Is polyester fabric sweaty?

I get asked this question all the time: Is polyester sweaty to wear? 

The short answer is: YES.

The long answer is SOMETIMES. It depends on the fabric, style, season, preferences and what your alternatives are! I wrote a whole post called “In Praise of Polyester” last year, in which I describe some of my most and least favourite types of poly knits. (I’ll be honest, I don’t know a thing about polyester wovens.)

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Basically, the thicker your fabric and the tighter it is to your body, the more likely you’ll find it uncomfortable or smelly by the end of the day! Here are some combinations that I find work well/poorly:

  • ITY knit makes for fantastic dresses all year round. In summer, I sew sleeveless styles for some extra ventilation, and find it very comfortable even in a maxi. I winter, sleeves are not a problem. I wear ITY bike shorts under every dress, and I find it a bit sweaty but not more than rayon or cotton.
  • Jacquard knit or quilted knit makes for great outer layers like coatigans or kimono jackets, where it isn’t too close to your skin. I haven’t had good luck using these thick fabrics for tops or snug dresses!
  • Liverpool knit (a textured crepe double knit) is awesome for spring, fall and winter dresses. It’s going to be way too sweaty and thick in summer.
  • Double Brushed Poly: good for cool-weather tees, dresses, leggings etc, but because it has a brushed texture I find it uncomfortably cosy for summer. It’s basically the same as ITY, but brushed on both sides! I don’t find it sweaty in cool weather.
  • Scuba is a really thick poly knit, so I think you have to be careful. Sleeveless dresses paired with a cardigan in cold weather would be best, I think. I tried making leggings from scuba and they were sweaty and made me cold, which was a terrible combo!

scrapbusting

Basically, polyester is more sweaty than a loose garment in rayon challis or linen… but not more sweaty than skinny jeans or any really fitted top! I personally like that poly dries quickly, whereas I feel like cotton lycra or rayon can stay uncomfortably damp for a while. (TMI? Maybe.) Our summer is about 30c most of the time, and I’m wearing a loose poly jumpsuit right now and loving life.

skirt Collage

Now, when is polyester not for you?

  • if you live somewhere really hot
  • if you are having hot flashes often
  • if you love wearing natural fibres
  • if you prefer a gentle deodorant that doesn’t do much to control odour
  • or if you don’t like the idea of microfibre pollution in the wash! (For me, no one type of fabric is environmentally ideal, so wear what I want and try to reduce waste in other ways!)

I’d love to know your thoughts! I wear poly all year round, and even as a fairly sweaty person, I don’t consider it to be an issue. Everyone is different though, so please do share your experiences!


22 thoughts on “Is polyester fabric sweaty?

  1. Interesting observations, Gillian! As a woman in her 60’s I get really REALLY hot sometimes. 😦 Just my torso though, but then that perspiration dries and I freeze. My experience has been about the same as your’s, with the addition of the fact that I’ve made a pair of loose wide pants and flowing top in a thin, textured woven poly this summer and it’s great. (from my stash) My late mom hated synthetics (but they were pretty awful back then, think crimpoline) She would test a fabric by breathing thorough it. The more breathable ones were the most comfortable.

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  2. I live in Florida (hot and humid!) and I wear poly knits as much as, if not more, than you. There are some poly knits sold as ITY that are very comfortable even on our most humid days. They do breathe/wick. They are not my mother’s 1970s polyester. Then there are others that feel cheap and thin and static-y… like the fabric that’s on Zillie (my dressform) in my current IG pic and which I’m about to pitch because I know better. I wish there was a way for online fabric stores to better differentiate between the different ITYs, although I suspect some ITYs sold as ITY aren’t actually ITY. (How many times can I type ITY in one sentence? hah)

    I love prints, like you, and polys are the way to get them. I do also love good quality rayon/lycra knits, but those are (1) hard to judge online and (2) pricey when you find them. The thin rayon knits I don’t love as much. They are comfortable to wear but usually too thin for my lumps and bumps.

    One of the best things about polys knits for me, besides the print awesomeness, is that they wash and wear like iron. I have tops from years ago at this point that still look almost new. Poly knits do sometimes hold odor but I’m not very stinky when I sweat, or at last I don’t think so (haha), so that isn’t a huge concern to me. I use a “fresh” scented fabric softener in the laundry and that seems to take care of any residual odors. I also tend to only wear my poly knit tops once before washing, if it’s a “thorough wear” … like going out of the house and running errands, etc. I’ll go for 2 days if I’m just lounging or have only worn it a half day. I also hang most/all of my poly knit clothing instead of smothering it in drawers so that probably helps too.

