needs.

        Polyester: The Synthetic Marvel


        1. Durability: Polyester clothing is renowned for its exceptional durability. It's a fabric that can withstand the test of time, making it a reliable choice for those seeking long-lasting shirts. The robust nature of polyester means your shirts are less likely to show signs of wear and tear, even after extended use.
        2. Wrinkle Resistance: One of polyester's most celebrated attributes is its wrinkle resistance. If you're not a fan of the tedious chore of ironing, polyester shirts might be a game-changer for you. These shirts tend to maintain a smoother appearance throughout the day, even after hours of wear.
        3. Affordability: Polyester dress shirts are often more budget-friendly compared to their 100% cotton counterparts. This affordability makes them accessible to a wide range of consumers, from students looking for stylish yet economical options to professionals seeking a cost-effective wardrobe solution.


          1. Breathability: Polyester's Achilles' heel is its limited breathability. It doesn't allow for efficient air circulation, which can be a drawback in hot and humid conditions. If you tend to perspire heavily or live in a tropical climate, you may find polyester shirts less comfortable due to their reduced ability to wick away moisture and heat. In this case, a slim-fit cotton dress shirt may be the superior option.
          2. Comfort: Some individuals report that polyester feels less comfortable against the skin compared to natural fibers like cotton. It can have a slightly synthetic or slick texture that may not be as inviting for extended wear.

            100% Cotton: The Natural Classic


            1. Breathability: Cotton is renowned for being a breathable fabric. It allows air to circulate freely, making it an excellent choice for warm and humid weather. If you're looking to stay cool at the office, a cotton professional dress shirt is a great option.
            2. Comfort: One of cotton's standout features is its comfort. Cotton fabric is soft, gentle, and comfortable against the skin. This natural comfort makes it a preferred choice for those who prioritize how clothing feels when worn.
            3. Absorbency: Cotton has a remarkable ability to absorb moisture. It can wick away sweat from your body, helping you stay dry and comfortable even during physically demanding activities or in sweltering weather.
            4. Hypoallergenic: Cotton is often considered hypoallergenic, meaning it is less likely to cause skin irritations or allergies. If you have sensitive skin, Oxford dress shirts made with 100% cotton are a reliable choice for minimizing potential discomfort in formal situations.


              1. Wrinkles: Cotton shirts have a propensity to wrinkle more easily than polyester shirts. If you prefer a crisp, immaculate appearance, you may need to embrace the slightly rumpled look of cotton or invest extra time in ironing. These non-iron shirts are a mix of spandex and cotton blend.
              2. Color Fading: Cotton shirts are susceptible to color fading with repeated washes and exposure to sunlight. While this is a common characteristic of many natural fibers, it's important to be aware that your cotton dress shirt's original color may not remain as vibrant as it was when you first purchased it. However, this would not be an issue if the occasion calls for a white button-up collar dress shirt.

                The Verdict on Polyester Fabric: It Depends

                The decision between polyester and 100% cotton for your men's dress shirt is not one-size-fits-all; it's highly contingent on your unique priorities, lifestyle, and personal preferences.

                If you value durability, wrinkle resistance, and affordability in outdoor clothing, polyester clothing could be your top pick. Polyester shirts are a fantastic choice for individuals seeking low-maintenance apparel that can endure extended use. They're especially ideal for those who want to avoid the hassle of ironing a dress shirt.

                how to iron a dress shirt

                On the other hand, if breathability, comfort, and a natural feel against your very sensitive skin, are paramount, then a 100% cotton dress shirt is the way to go.

                Cotton dress shirts excel in hot and humid climates, making them a comfortable and stylish choice for summer fashion and outdoor clothing. Despite their propensity to wrinkle, cotton shirts offer a timeless, classic look that appeals to many.

                For those seeking a middle ground, consider dress shirts made from a blend of both polyester and cotton. These shirts combine the benefits of waterproof polyester fabric's durability and wrinkle resistance with the comfort and breathability of cotton. Such blends offer a well-rounded solution that caters to a broader range of preferences.

                In conclusion, your ideal dress shirt fabric will be the one that best aligns with your personal style, comfort requirements, and lifestyle needs.

                Whether you choose the synthetic marvel of polyester blends or the natural fibers of 100% cotton, each fabric has its place in the world of men's dress shirts, ensuring there's a perfect shirt out there for every occasion and individual.

                Frequently asked questions about polyester fabric

                Is polyester bad for the environment?

                • Yes, the production and disposal of polyester fabric can have a negative environmental impact due to its reliance on non-renewable resources and its inability to biodegrade.

                Which fabric is better for hot weather, polyester, or cotton?

                • Cotton is generally considered better for hot weather as it is breathable and helps regulate body temperature.

                Are there any health concerns associated with wearing polyester fabric?

                • Some individuals may experience skin irritation or discomfort when wearing polyester fabric, particularly in hot and humid conditions. It's essential to choose a fabric that suits your skin type and preferences.

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