The Budget Babe | Affordable Fashion & Style Blog

Quality Control: Know Your Fabrics

In the never-ending quest for better quality clothing at lower prices, it's important for us budget babes to know what our clothes are made of: Fabric, whether natural or synthetic, effects the function, comfort, care, cleaning and lifespan of each garment you purchase.

Here's a brief breakdown of some common fabric types:

Natural Fabrics: Made from naturally occurring plant or animal material.

COTTON: The touch…the feel…the fabric of our lives. Cotton is the most common and popular natural fabric today. Random fact: Did you know that United States paper money is 75% cotton? Neither did we.
Pros: Comfortable, versatile, soft, great breathability, absorbent and durable. Denim, velour, jersey and many other popular beloved fabrics are made from cotton.
Cons: It can wrinkle.

LINEN: Natural fabric similar to cotton that is made from flax fibers.
Pros: Great breathability
Cons: Tends to wrinkle easily; poor elasticity

WOOL: Natural, animal-derived fabric. Most wool comes from sheep; specialty types include mohair, angora and cashmere.
Pros: Incredibly warm, dirt and water resistant.
Cons: Shrinks when washed at high temperatures. Can be itchy.

SILK is one of the oldest, most luxurious fabrics known to man, spun from the cocoons of silkworms.
Pros: Beautiful, strong and comfortable with a shimmering, natural lustre.
Cons: Delicate and susceptible to rough treatment, sunlight, perspiration.


Synthetic Fabrics: Man-made through chemical processes where liquids are extruded and formed into filaments, which are made into fibers that are woven into a fabric.

POLYESTER is the most widely used manufactured fibre in the United States. Polyester has gotten a bad rap (blame fashion in the 70s), but it is quite the modern marvel.
Pros: Works well in blends with other natural fabrics, such as cotton, which extends the wear of garments. Strong, crease-resistant, colorfast and retains its shape.
Cons: Doesn't really breathe, thereby creating unsightly sweat stains; not readily biodegradable.

RAYON is neither a synthetic nor a natural fiber but rather a manufactured fiber derived from naturally occurring cellulose.
Pros: Cheap, versatile fabric. Rayon drapes well, is easy to dye, and is highly absorbent.
Cons: Tends to age poorly. The manufacturing process of rayon results in a great deal of environmental pollution, inspiring a drive to clean up the industry. (We're not scientists, but we're guessing that most synthetic fabrics use up a lot of resources and create a lot of waste since they're basically made out of plastic, which is a petroleum-based product.)

NYLON: Every heard of pantyhose? Nylon was also heralded as a modern miracle when it was invented back in the 1940s.
Pros: Very elastic and resilient.
Cons: Melts at high temperatures; too much washing and drying can cause piling to occur.

ACRYLIC: A synthetic which resembles wool.
Pros: Fine, soft, "fluffy" fabric.
Cons: Very vulnerable to heat and not very warm.

ACETATE: A synthetic which resembles silk.
Pros: Resistant to shrinking and wrinkling; pliable and good for draping. Taffeta, satin, crepe and brocade often contain acetate.
Cons: Not as strong as silk. Keep nail polish remover and perfumes containing alcohol away as these can melt acetate fibers.

acetate is also cold against the skin. i find this a problem with all the 'travellers' collections from stores like chico's, etc. it packs well, it looks nice, it doesn't wrinkle, but the fabric itself is heavy and feels cold.
personally, cotton is much better for travelling, wrinkles and all.
#1 maggie z on 2007-10-02 15:42 (Reply)
note on rayon: although cellulose occurs naturally in plants, the cellulose used in making rayon is synthetically produced.
i was told this by someone who worked in a plant that makes the stuff. he assured me that there's nothing natural in the rayon we wear. boo. :-)
#2 pirate jenny on 2007-10-03 07:33 (Reply)
Thanks for the info. The definition of rayon is pretty confusing for us lay folks (hmmm...another reason to avoid it?) May just be a technicality which lets manufacturers pass it off as being somewhere in the middle--but we still stuck it under the "synthetics" header :-)
#2.1 The Budget Babe on 2007-10-03 08:40 (Reply)
Unfortunately this is not completely true. The cellulose that rayon is made from is sourced from wood pulp which is then dissolved and forced through a spinneret where they are formed into fibers. It's just dissolved and reformed wood pulp.
#2.2 Caitlyne Shirley on 2020-01-10 15:05 (Reply)
Ramie is a fabric that looks similar to linen but is inferior in every way. Instead of getting softer with every wash, like linen will, it actually gets stiffer/rougher. Avoid!
Rayon is just the American term for good ol' Viscose. Not my favourite fabric, but I don't mind it mixed in with linen. It's breathable and cooling and summer. I don't tend to buy 100% viscose (rayon) garment though as they are quite delicate to wash and can easily lose their shape. My view is: buying quality fabrics will save you money in the long run.
#2.3 Lisa on 2022-10-22 12:51 (Reply)
maybe you were thinking of 'ramie' which i always thought was french for rayon (it may be), but someone told me that was a natural fabric. i've never heard of a ramie tree so i wouldn't believe it but who knows?
#3 pirate jenny on 2007-10-03 12:07 (Reply)
Ramie is actually made from stinging nettles
#3.1 Erin on 2014-06-11 16:21 (Reply)
Types of fabrics that are natural as well as synthetic fibers through which cloth is entwined. Natural Fibers: - Cotton and Jute from plants, Silk from silkworms. Synthetic Fibers: - Rayon, Felt, Velvet are synthetic fibers. Built by man procured from natural matter such as polyose or protein.
#4 devid malan (Homepage) on 2021-11-27 02:27 (Reply)
Leave a comment
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed.
Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.