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  3. Thank you for all this helpful info Gillian! I’m in my ’60’s like yvettechilcott 🙂 and grew up in a time when first hit the market. Poly was touted by marketers as the new “wonder” fabric – never needing an iron (in fact it doesn’t LIKE an iron!), easy wash and dry without shrinkage. Looking the same for years without fading and inexpensive etc. Everyone rushed for it UNTIL they removed that garment at the end of the day and couldn’t believe the odour wafting off their body and garment which could be extremely embarrassing if you weren’t alone and out to impress 🙂

    Women started shying away from it (and heaven only knows how much of those first few runs at it cost the environment in waste!) With each new generation the industry takes yet another run at poly. The latest technology of course is the “wick away” ath-liesure wear. I remain skeptical of its virtues however, I’ve been around for all it’s incarnations and perhaps you’re right, there are polys out there that would impress me if I would give them the chance but I remain Skeptical Sally 🙂

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  4. I live in the USA Southeast so most polys are too hot, although I do wear ITY dresses often. My biggest complaint in the winter is the static! I seem to experience more static shock than most people (or maybe it just bothers me more) and wearing natural fibers cuts down on that.

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  5. I used to snatch up vintage-looking knits from rummage sales and thrift stores just for the retro look. But I quickly learned that knits from years back are AWFUL. Not only sweat-producing, but a lot of times itchy. I love your bulleted list here. I see a lot of pretty knits in online shops but live in the midwest where we have four seasons and I’m never sure which knit would be best for a given season.

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  6. 1) where did you get the fabric for that last dress!??!
    2) Yes. Sometimes is the answer. Lots of people summarily dismiss polyester containing fabrics and I really do think many are missing out!

    I work in a corporate environment and dress business casual to business professional. I will buy 100% wool for skirts but not pants – a wool/poly blend works so well. Wrinkle free and complete washable (and dryable! LOL! I put nearly everything in the dryer).

    ITY that is a decent weight is fantastic.
    For many applications I prefer a rayon/poly blend jersey to straight rayon – easier to handle during sewing and also easier care in the laundry.

    I do not do scuba. Bleh. I will likely not buy double brushed poly again unless the print grabs me like the last (first one ever) did.

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  7. I was about to say I prefer natural fabrics for summer wear, but reading the comments someone mentioned athletic fabrics that wick away moisture, and then the penny dropped – I wear man made fabrics all the time when playing golf (duh!). Although I rarely make my own golf gear (useable patterns are a bit thin on the ground and ordering suitable fabrics online would be a minefield), I only buy clothes that are man made, wicking, and generally wonderful for ladies that glow on the course! Cool laundering after every wear, no matter how short, means no problems with odour.
    Maybe I ought to think about using more polys when I sew … hmmmm!

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  8. Oooh, interesting q. I don’t wear much poly because I really hate the hand. Mind you, if a poly turns up and I don’t realize it cuz the hand is so breathe-y and natural seeming, then I have no issue. I just never seem to find them. Having said this, I appear to be having hot flashes all the time and I want to rip off all of my clothes. I think poly is a deal-breaker in this life stage 🙂

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  9. I’ve always been a sweater, and I just can’t with poly. Even in the winter (and while we aren’t in Canada, our winters are pretty brutal!) it just makes me sweaty and cold like your leggings experience. There are *some* poly athletic wear fabrics that aren’t too bad, but I can’t find them outside of RTW.

    I am completely jealous of your ability to comfortably wear poly though, because it’s cheap, ubiquitous, and lasts FOREVER. Whereas my beloved rayon is notorious for wearing out quickly, and cotton knits are every bit as icky to me as poly knits. I kind of want to see if bamboo (or hemp) is as nice as everyone says and lasts longer, but I haven’t seen any locally, and I’m hesitant to buy a completely new to me fabric without touching it first.

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    1. I have made quite a few things in bamboo stretch knits and don’t get too hot in them. I’ve even made a lot of underwear in them and they are so comfortable to wear. The only thing about them is they seem to take forever to dry on the clothes line. Bamboo seems to hold a lot more water than cotton so maybe that is one of the reasons it is cooler to wear but also longer to dry?

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  10. I haven’t used poly much because I don’t dare buy it over the internet. I need to “feel” it before I buy! :o) In the 80s our Preachers wife who sewed for a living, made her draperies out of polyester because well, it drapes beautifully and needed no lining! It also was cheap then!
    I really need to look into places that sell good poly. I know for little boys clothes its almost non destructive.
    Where do you buy if you buy online?
    p.s. nothing is too TMI for sewcialists- its how we help each other! ;o)

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  11. On the one hand I have similar unpleasant memories of poly, and I still find it unpleasant, uncomfortable, sweaty, and… not fresh… next to the skin, On the other hand Uniqlo’s thermals are synthetics and have none of those problems. Marks and Spencer do wonderful, washable, wool/viscose/poly mix trousers. Difficult to pin the wearability down when buying fabric though.

    You’re lucky Gillian, that the colours, sharp designs, and interesting textures, are all open to you.

