How to Tell the Difference Between Silk and Polyester

by Dan Ketchum

Whether you sport a skinny silk tie or a chic silk blouse, natural silk possesses a timelessly luxurious quality. Synthetic materials, such as polyester, provide an alternative that comes at a fraction of the manufacturing cost and doesn't require a single silkworm to make -- sometimes, however, these synthetics get a little sneaky. Look for simple textural clues to differentiate the real deal from the impostor.

Lustrous Looks

Giving the material a thorough look under the light serves as perhaps the most effective way to tell silk and polyester apart. When you hold genuine silk to light, the characteristically smooth fabric features a subtle shine -- if you tilt the material, this luster changes color depending on the angle. Synthetic polyester, on the other hand, shines white no matter how you hold it.

A Word on Weave

When faced with a questionable textile, have a close look at the weave, preferably under a magnifying glass. While machine-made polyester fabrics feature a virtually perfect, even and symmetrical weaving pattern, natural silk is prone to slight flaws, variations and imperfections. Slubbing -- slightly twisted or uneven lengths of thread -- indicates the genuine article.

More to Know

Real silk lets you see any patterns or prints on the reverse side of the material; polyester prints don't shine through. If the price tag seems too good to be true, it probably is -- genuine silk typically costs about six to 10 times as much as polyester alternatives.

Photo Credits

  • PaulPaladin/iStock/Getty Images

About the Author

Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.