Is Polyester Stretchy? Here’s What You Need To Know.

If you’ve been asking yourself about how polyester fits or whether or not it’s stretchy, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll discuss what polyester is, whether or not some polyesters are stretchy, and generally speaking, how polyester clothes fit.

What is Polyester?

Polyester is a relatively new fabric and was created in 1941. You’ll probably be reminded of the 70s leisure suit! The polyester of today, however, is quite different. It is a completely man-made fabric, it’s stretchy and, contrary to most people’s beliefs, soft. 

Its scientific name is Polyethylene Terephthalate (Wikipedia) and it is produced from a chemical reaction between coal, petroleum, air, and water. 

polyester thread spools
Polyester thread spools

Polyester is a versatile material and it is used in more than just items of clothing. You’ll find it in a blend for sheets and bedding because it is wrinkle resistant. Its also used in carpeting and upholstery.

Additionally, it is often blended with other fibers to create stretchy, fast-drying clothing.

Benefits of Polyester

Polyester is hydrophobic, meaning water-repelling, so it is less likely to absorb stains than other fabrics. 

Polyester dries quickly, unlike other types of fabric.

It is also super stretchy and very strong. Polyester clothes tend to hold up to everyday wear and tear much better than cotton ones.

Additionally, since it is such a flexible fiber, it doesn’t wrinkle as easily either. It bounces back to its original shape instead of getting creased. This makes it the perfect fabric for undershirts that need to fit smoothly against your skin under other shirts. 

The best part of polyester is that it blends easily with other fabrics. So, while a typical shirt made of 100% polyester will be stretchy and warm, a shirt made with a 50-50 blend of polyester and cotton will retain the good qualities of polyester along with all the good qualities of cotton. 

Negatives of Polyester

Polyester, generally speaking, is not a breathable fabric. When you wear a shirt or outfit made from 100% polyester, there is a possibility that you’ll be sweating and uncomfortable by the end of the day.

There are some exceptions of course, so if you’re planning to buy something that is 100% polyester, do a breathability test first if possible.

stretchy clothing with 100 percent polyester tag

It is argued that polyester is not environmentally friendly. There is some truth to this because polyester will never disintegrate within a landfill. On the other hand, this means that polyester clothing can be donated, re-sold or re-cycled, so it is “green” in that sense.  

Polyester is a flammable material, but the fabric is usually treated with fireproofing additives to help counteract this.

Polyester can be more expensive than natural fabrics because of its expensive production process – and it is tied to the price of crude oil. 

Is Polyester Stretchy?

If you’ve asked the question “does polyester stretch”, you’ve come to the right place!

Some polyester fabrics are stretchy, some are not. The amount of stretch depends on many things, so let’s discuss them.

First, there are many different types of polyesters, each having its own unique characteristics. Polyester filaments can of different shapes, and those filaments can be spun into yarns in different ways. Each of those factors can determent how stretchy the polyester will be.

In addition, when polyester yarn is knitted (or woven) into fabric, it will result in polyester fabrics with different amounts of stretch.

Lastly, if polyester is blended with stretch fibers such as spandex (Lycra, elastane, etc.), or something like rayon, it will also affect how stretchy the polyester will be.

Generally speaking, use these guidelines to determine how stretchy polyester will be:

  • Woven polyester: Not very stretchy
  • Woven polyester blended with spandex or rayon will be stretchy
  • Knitted polyester: Somewhat stretchy
  • Knitted polyester blended with spandex or rayon will be very stretchy, most of the time

How Does Polyester Feel?

The feel of polyester depends on which fabrics it is blended with. Generally speaking, it is a somewhat silky, stretchy fabric.

Clothes made with polyester don’t absorb sweat, but they do a fantastic job of wicking sweat away. If you’d like to learn more about what moisture wicking is, please check out my article on moisture wicking undershirts. It provides a great deal of information about what moisture wicking means, and when it might make sense to wear or not wear a moisture wicking undershirt.

Cotton, on the other hand, will absorb sweat and moisture which is then retained in the garment, and will take longer to dry. So, when you are wearing polyester-blended workout clothes, you’re likely to feel dry and comfortable.

Nearly every waterproofed item and sports item contains a blend of polyester, including raincoats, hiking clothes, jerseys, and exercise wear.