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  12. I once made scuba leggings and sweat was so real! As a sweaty person I am too scared to try a scuba dress. However, similar to you I enjoy wearing other garments made from polyester.

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  13. I like poly knit tops in the fall/winter. I live in a part of Canada that rarely gets extremely cold or snows in fall/wintef, but there is always a damp chill outside and nside buildings it is often cold due to energy conservation. My poly knit long sleeve tops are perfect. Never in summer and never in bed due to nasty night sweats.

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  14. I’ll be 65 in October and don’t have too bad a time with hot flashes but I don’t seem to be able to wear poly on the top half of my body anymore without sweating. I lived in poly when I was a teen and young working woman and it was the old time poly but it never bothered me. This summer I made a Kalle tunic top in a plaid shirting that has some poly in it. I think it is 65% cotton/35% poly. I’m wearing it this morning at the lake and it’s 28c here. I’m hot in it but I am also wearing a cut off pair of yoga pants in 100% poly and am fine on the bottom. I keep seeing these beautiful scuba prints and all the wondering stretchy poly’s that so many of you make and love them but I am thinking I need to stay away from them in dresses and tops. It’s a shame but then I’m a long time lover of linen so I’m not too hard done by. :0)

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  15. I don’t think polyester is going to go away anytime soon. Cheap poly feels cheap and it puts me off, but there are premium polyesters that are more expensive than silk and if you look at some luxury fashion it can be surprising to find out when something is polyester. Despite being into sustainability and all that I’m not a natural fibre snob – too much of a pragmatist – and polyester is super useful for many things. I mean, can you imagine going hiking in layers of cotton like the bad old days?! Yikes. Guess its usefulness to you depends on your circumstances. Worth noting that if you have a looser weave on a sheerish fabric then you will get some form of “mechanical” breathability.

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  16. I grew up on some nasty polyester wovens, given that my only local fabric shopping option is a big chain store. But I’ve had some good experiences with them too– some of my favorite projects in the past have been made from faux suedes and “peachskin” (it has kind of that brushed quality to it”. But the newer poly jerseys are amazing! I was shocked, the first time I bought an ITY, at how comfortable the resulting dress was in our ridiculous summer humidity. I actually still have that dress, approaching a decade later, and the fabric has held up so well. The only thing that’s getting off about it is the rolled hem I did on my serger has come undone in a few places. And the last maxidress that I made was also ITY, and it’s super comfortable. I actually really love polyester a lot for the winter, since I’m hyper sensitive to wool. The fabrics I’ve been able to source for winter coats always seem to be a poly or acrylic type, and they hold up for years of winters. And since that’s essentially my only option for sweater knits (unless I want to take years to knit my own, like the cardigan I’ve literally been knitting for over 2 years now), I’ve learned to roll with it. I’ve actually been plotting how I can try to make poly fleece look a little classier, because I have this one Big 4 top pattern I picked up earlier this year that looks like a super cozy winter option, but the only recommended fabrics that I can wear are either ponte or fleece. (New Look 6417, if you’re curious.)

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  17. I wear a lot of poly. I do like the cozy feeling of double brushed, even in summer. Hate the feel of scuba. It reminds me too much of the old poly, heavy and slimey. Hot and sweaty? It’s hard not to be hot or sweaty at 117F. The first 100F day in Phoenix AZ was April 10. Even rayon or cotton doesn’t prevent being hot or sweaty. It is 10:35 am right now, and the temp is 98F (feels like 105). (Whatever that means, its’ on the TV’s website.) Agree with most of the above, the QUALITY of the fabrics means everything. You spend the same amount of time sewing a good garment that will look great, as you do on sewing cheap fabric for a garment that looks cheap. Your choice!

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  18. I just cannot with poly. Generally, I don’t even like to touch it in fabric stores. I just hate the way it feels. I know that’s painting a lot of fabrics with a really broad brush, but it is what it is. The only time I buy poly is if I need it for a certain performance (ie, swimwear). Or if I absolutely fall head over heels for a fabric & the poly in it is minimal.

    Before I learned how to sew, I wore plenty of poly, because obviously it is prevalent in affordable RTW (like H&M, the Gap, etc). I’d never had enough money or knowledge to be picky about the textiles I wore until I’d been sewing for a while. Now I’d rather spend a little extra to invest in a nice natural fiber than go cheap & easy with poly. & really, a lot of times, solid-colored natural fibers aren’t really all that expensive. Cotton/spandex knits in exciting prints are definitely a lot pricier than their ITY cousins, but I hate poly knits with a fiery passion, so…the extra cost is 100% worth it for me, personally.

    I don’t know if this is TMI, but…I’ve never worn deodorant once in my entire life. The only feedback I have ever gotten about my smell is that it is great. I don’t know if I’m just lucky or if people just politely don’t say anything when I’m smelling like a pile of garbage & dead rats, haha.

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