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Sep 29, 2015

Things I Don't Get, Vol. 16 -- The Neoprene Craze




Neoprene -- you know, the stuff they make wetsuits out of -- is now a popular fashion fabric!

Is it time to jump on the bandwagon?

Doing a little online research, I've learned that neoprene and scuba knit, two names often used interchangeably, are not exactly the same thing: neoprene has a foam core; scuba knit is more like ponte, i.e., a double knit.  But they share many of the same properties: they're spongy, stretchy, synthetic, and tend to hold their shape, as opposed to draping (like jersey).



They're also rather expensive.  All the neoprene I've seen is in the $20-25/yd. range.  For that kind of money, I'd rather sew with wool or silk -- something classic, luxurious, and breathable.





Is neoprene/scuba knit fashion here to stay?  I wonder.

I remember when polyfleece (aka fleece) became a "thing", showing up first as hiking gear, roughly 20 years ago.  It seemed miraculous -- lightweight, warm, and waterproof.  As I recall, it was also expensive.  Soon, however, fleece was absolutely everywhere.  Most people I know are sick of the stuff.

In menswear, neoprene is showing up mainly as spongy outerwear.







Not a good look if you ask me.

The lighter weight scuba knits come in some unusual prints, colors, and textures.







The fact that these knits tend to hold their shape gives them a somewhat futuristic look.  In my opinion, futuristic looks flatter the very young more than people my age, but what do I know?  I've only seen it on young people!

I took some neoprene/scuba knit swatches home from the fabric store and played with them a little.  I serged two pieces together and topstitched down the (stiff) seam allowance so it would lay flat.  The topstitching shows up very dramatically.







That was fun.

But for all its cool visual properties, I find neoprene boring.  Basically you serge all your seams together, stitch down your seam allowances, and end up with....a stiff, spongy, and (dare I say it?) sweaty hoodie.



Readers, what are your thoughts about neoprene?  Do you wear it?  Do you like it?

Are neoprene and scuba knit the change that we've been waiting for, or are these fashions merely the Twenty-First Century equivalent of that Seventies embarrassment, the double-knit polyester leisure suit?

Are we going to look back at this trend in a decade or so and wonder, What were we thinking?

Jump in!

68 comments:

  1. For rather expensive fabric, neoprene looks oddly cheap. Doesn't look very comfortable to wear, either.

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  2. i didn't realize neoprene in clothing was a thing, but i don't pay attention to high fashion very much. i do think that black jacket looks trés sexy, i must say. but the other stuff? blah.

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  3. It looks uncomfortable and sweaty. I think you are right that history will not be kind.

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    1. Ditto. You can get much the same effect with pleather, and it's way cheaper.

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  4. I thought this was just a project runway thing. They tend to do some interesting choices when trying to make something quick for a challenge, but they were pretty hung up on neoprene for a while. I didn't realize that it had breached into the real world.

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  5. I agree with Frank; the black jacket looks great. To me, it looks best when used in a garment that is shaped with pieces and seams rather than in larger swaths because as you've noted, it doesn't really drape.

    Re. fleece, I actually really like it and wear fleece pullovers, jackets, and zip tops. It's warm, soft, (usually) repels water and stains, insulates, is lightweight, is very easy to care for, comes in every color, and is in every price and quality range. Then again, I'm in REI ground zero so I grew up with it all around me and I watched the quality improve over the years. It's very popular with the outdoors set and I don't think it's going away anytime soon.

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    1. I'm in the rural west, . Fleece is very popular here too, because whatever one might argue regarding its fashion potential, it's very practical. Neoprene is not very practical. It's hot and uncomfortable. Also....I have to say garments made out of neoprene are kinda dumb looking. But obviously someone somewhere--several someones, apparently--think it's the greatest new thing out there.

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    2. "shaped with pieces and seams" ... exactly, because it acts and should be treated pretty much the same way as thick heavy leather - which doesn't breath either. Maybe it will end up being popular in the upholstered furniture world.