Polyester is a slightly rougher fabric than cotton, so if you have sensitive skin you may feel some irritation from its fibers. Choosing a polyester blend, such as polyester and cotton, for your underwear will be far less likely to cause a reaction.

How Does Polyester Fit?

Does polyester run small? Does it fit tight or is it true to size? Do you need to buy a size up or down?

Polyester runs true to size as it doesn’t naturally shrink. You can use a brand’s sizing guide to find the perfect fit.

It is always recommended to buy items such as undershirts true to size, not loose, since these are going to be worn underneath shirts and you want them to fit close to your body without any wrinkles. 

Will Polyester Shrink?

On its own, polyester will not shrink. However, when brought into contact with heat such as hot water or a dryer, some polyesters will shrink.

This is why it is essential to pay attention to clothing tags and know what each fabric is made from.

Clothes Made from Polyester

If you look at the tags on most clothes, you’ll notice that many of them contain some type of polyester blend, giving you the stretch and silkiness of polyester with the benefits of the other fabrics, such as the moisture absorption of cotton.

Most activewear and performance wear contains polyester. Items made of jersey such as tee shirt material will be a blend of polyester and cotton, and anything weatherproof, such as raincoats, winter coasts and hiking pants will be made of polyester. 

A polyester blend is a great choice for all kinds of underwear, but also for many types of shirts. 

Undershirts

Choose a polyester blend undershirt for its stretchiness and comfort, coupled with the moisture-wicking properties it holds. Add to this sweat absorption of cotton and you’ll stay cool and dry.

Shorts and Athleisure Wear

For general or athleisure wear, it’s usually better to avoid 100% polyester since polyester repels water and can sometimes leave you feeling clammy. 

Again, pick something with a polyester and cotton blend or polyester an other blends for your casual or athleisure wear clothes.

For sports, or workout gear, 100% polyester can be a good choice because it dries so quickly.

Dress Shirts

Since polyester doesn’t shrink, and dries fast, it can be a smart choice for performance dress shirts, or even polos.

Additionally, when blended with Lycra (spandex / elastane), it can add a great deal of stretch, making your performance dress shirt or polo fit and feel better than one made from 100% polyester.

man wearing polyester dress shirt

Fabrics That are Similar to Polyester

Polyester isn’t the only synthetic fiber used in clothing brands. 

Other man-made fabrics include:

  • Rayon – Developed as a cheap alternative to silk, this is made from naturally occurring cellulose
  • Nylon – Made from strands of plastic yarn. It dries very quickly, so you don’t even need to use the dryer
  • Acrylic – This is a synthetic fiber that was created as a replacement for expensive wool and is found in acrylic socks and blankets
  • Acetate – Acetate is made by mixing a wood pulp with other materials such as silk, cotton, or wool. This makes it a very strong and silky fabric
  • Lycra/Spandex – This goes by two different names, but it’s the same thing. It’s a super-flexible fiber that’s blended with other fibers to provide stretch in the finished fabric

How to Care for Polyester Fabrics

As polyester is quite resilient, it can withstand day-to-day wear quite well.

However, most items will need to be washed after each wear, and it is important to do so to extend the life of the fabric properly.

Polyester can shrink when it comes in contact with heat, including the hot water cycle in the washing machine, ironing, and in some dryer cycles. Review the tag on the clothing for specific care instructions. 

Here is a good general guide when washing your polyester-based clothing:

  • Set your washing machine to a permanent press setting with cool water, as hot water will shrink it
  • Use an all-purpose detergent and fabric softener, if necessary, to reduce static cling
  • Tumble dry at low-temperature setting. You can also use the permanent press setting on your dryer or hang dry
  • Press polyester fabrics at a moderate temperature or use steam 

Is Polyester a Good Choice for Underwear or Undershirts?

Polyester fabrics are durable, and they are resistant to most chemicals and to shrinking. Polyester is also wrinkle, mildew and abrasion resistant. 

When blended with other fibers it produces soft, stretchy, moisture-wicking material that keeps you dry and comfortable. As such it can be an excellent choice for those looking for fast-drying underwear or undershirts.

Polyester blended fabrics allow you to move freely – and the right blend will feel fabulous against your skin. Always consult reviews and the sizing guide if you are shopping online for an item that contains polyester, but in general, polyester runs true to size. 

Questions About Polyester?

If you have any other questions about polyester, or anything related, post your question in the comments section below.

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