Is Polyester Stretchy? Your Polyester Clothing Questions Answered

To wear or not to wear polyester? With the wide variety of fabrics available today, you may be confused about which materials help you get the most out of your wardrobe. So today, I’ll answer all your burning questions about polyester so you can take the guesswork out of those confusing labels.

What is Polyester?

Polyester is a relatively new fabric created in 1941, but today’s polyester has come a long way since then. It is an entirely man-made fabric and, contrary to popular belief, can be soft and stretchy.

John Travolta wearing a white polyester suit in the 70s
John Travolta’s white polyester suit ruled in 1978. (Source)

Polyester’s scientific name is polyethylene terephthalate or PET. Polyester fibers are made by melting and extruding plastic PET pellets through tiny holes called spinnerets, forming long threads which cool and harden into fibers. The shape and quality of the spinneret holes can be altered, creating various types of fibers.

polyester thread spools
Polyester thread spools

Polyester is a versatile material used for more than just clothing. You’ll find it in blends for everything from sheets and bedding to carpeting and upholstery. In addition, it is often blended with other fibers to create stretchy, fast-drying clothing.

What Does Polyester Feel Like?

Is polyester soft or scratchy? Polyester’s feel depends on the fabrics it’s blended with. For example, 100% polyester is a silky, stretchy fabric (sometimes called “decorative silk”).

Polyester blended fabrics allow you to move freely – and the right blend will feel fabulous against your skin. However, polyester is slightly rougher than cotton, so if you have sensitive skin, you may feel some irritation from its fibers.

Does Polyester Stretch?

There are many types of polyesters, each having unique characteristics. Polyester filaments vary in shape, and those filaments can be spun into yarns in different ways. Each of these factors can determine how stretchy the polyester will be.

When polyester yarn is knitted (or woven) into the fabric, it results in materials with different amounts of stretch. Therefore, if polyester is blended with stretchy fibers such as spandex or rayon, it will also affect how stretchy the polyester will be.

Polyester Stretch Levels

Low StretchMedium StretchHigh Stretch
100% PolyesterX
Cotton-Poly BlendsX
Polyester MicrofiberX
Woven PolyesterX
Knitted PolyesterX
Polyester/Rayon/Spandex BlendsX
Waterproof PolyesterX

How Does Polyester Fit?

Does polyester fit loose, tight or is it true to size? Do you need to buy a size up or down? Polyester doesn’t naturally shrink, so it generally runs true to size. Always consult reviews and sizing guides if you are shopping online for an item that contains polyester.

Will Polyester Shrink?

On its own, polyester does not shrink. However, some polyesters do when brought into contact with heat (such as hot water or a clothes dryer). Therefore, it’s essential to pay attention to clothing tags and understand each garment’s care instructions to avoid damage.

Clothes Made from Polyester

Clothes made with polyester don’t absorb sweat, but they do a fantastic job of wicking sweat away. Most activewear, performance wear and anything waterproof (like raincoats, winter coats and hiking pants) contain polyester. Jersey knit items (like tee shirt material) often blend polyester and cotton. Polyester blends are an excellent choice for underwear and many types of shirts.

Undershirts

Choose a poly-cotton blend undershirt for its stretchiness and comfort, coupled with cotton’s moisture-wicking properties to stay cool and dry under your clothes.

When blended with other fibers, polyester 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.

Buy items like undershirts true to size, not loose, since you want them to fit close to your body without any wrinkles.

Read: Moisture-Wicking Undershirts: How to Choose Them

Underwear

Looking for underwear that fits like a dream while keeping the boys in check? Choosing underwear in a poly-spandex blend helps prevent riding up and wedgies, along with providing extra breathability and comfort.

Read: Boxers vs. Briefs vs. Boxer Briefs: Which is Best?

Dress Shirts

Since polyester doesn’t shrink and dries fast, it can be a smart choice for performance dress shirts or polos. In addition, when blended with spandex/Lycra it can add a great deal of stretch, making your performance dress shirt or polo fit and feel great.