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  6. One of these days in the near future we will all be laughing and saying, "remember when the tried to shove scuba knits and neoprene down our throat and into our stashes?" I imagine that it will end up being outer wear for dogs and carrier bags.

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  7. Gives me a hot flash just looking at it.

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    1. ha - best comment I have read! I I am not a fan of neoprene, I like the sculptural quality, but you can get the same with wool coating and wool is simply divine to work with!

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  8. Ok first, I didn't know make models were as sickly-looking as theit female counterparts.

    Anyway, I think it would be perfect in costuming because of its shape-holding properties but I would never use it in regular-anything. I hate the feel of it against my skin and, well, it's ugly.

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  9. Yuck! I personally prefer natural fibres. This looks uncomfortable and I have to agree with jetsetsewing about feeling a hot flash just looking at it. Beautiful colours and prints though.

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  10. It is certainly possible to get scuba knit* for less than Mood's prices! Generally, I have thought it is an inexpensive fabric -- surprised a bit to see those prices. Yes, it is hot. I bought some a couple of years ago and made some slim pants/leggings. They look tech-y, are really comfortable (stretchy), but I really have to limit wear to outdoors in the winter. The overheated indoors is too much. The stuff is easy to sew, easy to fit, easy to get volume, and I guess that's the attraction. I'm thinking it has a limited run, especially now that scuba knit is clearly in the mainstream…

    *Actual real neoprene is made with some pretty nasty chemicals, and I've read that some in the surf community have been trying to get this changed.

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  11. Not sold on neoprene for jackets/hoodies/tops in general … but some people manage to make really interesting skirts out of it. And not just stiff circle skirts either …

    Dramatic poofy skirts might not be what you're looking for when thinking about your own wardrobe though ;)

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  12. I have a scuba dress, in a fit-and-flare shape (using pleats) which is super-comfortable, and I haven't noticed any issues with breathability as of yet. It is a fairly fine scuba knit, which might be a factor in comfort. It's basically a secret pyjamas dress, which is great cause I have an office job, so comfort is key!

    I don't really like the poofiness that some of the above examples exhibit, it's nicer in a more streamlined and structured garment

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  13. Not sure I dig the neoprene for menswear look...but I have to say, it makes a pretty nice skater-length skirt for juniors.

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  14. Love your blog and inspired to practice sewing based a lot on your journey you've shared (VERY beginner level here). Anyhoo, I'm not feeling the neoprene at all. Every image you posted is just so...unflattering.

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  15. Although appears rather uncomfortable and not that attractive (to me), I have to admit that I own a neoprene jacket (casual) that is super comfy to wear when it's a little chilly out and actually looks really good on me. It does not look boxy or stiff like many pictured here. It was a gift. I have no interest in sewing with it, though.

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  16. I couldn't be more with you. I loathe the stuff. It doesn't drape. It doesn't flatter. It doesn't breathe. Ugh!

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  17. Nope, nope, nopety nope. I think it is a fad. On someone my size (5' tall) stiff clothes that stand out away from the body are just begging to look wider than tall and frumpy. I have touched the fabric in RTW and found it unpleasant to the touch as well. I do like fleece, so it is not simply the idea or texture of synthetic fabrics (but, I did grow up in the Puget Sound area where fleece is nearly formal attire).

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  18. I'll be glad when it's no longer "in". Neoprene belongs on surfers. Period.

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  19. I think a sleeveless structured dress that camouflage lumps and bumps in an interesting digital print neoprene is cool. I recall Erica Bunker had make several that looked great!

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  20. This is great post, I didn't know there was difference between the two. I did buy a few yards of the scuba fabric at Joanns. The surface is like a pointe knit but it has that spongy feel. I plan on using them soon now that the weather is getting cooler. From the feel of it I cant see how anyone can wear it in the summer.

