FIBER OPTIONS Polyester: New weave synthetic can mimic the naturals


POLYESTER. It's the fiber we all love to hate, back in the '70s.

Now, just as memories of slippery, sweaty blouses and clammy, tacky leisure suits are fading. . .

Ta-daaah! Polyester II: The Return of the Miracle Fiber.

This new, improved polyester is called microfiber. It's more expensive than the old, heavy, gummy stuff but it's also finer, softer and more luxurious. It can be made to look and feel like silk, cotton or wool. It can be blended with these natural fibers. Or it can be given the finish of suede or velvet. It's strong yet flexible. It takes color beautifully, repels stains and water, resists wrinkling. In fact, it's...


Does this mean we're going to regard it with superloathing?

Not necessarily.

The fashion industry is already in love with microfiber and is betting megabucks that consumers will love it, too.

Microfiber is starting to show up in everything from raincoats, jackets and suits, to shirts, skirts, sweaters and pants, to shoes, socks and underwear. The list of designers and manufacturers using it includes Bill Blass, Donna Karan, Norma Kamali, Nicole Miller, A LINE by Anne Klein, Liz Claiborne, Leslie Faye, Units, Levi Strauss and London Fog.

During the recent preview of men's fall fashions sponsored by the Men's Fashion Association in Rye, N.Y., an entire segment of the opening fashion show was devoted to garments containing microfiber. And representatives of companies manufacturing the yarn were available to sing its praises.

The name microfiber is short for "microdenier fibers." A denier is a measure of thinness and a microdenier is any fiber that measures 1 denier or less.

To put this in perspective: A human hair measures about 15 deniers; the yarn in sheer stockings is about 10 deniers. Microfiber is four times thinner than wool, three times thinner than cotton, about half the thickness of silk.

Only man-made fibers such as polyester, nylon and rayon can be manipulated to this degree of thinness.

This superfine quality is microfiber's big selling point and the reason the fashion world is hailing it as the fiber of the future.

"It's the biggest thing that's happened in fashion in decades," said David Wolfe, a fashion-trend forecaster in New Preston, Conn.

"All this talk about plaids being new, or knits being new, doesn't really mean a thing. We've seen plaids before. We've seen knits before. But microfibers we've never seen them before. They're going to make a difference where it matters in comfort, in durability."

Lycra, the stretchy, man-made fiber that was introduced in the '80s, "was the first step toward the 21st century," Wolfe said. "Microfibers are the quantum leap."

Sounds impressive. But do they make you sweat?

No, said Wendi Winters, a spokeswoman for The Polyester Council of America. "The fibers can be engineered and the fabrics constructed to allow air and moisture to pass through."

You may not see the term "microfiber" on the labels when you go shopping for a new suit, however. Under Federal Trade Commission regulations, manufacturers must use the term polyester (or nylon, or rayon).

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