chapter  16
19 Pages

Jane Schneider In and Out of Polyester: Desire, Disdain and Global Fibre Competitions

As readers might imagine, or already know from personal experience, synthetic fabrics come close to being taboo for some people. In such cases, one voids pollution by carefully reading labels before buying, thus avoiding what is ever more likely in the 1990s – that the ‘man-made’ fibres will escape detection or sneak through in blends. Serious fabric buyers conduct burn tests on samples that are otherwise hard to identify or, to test for real silk, they run samples through their teeth, knowing that the authentic version is abrasive whereas the counterfeits are slippery. One can also protect oneself by shopping exclusively through certain catalogues or in certain boutiques and stores. In a recent J. Crew catalogue, about the only compromised item was the ‘heather jacket’ for men which contains an unspecified dash of nylon, undoubtedly to strengthen its very soft alpaca-laced woollen yarns. Of course, like all taboos, there are degrees of vigilance in practice. Older advocates of the naturals, if their jobs involve travelling, welcome wrinkle-free clothing,

■ IN AND OUT OF POLYESTER: DESIRE, DISDAIN AND GLOBAL FIBRE COMPETITIONS, Anthropology Today, 10.4, August 1994, pp. 2-10

even if this means lowering their standards. And a younger would-be purist told me that she will ‘tolerate up to 20 per cent polyester if it feels good’.