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  21. Haha!! Polyester leisure suits - especially the pastel colors with the white shoes! Some fads deserve to be left in the past and I hope this is one of them. I would definitely spend this kind of money on quality natural fiber fabric instead. I need fabrics that breathe; otherwise I feel like a turkey in an oven bag. :)

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  22. I don't like the feel of Scuba knit. I can imagine how hot one would get wearing the stuff, but many women seem to like it. Erica Bunker has made several garments with it.

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  23. Let's keep the neoprene on the scuba divers and stick with our natural fabrics. Maybe its got a place for work-wear, but not for me, no way. Never say never...I remember about 20 years ago too when I first saw cargo pants on the runways. I thought oh yuck, why would you want to dress up like you're off to war? Cargo pants in all their incarnations and colours are still in the shops here in Australia....

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  24. I do like some of the scuba prints. But I can't stand the handle of the fabric. Give me natural any day. Keep neoprene for wetsuits.

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  25. I personally hate sewing with the stuff, especially making a garment with neoprene and any other fabric together. That being said, it can add wonderful sculptural effects to garments and is very warm. I live in Sweden where this is definitely a plus :)

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  26. I think it's a bit of a stranger trend, I like the boxt jackets but like you I'd rather have a well structured jacket in wool. Saying that I did see a beautiful prom dress that had a silk princess seamed top and then a scuba/neoprene skirt, the structure at the bottom of the dress was very nice and the print was lovely x

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  27. It looks like the dude in orange/red is wearing an oversized wetsuit.
    I've just realised that when I took my grandmother fabric shopping recently (I was making her a top) and I told her the fabric she showed me wasn't suitable because it was a swimsuit fabric... it must have been scuba. And my grandmother is clearly way ahead of me in terms of today's fashions. At the time I thought she was crazy wanting to wear that as a top... how sweaty and icky!

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  28. It's great for building costumes and practical items, but as a clothing item, it is so unyielding. It wears you.
    That says, I love the purple anorak. In wool, it would be so cool.

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  29. I think you know where I stand ;)))

    Is that blue/red-orange/white print at Mood? I need to make an oversized sweaty hoodie out if it! (Not joking.)

    I remember trying to source neoprene for a chemex coffee warmer about 5 years ago. The prices were truly insane, something like 100 a yard. Thank god for catwalk trends ;)

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    1. Yup, it's at Mood. Directly across from Kway.

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    2. Erica B. made me a believer! Her pieces are really pretty.

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    3. thank you! and it's across from kway? double win.

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  30. Living in the land of hot and humid, I can't see any neoprene in my future. Everything looks gorgeous on someone in their teens and twenties, but at my age, you have to be more editorial, there is a fine line between eccentrically fashion forward and batshit crazy bag lady.

    Neoprene does intrigue me with the costuming possibilities. Also maybe in formfitting sheath dresses. The bulky styles are not flattering IMO, but then again, people through out time have altered their appearances through their clothing structure, so maybe a student of fashion psychology might explain the trend.

    Another trend that stumps me is the Japanese Mori girl, each piece is pretty on it's own but the goal seems to be to change the wearer's shape into a triangle. Another trend for teen and twenties.

    Though if anyone could rock the neoprene it would be you.

    regards,
    Theresa

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  31. Dacron, Montgomery Ward's, and catalog model poses - the pinnacle of perfection, ode to a century past.
    Thanks, Peter.

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  32. Thank you!
    I've been thinking and saying this since I first saw it coming out. Who wants to walk around in a "wetsuit" all day? (Ironic term too, considering the fabric's non-breathability.) I personally can't stand the feel of synthetics on my body, especially the upper body... gross. This is one fad that should go away as soon as possible.

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  33. I made one scuba item last year and it immediately went into the trash. I felt like I was suffocating when I had it on.

    Fleece is still big out here in the Pacific NW; I don't see it going away any time soon.

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  34. I have worn neoprene and will wear it again.

    Only when scuba diving.

    I cannot image wearing it above the water.

