Is it that when it comes to softness, durability and sophistication nothing can outstrip woollen fabrics? Some fine gentleman would swear an oath to wool and its infinite fineness on the name of the highest of fashion traditions.
Polyester, on the other hand, can cause the most agitated debates among men from all corners of the world. Does it look cheap? How many wears can polyester resist? Is the Man-in-a-polyester-suit doomed to the dark realms of style crimes?
We’ve decided to end this rivalry once and for all. This comprehensive matchup will leave you babbling like a sheep or ready to go all John Travolta-mode, dancing in a flashy polyester suit.
Would you keep the score for us?
The Origins of Wool Vs the Origins of Polyester
How Is Wool Made Vs How Is Polyester Made
Main Characteristics of Wool Vs Main Characteristics of Polyester and Blended Fabrics
Environmental Impact of Wool Vs Polyester
Quality of Wool Vs Quality of Polyester
Polyester, Wool and Blended Fabric Suits: Which One Is Easier to Take Care Of?
Polyester Suit Vs Wool Suit: Which One Looks Better?
Wool/Polyester Blends Vs 100% Wool or 100 % Polyester
Polyester Vs Wool: The Price Battle
And The Winner Is… Our Final Thoughts
Wool, good old wool. Already used by the primitive man who realized nothing could protect them from heat, cold, wind and rain like wild sheepskin. About twelve thousand years ago, some of the Northern European tribes had already figured out how to remove and spun the sheep’s fleece to produce clothing. As humankind evolved so did the processing of wool and systems were created in order to weave the yarn more efficiently.
The wool industry was already a staple craft in Britain’s economy by the time the Romans conquered the island on 55 BC. The new rulers encouraged and cherished the manufacturing of woollen fabrics, helping the expansion and trade of what would become, over the centuries, the most fundamental of British assets.
With its ups and downs throughout the following centuries, the woollen industry managed to stand strong. Some say that despite modern machinery, wool still showcases the traditions and character that made it the most valued fabric in the world.
The history of polyester and the history of wool couldn’t be more opposed. Polyester, a synthetic fibre derived from coal, air, water and petroleum; was created in a lab. Invented in 1941, it was officially introduced to the masses on 1951. Born to be a cheaper alternative to wool and other fabrics, the selling pitch for clothing made of polyester was that it could be worn for 68 days straight without ironing—and still looking presentable. Yeah, sure!
Even though polyester has quite a negative fame, the creation of luxury fibres is changing the game, yarn by yarn.
Wool is made from sheep fleece and it involves a lot of man-hours work. Once or twice a year, the sheep shearers remove the sheep’s fleece in one piece with electric clipping machines. Nowadays, there’s technology that allows robot-controlled arms to do the clipping.
After the clipping, the fibres are graded and sorted by quality and length. The best wool, which is used for manufacturing clothing, comes from the sheep’s shoulders and sides.
After the fleece gets washed, which can be quite a complex process; the fibres go through another quality check. Later on, these are dyed and spun, turning into yarn which is twisted and finally woven into cloth.
The weave can be plain or twill. Basically, the plain weave will result in a looser weave and a twill will become a tighter, smoother piece of fabric.
Once the weaving is done, the fabric follows additional procedures that guarantee that the fibre is perfectly interlocked and shrink-proofed.
An interesting part of this process is that the quality control is through the sight and feel of the fabric. Who wants to be a wool tester!?
When we look at the way polyester fabrics are made, it’s 100 % industrialized, but it requires fewer man-hours. Polyester is made of a chemical reaction. Alcohol, carboxyl acid among other chemicals, are mixed in a process known as polymerization to create this petroleum by-product. This results in long fibres that get stretched until they are about five times their original length. Once the polyester yarn is drawn, it is wound on large bobbins and ready to be woven into the material.
Now that you are an informed gentleman that knows the processes and history behind his suit, let’s get into the most distinctive qualities of both. But, we’ll bring another player: the Blended Fabrics.
Even though both textiles are broadly used in many different products, we’ll focus on tackling the main advantages and drawbacks of each when used for manufacturing suits.
Despite having the fame of being too hot over summer days, wool is actually a fabric that can remain classy under any type of weather. It’s actually cooler than polyester because of its breathability. At the same time, it would keep you warm over winter. Obviously, this will also depend on the specific type of fabric you wear; you wouldn’t bring a flannel coat to your French Riviera holidays, right?
On the other hand, polyester is quite a light fabric that will not keep you warm over winter but it can make you sweat over summer as its breathability is not as efficient. Blended fabrics, such as polyester and cotton, help to balance this.
