Polyester: From Fashion Statement to Slur in a Decade

Ad from The Japan Times, October 16, 1964
Ad from The Japan Times, October 16, 1964

When I was growing up in the 1970s, writers would put the words “cheap” and “polyester suit” inevitably in the same sentence. For example, “He folded like a cheap polyester suit.”

But in the 1950s and 1960s, when advances in technology were constant reminders of how more civilized we were becoming, polyester was all the rage. Since polyester was a strong fiber, it would not wrinkle and it would maintain its shape. Additionally, it had an insulating property so that polyester fabrics could be designed to keep the body warm in cool weather.

These artificial fibers that would eventually be called polyester were created by chemists in two different companies, ICI in the UK and duPont in America. In 1957, Japanese manufacturers called Teijin and Toray Industries licensed ICI production technologies from ICI, and eventually went on to create their own polyester blend called Tetoron. From that point on, Japan mastered yet another industrial process started in the West.

Teijin’s ad above displayed in the Japan Times during the Olympic Games tries to express the idea that polyester is not only beautiful, it’s traditional. Teijin probably wasn’t well known in the West, but my guess is that quite a few people were wearing Teijin shirts and slacks. Maybe even the Brady’s were sporting wear Made in Japan.

Brady Bunch and Polyester Fashion