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  35. Oooh, so many thoughts about Neoprene! I remember when it came out several years ago, thinking - "WTF?" Why would you want to wear something so - boxy and puffy looking? It's very editorial... that type of thing only looks good on young, very thin people IMO. However, I do like the look of it in the editorial photos. It's definitely modern and sculptural. I don't have any desire to sew some up for myself though.... it does look sweaty!

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  36. I wasn't a fan of neoprene until I saw it in person in Mood (on MPB Day!) I really liked the prints and couldn't see some of them working on any other type of fabric, honestly.

    I'd be interested in trying to make something with it, but I hear it's on the way out. (So says Harper's Bazaar, anyway.)

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  37. I think I will likely limit my neoprene wearing to scuba diving. What I find strange is that the trend disregards what neoprene is best for - snug fitting insulation. These boxy styles that could stand on their own miss the point.

    I would give "scuba knit" a try since it really isn't neoprene and really is just a beefy double knit.

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  38. I simply can't imagine wearing the same fabric as my lunch box. I am also from the seventies polyester craze and didn't get it then. Polyester give me hives and I'd rather spend my money on luxury, silks woolens, Egyptian cottons, etc.

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  39. I just saw some not too bad looking sleeveless dresses made from neoprene in Sears and made for Land's End. I even came home and looked up neoprene fabric online. But here I learn that it doesn't breathe and can be sweaty. Thanks everyone, I'm over it now.

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  40. I vote yes. I made the Center for Pattern Design cocoon coat http://www.centerforpatterndesign.com/collections/patterns/products/cocoon-coat
    from a nice piece of scuba embossed with dots from Marcy Tilton. It's fun, warm and gets compliments.

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  41. Neoprene could be handy for costuming when something sculptural is required.

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  42. The purple hoodie looks like part of a Barney the dinosaur costume.

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  43. I don't like scuba knits or neoprene for the garments pictured in this post, but for a fitted sheath dress it's a nice weight to smooth out lumps and bumps, as someone else mentioned. Same thing for a pencil skirt or something like that, and the prints can be fun for those applications.

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  44. As someone who has spent a more than average amount of time in kayaks, when I see neoprene I think of sweating in a damp black wetsuit in the sun, or the horrible clammy feel of peeling it off, or worse, putting it on on the second day. Really, I see no reason to wear it unless you're going to be submerged in water, where it keeps you nice and cozy. But then, I am not into synthetics or the trend of activewear-as-regular-clothes.

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  45. we can but hope it's a faze and will die quickly. none of that looks good on them (esp, that orange shirt).
    I get hot enough as it is (I wear shorts/vest, the UK meaning, in winter) so wearing that would have me sweating my balls off. never a good thing!!!!
    just a good thing I don't follow fashion, I wear what I like, not what others say I should

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  46. I probably would never buy neoprene fabric. I think of outerwear for this fabric but I sew mostly dresses & skirts. However, I was fortunate enough to get three free yards from Michel Levine Fabrics on trip to L.A. this past June. I guess I need to sew a scuba dress quickly as the trend is fading. If I mess up – no tears – it was free!!

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  47. Donna Karan designed a neoprene little dress in neon, c. 1994, memorable!
    https://www.1stdibs.com/fashion/clothing/evening-dresses/donna-karen-scuba-mini-dress-1994/id-v_200926

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  48. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  49. I like the look of scuba in some garments but would rather spend $$$ on some luxurious and drapey silk, linen, Italian cotton, or wool. Synthetics are too hot for me and they seem to retain body odors (thinking of my workout clothes). Rather wear wool sweaters than fleece but I do love my new lands end fleece blanket

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  50. Everything that's nominally wearable in neoprene looks really cheap to me (with the possible exception of sheath dresses - I haven't seen any of those). The sculptural pieces are really neat, and I could see that dramatic skirts might mitigate the sweatiness aspect. The silhouettes are nice and I do appreciate that - unlike, say, a really thick spongy silk or wool - they can easily be cleaned.