Despite the evolution of polyester and blended fabrics, the natural fibre of wool, if well taken care of, will last much, much longer. So, when you are thinking of which type of suit you should get, take this into consideration.
It’s quite easy to see the signs of a worn polyester suit. You would start getting shiny spots unveiling the “plastic” nature of the textile. Anyone can note the friction mark by the elbows, bad ironing or how stains are prone to stick over time.
Admittedly, wool is likely to shrink or lose colour over time if it’s not properly cleaned. On the other hand, as we mentioned before, if well taken care of, you wouldn’t have to worry about your suit changing the size or decolouring.
Polyester is known for not needing a lot of ironing as it maintains its shape quite easily, but again, you shouldn’t overuse it as you’d end up getting those infamous shiny spots. Another thing to note is that polyester is subject to static, which can be avoided in most cases by using blended fabrics.
No other fabric compares to the warm softness and breathability of real wool and worsted. The issue is that thicker types of wool can be quite heavy, itchy or not favour the body shape. On the other hand, lighter types of wool can wrinkle way too easily.
On the contrary, polyester can be quite “wrinkle-free” but feel rigid to the touch. In some cases, the lack of air circulation can result in unpleasant odours and increased sweat.
As various industries are working towards becoming more environmentally friendly, there’s a lot to say about the impact of fashion on our planet.
If we compare wool and polyester under this light, it’s fair to say that wool is a much more environmentally sustainable product:
There’s still debate about this matter though. Wool production on sheep farms produces a high percentage of greenhouse gas emissions which have an impact on climate change.
Polyester, as a petroleum-based fibre made from a non-renewable resource—which is not biodegradable—, causes high levels of pollution. Fashion manufacturers are currently delving into the use of recycled plastic bottles to produce polyester but this still raises many questions. Is recycling bottles actually more damaging for the environment?
Hands down, the most important aspect that will determine the fineness of your garment is the fabric. It’s like the foundation in a house. You can get all the other things right but if that fails…the whole thing may fall apart.
So, what do you want in your suit? To be durable, to last more than one season, to have a good feel on your skin and to be a good fit for your body shape allowing you freedom of movement. Also, you don’t want it to either shrink, fade, stretch or wear too easily.
Further along our guide, we'll talk you through the importance of how many “twists” a woollen yarn should have to be of fine quality. We already told you that the best wool comes from the shoulders and sides of a sheep. At the end of the day though, what will matter is to stimulate your senses and feel the texture of the fabric as a whole.
Nowadays, it's also possible to find suits made of synthetics that still possess excelling quality by portraying benefits such as lightweight, great draping and softness.
It's your call if you wish to have a lower quality woollen suit or a higher polyester—or blend—garment.
The way you take care of your suit, regardless of the fabric, is one of the most important aspects of durability. Manufacturers label their garments with washing and drying instructions, so it always pays to take a closer look at those. Oftentimes you wouldn’t know by heart exactly how to take care of your suit.
By rule of thumb, wool suits shouldn’t go into the washing machine! Two great ways to ensure your suit’s longevity is to let it breathe and to always hang it correctly. It’s better to remove the creases with a steamer but if you only have an iron, make sure to be extremely gentle! Don’t use a lot of heat and be really careful. Ironing can disrupt the internal canvas of your suit, altering its shape and look.
Leave the dry cleaning for stains or emergencies. The better the quality the finer the fibre, which means these can ruin easier.
Polyester fibres are quite sensitive to heat so in every step of the washing you must take note of this. The basic guidelines are to use warm water, an efficient stain remover if you must, and avoid drying at high temperatures. In general lines, polyester can be ironed but avoid high temperatures as it will speed the appearance of shiny spots!
Take into consideration that for blends and high-quality polyester suits, you may have to do things differently. For example, some polyester fibres are not washable and require only dry cleaning. So be mindful of this!
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for debate in this matter. Unanimously, all fine gentlemen seem to agree that a wool suit can help achieve a much more polished look. The construction, shape, texture and feel of a wool suit seem to have written “quality” all over. Also, with such a wide variety of wool textiles, there’s something for every season and taste.
Polyester suits are known for looking cheap, but this is also because they are, actually, cheaper. Blended fabrics help to balance this out.
There are a number of reasons why fabrics are blended. The combination of natural and synthetic fibres improves different aspects of the textile’s performance. For some manufacturers, this is an area that requires expertise both in the realms of science and art.