Athleisure Wear

For athleisure wear, it’s usually better to avoid 100% polyester since polyester repels water and can sometimes leave you feeling clammy. Poly-cotton blends are best for casual or athleisure wear. Cotton absorbs sweat and moisture and retains it in the garment, taking longer to dry. So if you’re wearing polyester-blended workout clothes, you’re likely to feel dry and comfortable.

Outerwear

Outerwear is where 100% polyester shines. Pure polyester is water-repellent, windproof and lightweight, perfect for jackets you can stash in a backpack for easy carrying.

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

Pros of Wearing Polyester

  • Polyester is hydrophobic, meaning water-repelling, making it less likely to absorb stains than other fabrics. 
  • Polyester dries quickly.
  • Polyester is super stretchy and very strong. Polyester clothes tend to hold up to everyday wear and tear much better than cotton garments.
  • Polyester is wrinkle-resistant. Polyester bounces back to its original shape instead of creasing. This makes it the perfect fabric for undershirts that need to fit smoothly against your skin under other shirts. 
  • Polyester 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 both fabrics.
  • Polyester fabrics are durable and resistant to most chemicals and shrinking. Polyester is also mildew and abrasion-resistant.

Cons of Wearing Polyester

  • Polyester is generally not a breathable fabric. When you wear a shirt or outfit made from 100% polyester, there is a possibility that you’ll be sweating uncomfortably the end of the day. There are some exceptions, of course. If you’re planning to buy something that is 100% polyester, do a breathability test first if possible.
  • Many believe that polyester is not environmentally friendly. There is some truth to this because polyester will never disintegrate within a landfill. However, polyester clothing can be donated, re-sold or upcycled, 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 costly production process.
stretchy clothing with 100 percent polyester tag

How to Care for Polyester Fabrics

As polyester is quite resilient, it can withstand day-to-day wear exceptionally well. However, most items will need to be washed after each wear 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 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 polyester garments.
  • Use an all-purpose detergent and fabric softener, if necessary, to reduce static cling.
  • Tumble dry at a low-temperature setting. You can also use the permanent press setting on your dryer or air dry.
  • Press polyester fabrics at a moderate temperature or use steam.

Questions About Polyester?

If you have any other questions about polyester undershirts, underwear or clothing, leave your questions in the comments section below!

10 thoughts on “Is Polyester Stretchy? Your Polyester Clothing Questions Answered”

  1. I’m looking for a pair of exercise pants with a good blend of polyester and spandex. Some are too thin with little to no body and some are to stiff and uncomfortable to ware. What do you recommend?

    Hope I haven’t posted duplicate comments as you suggest I have!

    Reply
    • heya janis — i don’t want to make any assumptions as to whether or not you’re looking for male or female exercise pants, but i’d recommend searching for “leggings” and not exercise pants.

      you can find a massive selection of athletic leggings on amazon, and the reviews should guide you to ones that are low-risk to try.

      just search for:
      womens leggings polyester
      or
      mens leggings polyester

      then sort by highest rated.

      another trick i do, is go on google image search and do the same thing. that way my search results aren’t limited to only stuff i can buy on amazon.

      good luck!

      Reply
  2. I have a problem with fabrics (namely cotton) wearing down and disintegrating, as my thighs are thicker and rub together a lot. Do you think a polyester pants would hold on for a while, specifically a 92% polyester and 8% spandex pant?

    Reply
    • heya paula — the only way i’ve successfully stretched clothing is to stretch them when they’re wet and let them air dry.

      i’d recommend washing your stretch pants in cold water, try to stretch them out by hand, and let them air dry. if they are tight in the waist, you may need to try using a waist stretcher along with a cold wash and air drying.

      you can find various wasitband stretchers on amazon i believe. good luck, and let me know how it works out for you!

      Reply

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