    Actually, the neoprene pieces remind me of that mid-nineties vogue for a sort of neo-polyester knit, drapier than seventies polyester but similar. I had several shirts made out of it (with little snaps and cute prints! and often topstitching!) and it had that same effect, where the seaming was super visible and the design tended to try and fail to incorporate the visibility.

    I feel like I understand what these pieces are supposed to do - they have a kind of dystopian/pragmatic thing going on, like we're all characters in a television show about working on reclamation and security projects in some kind of gritty but optimistic near future. Very stylized, very estranging, and the flatness of the colors and shapes probably translates especially well on the internet. But I'm getting more and more skeptical of this type of costume fashion - it's like we're supposed to dress up as if we're doing something important to compensate for the banality of the fashion/internet world.

    Also too sweaty, just like those little tops in the nineties.

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  51. Many years ago, I bought a pair of Neoprene “over-socks,” because they were supposed to insulate, and therefore, be warm. Instead, they made my feet sweat and freeze.

    However, someone gave me a little case made from the stuff and it’s great, because it’s water resistant and the sponginess helps protect my gear from bumps and bangs.

    But for wearable's – no thanks.

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  52. One of my very favorite sewing bloggers* (Catherine Daze) made a few things with neoprene. A couple that I particularly like: a dress and trousers that work well when bicycling to work.

    So I would vote "yes" for it, but only in very certain cases.

    *Besides mpb, of course!

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  53. It look like it would be great for dressing up as a cartoon character, but I certainly wouldn't make a jacket out of it.

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  54. Being someone who sews with unconventional materials (dog food bags : ) ) it has a certain appeal. It may be more suitable for a bag or used with another fabric to provide some breathability. Neoprene has really sculptural qualities to it like thick felt does. I will admit I do like the look of the white jacket - its neat looking. The short sleeved orange raglan is cool looking to but not sure if I'd want it in neoprene. Not sure if I'd wear either of those but they are cool looking. Ha, I have to agree with you on fleece. Everyone kept telling me it was warm and every time I bought something made out of it I was never warm - NEVER! Fleece reminds me of those fake fire log things with the ceramic logs and the spinning tinsel thing that makes it seem like a real crackling fire is going in your fire place but no heat.

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  55. I wouldn't wear neoprene, but my scuba diver husband loves it as it makes very cold water accessible to divers. I love my neoprene lunch bags--insulated, stretchy, and washable. They are stitched with a giant zigzag stitch and a ladder stitch made with an industrial serger, I guess. Thanks for the photos, Peter--New York styles have definitely not gotten to central Ohio, nor are they likely to.

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  56. I see neoprene and scuba fabric in the shops here in London.....and I really like the look of them.They cost about the same as a quality stretch denim, about £5 in the 'end of roll' shops I have tracked down. I made a skirt in a stiff(ish) mesh black coloured neoprene and loved it.I trimmed the seams with a stretch glossy fabric using a triple zigzag stitch which really was emphasised by the squishyness of the fabric. Personally, I think you will look great in that orange t-shirt or in a neoprene safari jacket! Seriously, you could certainly pull it off (no pun intended).

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  57. Oh God why? This is awful.The examples shown from "fashion" shows are just awful. Come on people, really? Neoprene?
    That being said, to each his/her own. As for me? Yuck.

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  58. If I wanted to wear neoprene, I'd buy a wetsuit! What ever happened to wool jersey? Now there's a beautiful fabric!

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  59. Well said, Peter. Yours is the best distinction between neoprene and scuba I have read and I shall be pointing the clueless to this page. I am really bored with the fashion press and lazy, uninformed fabric vendors conflating the two.

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  60. I'm not a huge fan of it for fashion fabric. I agree with your point about it flattering the young (and let's be honest, thin). Neither of which I am. Besides which, polyester makes me SWEAT. I'm longing for a widespread return to natural fibers.

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