What is a Polyester Suit?

Douglas Bonderud

A polyester suit is a man's garment made from either pure polyester or it blended with another fabric, often wool. This suit typically involves two pieces, a pair of pants and a jacket. These were extremely popular in the 1970s as they are easy to care for and cheaper than traditional suits.

Polyester fabric.
Polyester fabric.

Polyester itself is a synthetic product created when dibasic acids react with dihydric alcohols. The original scientific work done on this substance was accomplished in 1941 by two English chemists, John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson. Building on earlier work by Wallace Carothers, the two scientists created and patented polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which became the basis for polyester. The fabric in a polyester suit is created out of a resin which is made up of PETs. PET resins are also used to make water bottles, as well as water-resistant materials like adhesives.

Polyester was commonly used to make suits for men in the 1970s.
Polyester was commonly used to make suits for men in the 1970s.

Advantages of polyester fabric are that it is strong, resistant to wrinkles, and holds its shape well. Polyester is hydrophobic which means that it repels water. A polyester suit can be hand-washed or dry-cleaned, making it easier to launder than a traditional wool suit. In addition, it is not harmed by most chemical solvents and does not mildew easily. This makes a polyester suit extremely durable and long-lasting.

Polyester should be hand washed.
Polyester should be hand washed.

There are some disadvantages to the material, however. Because it is created from polymers, the fabric of a polyester suit is extremely flammable, even when combined with wool or other fabrics, so open flames should be avoided. Also, a wool-polyester hybrid suit shows wear and tear on its polyester parts sooner than on the wool portions, which can appear as smooth patches and shiny spots on the fabric.

Since it is a synthetic fiber, polyester is less breathable than natural fabric, which means that there is less airflow through the fabric. This makes a polyester suit far warmer to wear than an all-wool suit. They also hold odors and are more rigid and less comfortable than their natural fiber counterparts.

All polyester clothing is easy to care for and far cheaper to manufacture than cotton or wool garments, and so enjoyed a great deal of popularity in the 1970s, when the fabric was first mass-produced. As the disadvantages of the material became clear, however — including the cheaper look of clothing made of it — its popularity waned. It is now rare to find a pure polyester suit, and while polyester-wool hybrids still exist, they are the exception rather than the norm. Polyester suits are now generally regarded as vintage clothing.

PET resins may be used to make water bottles.
PET resins may be used to make water bottles.

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Discussion Comments


@kylee07drg – Polyester swim suits also hold onto their color a long time. I used to buy suits with stretchy fabric, but the chlorine in my pool would do a number on them, and I had to buy another one every year. They had stretched out of shape, but they also had faded a great deal.

Polyester resists chlorine as well as water. The chlorine will not break down its components, and it won't bleach it out, either.

I think that everyone who does most of their swimming in a chlorinated pool should have a polyester swim suit. They aren't as stretchy, so you may have to buy a bigger size than you normally would, but they are so worth the money.


Did you know that you can buy polyester swim suits? I was looking at all the different suits for women in a swim catalog last month, and I was surprised to find that they offered several made of 100% polyester.

I'm sure if you are in the pool, it doesn't matter that the material is flammable. However, if you are going to be grilling or smoking, you shouldn't do it while in the suit.

I ordered one, and it felt unlike any swimsuit I had ever tried on. It felt more like regular clothes, which was a little strange, but since the material repels water, it acted like a swimsuit.

The catalog claims that the polyester will not wear out. I will see if it stands the test of time, and if it does, that will be awesome. I'm tired of having to get a new swimsuit every two years.


@LisaLou – Polyester is infamous for snagging. I've had several garments with this problem, and I always just trimmed off the pulled fibers with scissors. At least that made the area flush with the rest, so the snag didn't stand out as much.

I always washed my polyester rayon suit on the gentle cycle. I would dry it on the delicate setting, too, and I made sure never to put it in either machine with heavy garments like jeans that might rough it up.

Also, it helps to avoid washing polyester suits with other garments that have zippers. You don't want any sharp metal pieces bouncing around in there with your delicate material.


@sunshined – The only time I have ever actually seen polyester suits was at a Halloween party. You're right about the bright colors. It seems that every time a person wore one as a costume, the suit was something crazy like orange silk or yellow and red plaid!

We make fun of the fashion trend now, but at the time, it was the thing to wear. I think it's wrong to poke fun at any trend, because we should consider that the styles we are wearing right now will one day be ridiculed.

I think it would have been fun to have owned a polyester suit like this decades ago. I could have worn it out in public, and no one would have said anything mean. In fact, I may have even gotten compliments.


Once for my birthday I received a polyester track suit. This was shortly after I was on a running kick, and I thought this suit would look great as I was outside running.

It wasn't too bad if there was a slight mist, but on other days this suit was much too hot. I don't know why I thought a jacket and pants would be suitable for running in.

I haven't run for quite awhile now, but if I were to go out today, I would just wear a t-shirt and pair of shorts. It seems like that slick polyester material was good for some situations, but I don't think they made very good track suits.


Polyester suits are not just for the men. Years ago I remember owning several polyester pants suits. I wore these to work almost every day.

This was about the time when women began wearing pants more often than dresses. The polyester suits were very easy to take care of, and I could just throw them in the washer and dryer and they would look great. I didn't even have to worry about ironing them.

One thing I didn't like about them was that they would snag easily. If they were worn a lot, the material would get little snags all over it and there was nothing you could do about it. At least the cost of polyester was cheaper than wool and it didn't cost a lot to buy a new one.


I am pretty sure my dad has a few polyester suits hanging at the back of his closet. He hardly ever wears a suit, so doesn't want to spend the money on a new suit when he has a perfectly good one already in his closet.

The next time he has to wear a suit to an event, I have a feeling my mom will just go out and buy him a new suit. I don't think she really wants him wearing his old polyester suits. They would probably be a little bit snug on him anyway, and he is long overdue for a new suit.

I can understand why these were popular when they first came out. The material is easy to take care of without spending a lot of extra money to get it cleaned.


About the only place I see something like a polyester leisure suit anymore is at a second hand clothing store. I have seen racks of these suits at places like this, and some of them look like they have been worn quite a bit.

From what I know about polyester suits, they are used for costume parties and for fun. I am sure there are men who still have polyester suits hanging in their closet, but if they wore them they would probably look a little bit out of place.

I remember some of the polyester suits in loud, bright colors that really stood out in a crowd. Some of them were also in a plaid pattern and worn with big ties.

It is interesting to see how styles and types of material change through the years. I know my husband got rid of his polyester suits a long time ago.

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