What is Fossil Fashion?

Fossil fashion is the term given to any clothing or accessories made from fabrics derived from the petroleum industry such as polyester, nylon and acrylic. You might be surprised to learn that your clothing likely contains some fossil fuels! In addition to these synthetic fabrics, some clothes also feature plastic accents and accessories. In recent years, environmental awareness has grown and converging with fashion trends, fossil fashion has come under scrutiny. Read on to discover all the hidden oil and plastic in your wardrobe.

What is Petroleum?

Before diving into fossil fashion, it’s important to understand what petroleum actually is. Petroleum is a naturally occurring liquid mixture of hydrocarbons that is found in the sedimentary crust below the Earth’s surface. The petroleum industry drills for that raw material which is then processed into other products, such as gasoline, lubricating oils and synthetic fibers.

The Process of Extracting and Refining Petroleum to Produce Synthetic Fabrics

Before these materials are turned into fabrics, the petroleum must be extracted and refined. The first step in the extraction process is for the oil company to drill for the petroleum. Oil is pulled from the ground through huge pipelines, or it can be harvested from the ocean floor using massive ships and rigs. Once the raw material is retrieved from the ground, it is then transferred to refineries, where it is heated and refined once more.

The refined petroleum is then sent to chemical processing plants, which use different chemical “recipes” to turn the petroleum into certain products, such as synthetic fabrics, plastics, glues, candles and other household items.

Fabrics Made from Petroleum

When petroleum is transformed into synthetic fabrics, it’s often referred to as “fossil fashion.” The most commonly used fabrics derived from petrochemicals are:

• Polyester
• Nylon
• Acrylic
• Spandex
• Polyurethane
• Lycra
• Elastane

These fabrics are used in all sorts of clothing items, including dresses, trousers, shirts, skirts and even swimwear.

The Problems with Fossil Fashion

Despite the convenience it provides, fossil fashion has been linked to many environmental issues.

• Petrochemicals are non-renewable resources and take hundreds of millions of years to form.
• Polyester, nylon, and acrylic fabrics made from petrochemicals emit large amounts of greenhouse gases during production.
• Most fossil fabrics are not recyclable and often end up in landfills.
• Fossil fabrics require a lot of energy and resources to manufacture and often require chemical dyes, which are also considered harmful to the environment.

The Pros and Cons of Fossil Fashion

Fossil fashion has its pros and cons, and it’s important to weigh both sides when considering whether to wear clothing made from petroleum-based fabrics.


• Synthetics are relatively cheap compared to natural fabrics such as silk, wool, and cotton.
• Fabrics derived from petrochemicals are long-lasting and usually wrinkle-resistant.
• They can be washed easily and offer good insulation for both hot and cold temperatures.


• Fossil fabrics are not as breathable as natural fabrics.
• They are not as absorbent, so your clothes may not be as comfortable to wear in hotter temperatures.
• They are not as well-known for their wide range of colors unless they are chemically dyed.
• These fabrics are usually derived from non-renewable sources and production of petrochemicals can be damaging to the environment.

What Can We Do About Fossil Fashion?

Making fashion environmentally friendly can seem like a daunting task, but there are things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

• Buy sustainable fabrics: There are many sustainable fabrics that are derived from renewable sources such as bamboo, alpaca wool, organic cotton, hemp, and even banana fabrics.

• Research the production process: Companies that produce sustainable fabrics often have fair and transparent production processes. Researching where and how they produce their fabrics can help you make a more ethical choice.

• Recycle and reuse: Shopping second-hand stores and donating your old clothes or upcycling them is a great way to reduce waste and pollution from the fashion industry.

Fossil fashion is often appealing to consumers due to its low price and long-lasting durability, but it could be damaging for the environment. By understanding what petroleum is and how it contributes to the production of synthetic fabrics, we are better equipped to make educated decisions on our next trip to the mall. By opting for items that use renewable and sustainable fabrics, we can limit our use of non-renewable fossil fuel resources and reduce pollution from synthetic fabrics, ultimately helping the planet in the process.