16 December 2015

Cotton is the new Silk. Poly-blend is the new Cotton

First things first: cheap, petroleum-based yarns are probably bad for your skin (not breathable and have contributed to rash and reactions in a few extremely sensitive people—my sister included). They are bad for the environment. Many are made by converting crude oil to plastic then spinning the plastic down to ultra thin threads, then weaving this into that wicking fabric that sports retailers love, or descriptively titled things like liquid fiber. These things will never biodegrade like cotton will.


Land's End Blog " Only 3% of all garments sold in the United States are Supima cotton, so don't expect to find any of it on the racks ate SalesMaxx or SprawlMart." Get it?

For well over a decade retail has been playing a terrible trick on us. Both bargain brand inexpensive, and mid-range shops are stocking the new synthetics and the weird cotton blends, like Modal, Viscose, and Rayon-Span blend for tees. These faux fabrics are in every shop and are impossible to avoid.

Pure Cotton is a Premium Fabric 

It’s hard to find in cheaper shops, but readily available at higher end retailers. When I shop land’s end, eileen fisher, and brooks brothers, beautiful cotton garments abound. When I shop at old navy, the fabric is only sparsely represented.

Finally, when I browse forever 21 or h&m, there is not a natural fiber in sight. I recently went to a newer H&M downtown, and I touched every item in the women’s department, and read every single care label. There was not one natural fiber to be had. Likewise, when I walked across the street to the shopping center that housed the Forever21. I spent nearly two hours walking the aisles in search of cotton or silk—a fabric that my older sis found about 3 years back on the F21 sales rack. Yes, there were no 100% natural fibers. Not cotton. Not wool. Not cashmere. Not silk. Nor were there any cotton blends. I was only marginally surprised by that last fact.

What’s the Deal?

  • Higher end retailers big up the scarcity of cotton, the exclusivity. We hear words like 100% Pima or Supima Cotton refer to cotton produced either here or abroad. (LINK)
  • They extoll the virtues of cotton, breathability and comfort…those things that we’d heard when we were kids, back when everything was made from cotton (when retailers ran screaming away from manmade fibers).

On the lower end, sellers play up certain aspects of these cheap or new fabrics over the less-readily-available-naturals. 
  • Color fast,
  • never wrinkles or pills, 
  • smooth and silky, and
  • inexpensive.

My Personal Imperative 


I ride a bike and sweat daily. Wicking (plastic) clothes grab and hold onto travel sweat and funk-making bacteria. Polyester, Rayon, and Spandex yield the same response from my skin, so it's impossible for me to wear them for extended periods after my commute.

FYI: If I find a gorgeous garment that's not 100%, but must have the style, I will buy cotton-rich blends.

Last, but not least, I always search the thrift stores for brands and labels. Natural fibers are on the top of my list, and over sized well-made pieces can always be tailored for perfect fit. I love getting great quality for cheap. The thrift store is the place to go, not SalesMaxx or SprawlMart.

Some of the Blends & Synthetics


Modal: a type of Rayon, semi-synthetic cellulose, ofter mixed with cotton or spandex.
Viscose: combination of rayon and a solution o f cellulose xanthate.
Polyester: is a category of polymers that contain the ester functional group in their main chain. As a specific material, it most commonly refers to a type called polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Nylon, Banlon, Tygon, Lame, etc.

  • Land's End explains Supima Cotton and even offers some affordable options.