And though you look so cute

Mia and Sebastian’s exchange will resonate with those in pursuit of dressing well. For many, though, their particular experience may have unfolded rather along these lines:

Mia: And though you look so cute in your—what’s it made from by the way?—suit…

Sebastian: Uh, I’m not sure. I think that it’s wool. Let me check the label… It says ‘Wool/poly…’ uh poly-something (I can’t pronounce that word) ‘blend’.

Wool. Wool blend. Is there a significant difference? For the well-dressed, a rapid survey of the characteristics of natural and synthetic cloth types yields a narrative arc almost deserving of it’s own song lyrics.

Fibres extracted from nature share the useful quality of efficient moisture and heat management. Widely-used in cloth production are: wool varieties sheared or combed from a sheep, goat, or alpaca, among others; cotton, picked from the fluffy ‘boll’ encasing the seeds of the cotton plant of the Gossypium genus; and linen, extracted from the stem of the flax plant of the Linum genus.

Wool cloth, coming from an animal’s natural coat, is renown for retaining warmth and repelling water. Cotton and linen fabrics are sought-after for their ability to release heat and moisture generated by the body. For the purposes of physical activity such as dancing these porous properties are ideal. Admittedly however, beyond a certain point, these natural fibres become absorbent and require proper drying.

Polyester, scientific name polyethylene terephthalate, is a synthetic fibre manufactured from thermoplastic polymer resin. As the name suggests it’s essentially a type of plastic, made from petroleum. Credit to the Greek language for this word: petra, ‘rock’; and oleum, ‘oil’.

Polyester fabric is useful for its durability, notably in waterproof clothing and equipment for outdoor activities; and famously attractive for its price. Being derived from plastic however—and despite the currency of sportswear industry marketing sophistry such as ‘technical fibres’, ‘sweat-wicking’ and ‘breakthrough breathability’—polyester immobilises moisture. As David Coffin Page remarks in his exhaustive book on shirtmaking:

On any but the coolest days, a polyester or poly-blend shirt soon begins to feel like the plastic it is.[i]

While you’re dancing and perspiring, much of the resulting moisture will remain trapped between your skin and the polyester garment and enmeshed among the cloth’s fibres. In other words, where water sweat is concerned, polyester fabric has chemical properties comparable to French bureaucracy: impassibility and futility.

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[i] David Coffin Page, Shirtmaking, Taunton Press Inc, 1998.

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