Some Uncomfortable Facts About the Fleece Vest

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This background info about the new corporate fashion favorite might rub you the wrong way.

The Wall Street Journal has declared the fleece vest to be the new male corporate uniform of America. Gone are the days of wool slacks and sports coats were de rigueur. Now a button-up shirt, cotton chinos, and the aforementioned vest are more than sufficient to look professional.

I am a big fan of maximum physical comfort when it comes to clothes. I once read that it's an Aries trait to detest uncomfortable clothes, and I think it's the most truth I've ever taken away from a horoscope. So, for the sake of all those businessmen who no longer feel their arms constrained by tailored jackets and their bellies squeezed into buttoned shirts with no give, I'm all in favor of this trend.

There are, however, some environmental concerns worth voicing, this being TreeHugger after all. When it comes down to it, fleece is not something we should be wearing, whether you're a Wall Street banker or a backcountry hiker. Despite our society's love of synthetic fabrics, for their toughness and versatility, there are some serious concerns that go along with these cozy plastic vests.

First is the plastic pollution caused by microfibres released with washing. A study commissioned by Patagonia in 2016 found that "the highest estimate of fibers released from a single [fleece] jacket was 250,000, and the average across all jackets was 81,317 fibers." Outside Online reported,

"Based on an estimate of consumers across the world laundering 100,000 Patagonia jackets each year, the amount of fibers being released into public waterways is equivalent to the amount of plastic in up to 11,900 grocery bags."

And that's just Patagonia jackets. Think of all the other fleeces out there -- and other nylon clothing, all of which releases microfibres. The following video, released by the Plastic Soup Foundation, gives some suggestions for cutting down on fiber loss.

A second matter of concern is the presence of antimony in polyester. This is something I knew little about until reading an informative article on EcoTextiles. Antimony is a metallic element found in 80-85 percent of virgin PET plastic. It's a known carcinogen, toxic to lungs, heart, liver, and skin; but scientists say it's safely locked into polymers in a way that does not make it available to the human body. That is, until the plastic is incinerated or recycled, or the polyester fabric is dyed at high temperature, at which point the antimony is released:

"Recycling PET is a high temperature process, which creates wastewater tainted with antimony trioxide... Another problem occurs when the PET (recycled or virgin) is finally incinerated at the landfill, because then the antimony is released as a gas (antimony trioxide). Antimony trioxide has been classified as a carcinogen in the state of California since 1990, by various agencies in the U.S. and in the European Union. The sludge produced during PET production (40 million pounds in the U.S. alone) when incinerated creates 800,000 lbs of fly ash which contains antimony, arsenic and other metals used during production."

Suddenly that fleece vest doesn't feel quite so snug and cozy, does it? Fortunately there are better options out there, made from natural fabrics like wool, cotton, linen, and hemp (all dressier than fleece, but still comfy!) that do not pose the same environmental risks. But if you've already got a stash of vests that you can't bring yourself to throw out (nor should you), wash them with care. Buy a Guppy Friend bag or a Cora Ball and follow the directions in the video posted above. And maybe don't buy any more. Not even the recycled ones.