Fashion is like any other interest, from the surface it may look trivial, possibly superficial and hard for someone unaware of its nuances to see the appeal. When I was younger I used to see my dad sitting in front of the television for hours watching car racing and used to think that watching cars go around a track a million times has got to be the most boring thing ever invented (sorry dad). It wasn’t until I sat down next to him and started asking questions about the rules, strategies and intricacies of the sport that I actually began to enjoy it as well. Fashion is much more than just *high pitch girly squeal* “Shopping!”. It’s art, ingenuity, creativity and science. There is a whole industry worth of processes that get a fluffy piece of cotton picked from a cotton plant to become an item of clothing that is hanging in your wardrobe. And when you are *high pitch girly squeal* “shopping!” (last one, I promise), a bit more knowledge and consideration about that process can lead to a more enjoyable and hardworking wardrobe. So, I want to give you some knowledge to keep in your arsenal for your next shopping expedition and one of the most important things to understand and look for are the different kinds fabrics and their pros and cons.
I kind of feel like I am back in textiles class in year 10, staring at the clock willing it to be lunch time so the teacher can stop talking about different textiles, except I’m the teacher in this scenario. That’s scary…but I encourage you to hear me out on this one as I am about to give you the knowledge that the fashion industry doesn’t want you to have. The fashion industry has become a toxic wasteland of man-made fabrics, here’s looking at you polyester, I’ll be dealing with you later. Not only are these bad for the environment in terms of their production and inability to biodegrade, they are also harming your wardrobe and your wallet. I hope some of you will sit down next to me on the lounge and realise this stuff isn’t as boring as race car driving like I did with my dad. And for the rest of you, I still want you to learn about this as well because knowledge is power kid’s, so I got creative and filled a bathtub with my clothes and then got in…definitely turned out very American Beauty esque so hopefully there aren’t any Kevin Spacey creeps out there…
I am not going to go into the science side of the construction and composition of these fabrics because we would be here all day and you probably would just leave and go to lunch because I don’t have an education system making you stay here (it is actually quite interesting if anyone wants to do any ‘homework’). I’m just going to give you the need to knows on the most common synthetic and natural fibres that you are likely to come across in your favourite stores. Let’s talk about natural fibres first because they are my favourite. Cotton is one of the most common fabrics you will find in your travels and potentially in your wardrobe. Pro: it’s affordable and very absorbent which makes it comfortable to wear. Cons: can shrink if not washed properly. Linen is a beautiful natural fabric that is quite on trend at the moment. Pros: looks expensive but is quite inexpensive and is more durable than cotton. Cons: creases like a mother#$@%er!
Wool can go either really good or really bad depending on the quality and it can be hard to tell the difference. Pros: keeps you warm as it retains heat between the hairs, doesn’t wrinkle. Cons: can shrink like no other fabric on earth and can pill. There is nothing cheaper or older looking than clothing with pilling in my opinion and if that happens, it needs to go in the bin. Silk is the last natural fibre I’ll mention and it’s definitely my favourite. Pro: won’t pill, looks expensive and feels amazing. Cons: very expensive. Ok cool, but none of them are perfect, each of them has a con. So how do we fix this you ask? Great question (insert name here), we can blend them with synthetic fibres to gain their benefits and cancel out the negatives. Well not us personally, we are a very underfunded school so let me just roll out the tv and we can watch this educational documentary all about it.
Fabric blends are definitely the best option to go for and generally the safest bet when looking at mid to low range priced clothing. That little white tag on the inside of your garments that you only ever notice when it’s scratching the hell out of you is your new best friend. Get your magnifying glass out and for my more mature readers, also hold it so it’s at arm’s length and squint your eyes just right so you can read the very important care instructions that you want to make sure you follow to a tee in order to get the most longevity out of your clothes. That little tag will also tell you what the garment is made out of. It’s like a lie detector machine. You might pick up a beautiful silk-like blouse and be wondering how it could be such a great price, you pull out your magnifying glass and BAM! 100% polyester! And it’s time to put the blouse down and walk away my friend. Why do I hate polyester so much? Where do I start, it’s not breathable and is moisture resistant so it’s uncomfortable to wear, it has pilling and static tendencies. It has low absorbency, so stain removal is a problem and it also looks incredibly cheap because well it is. I’m making out like polyester is the devil, but actually, it’s not all bad. It was the wonder ‘wash and wear’ fabric of the 50’s because of its moisture resistance it’s quick drying. Polyester is also impervious to stretch and shrinkage.
Many online retailers LOVE polyester. It is the fabric of fast fashion because it is cheap and nasty. Always try and avoid 100% polyester like you tried to avoid going to school by faking a cold or wagging. If you love the garment anyway, please don’t pay more than a 50 for it. The prices retailers are charging for cheaply made polyester clothing is criminal in my opinion. They are making a motser off your ignorance. And in this case, it’s not bliss, it’s a bathtub full of hardly worn, crappy clothes. A polyester blend is a much better option. Anything up to 50% is a pretty safe option as you retain its benefits while the natural fibres it’s combined with makes up for its downfalls. When shopping online, always check the product description for the fibre percentages. It’s the little white tag of the online world, don’t buy anything unless you have read it!
Just quickly, other synthetic fibres you are likely to find as blends are Rayon. Which was the first man-made fabric and is used to imitate silk. It’s generally used as lining, so it makes the garment more affordable and you don’t really see it anyway. Nylon was the revolutionary fabric of the 20’s and was used in everything from stockings to parachutes in WW2. It is strong and wind resistant but has zero breathability. And before you fall asleep, acrylic was created in the 50’s as well and it’s used as a cheaper alternative to wool. It’s generally mixed with wool to make the garment cheaper. Try and avoid 100% acrylic as well. You will also see spandex a lot but never more than 10% as it is actually rubber and helps with the elasticity of a garment which helps you get into those tight jeans a little easier.
That’s the lesson for today class. I hope you learned something new and have more confidence when facing the fashion world. Homework for today is to go into your wardrobe, find some of those little white tags and find out what the items you already own are made out of. Especially your favourite pieces and the ones that have held up the best over time and that will give you a good indicator of what to look for next time you go shopping. Now I’m going to go bathe in my clothes some more, can someone pass me the soap?
Love Hayley xo
Photographer and editor: Adara from Studiada Creative
Videographer: Kimberly from Velvet Wings Media