In the scenario of woollen fabrics mixed with polyester—let’s say 55/45—, the synthetic yarn would minimize the itchy feeling that comes from some types of wool. It would also make it crease resistant and washable. On the other hand, the presence of wool would make the fabric breathe, improve the fit and shape and feel soft to the touch.
Of course, reducing costs is a big reason for blending fabrics by combining more expensive ones with other cheaper fibres.
There are many things that will impact the cost of your suit beyond the fabric but, it’s important to understand that oftentimes a 100 % wool suit implies an overall higher quality. Worsted, tweed and flannel are also made from wool. Essentially, what determines the price of the suit is the quality of the fibre and how many “twists” it has. A core aspect of the woollen yarn is the diameter—microns—of the fibre. The lower the better.
Furthermore, a suit with 60 or 80 twists is considered standard quality, whereas a garment with 100 and up is premium quality. These are known as Super 110s, Super 120s or Super 150s.
We know it’s important sometimes to stretch a pound! In this scenario, you’d have to deeply think what your reason for getting a suit is. Is it for getting that big job you’ve been dreaming of? Or just in case you have an event that requires certain formality? Do you prefer to have a few lower quality suits to achieve a variety of looks, or you are after that one and only garment that will turn heads? Also, how are you planning to style it? What about the shoes, shirt and accessories?
So now that we’ve presented you with a massive amount of in-depth useful information to help you choose wisely, we shall not forget this is still a matchup and a winner is required!
Have you been keeping score? Let’s see our expert's conclusions...
Being wool a staple in Great Britain’s economy and a source of craft and tradition since pretty much the beginning of times, we must say it’s a clear winner to us. Every time you wear a fine, 100 % wool suit, you are carrying the torch in the name of the fine gentleman out there.
Wool 1 – Polyester 0
Wool is a natural fibre made from sheep fleece and, in most cases, it can even be traced all the way back to the farm. On the other hand, polyester comes from factories so, to us, it lacks the grace!
Again, Wool prevails!
Wool 2 – Polyester 0
The three options we’ve presented today have its pros and cons. Wool has a soft feel, but if it’s a bit sturdier it can get itchy. Polyester can get shiny spots but it’s easy to take care of and it doesn’t shrink that much. Blends kind of combine the best of both, so…
Let’s call this one a tie, at least from an objective and practical standpoint, leaving out the aesthetic comparison.
Wool 3 – Polyester and Blends 1
Even there is some controversy around how environmentally friendly wool actually is, we won’t argue that it’s a way more sustainable material when compared to polyester textiles.
Wool 4 – Polyester 1
We acknowledge that nowadays, there are premium polyester and blended fabrics which are helping to restore polyester's fame in that matter. Still, it’s much easier to find good quality in woollen fabrics.
Wool 5 – Polyester 1
We’ll have to call it a tie here! At a first glance, it’s much easier to take care of polyester or blended fabric suit. The thing is that, even though the latter may be easy to wash, it wears quite quickly, meaning that you still need to take really good care of it.
One point to each!
Wool 6 – Polyester and blends 2
We are sorry but we need to make a statement here and give wool double score as it absolutely beats polyester!
The overall aesthetics of the most sophisticated fabric that exists doesn’t compare to any premium polyester garment.
Wool 8 – Polyester and blends 2
Wool/Polyester Blends Vs 100% Wool or 100 % Polyester ((()))
From an expert's perspective let’s say 100 % Polyester is the least recommended, followed by blends and finally, of course, 100 % Wool.
But, we’ll call it a tie as blends deserve some acknowledgement by combining most of the aesthetic qualities of pure wool and the practicality of polyester.
Wool 9 – Polyester and blends 3
After all we’ve been through, what can be said about prices? Clearly, polyester and blends usually would come at a cheaper price, but you still risk ending up with a “cheaper” look.
If you decide to invest in your wardrobe and appearance, we strongly recommend getting a pure wool suit. Even if not of the highest finesse, even if you only own one, you would be ensuring yourself a good start in style.
This said if you still need to stretch a pound, try to get a blend! If this still is not reachable to you, then, make sure to get the best price-quality for your polyester suit and ensure to combine it with the right accessories.
We’ll leave the score of this one to you!
As you can see, there’s a lot involved when it comes to deciding the fabric of your suit. Today’s winner was wool but, again, think of the polyester suit as your first stepping stone into fashion if this is what you can afford at the moment. There are always ways to find second hand or instalments if you are set on wool though.
Apply all this insight to your next purchase and join the wise and fine gentleman’s club, one suit at the time.