Plastic clothes are back with an unnatural vengeance

May 22, 1991|By Pat Morgan | Pat Morgan,Knight-Ridder Newspapers SXB

Fashion's continuing infatuation with eras past has brought the synthetics of the '70s back into vogue.

We're talking plastic trench coats, patent leather go-go boots, vinyl skirts, virtually anything with a shiny surface.

The more extreme versions vinyl hot pants or a plastic jumpsuit, for instance generally are limited to the junior departments. But mature, realistic, rational women can also buy into this playful trend. What could be more practical than a plastic raincoat? In a whimsical pattern or a crayon-bright color, it can even make a rainy day seem a little less dreary. And because it's outerwear, there's no problem wearing it to the office.

But while wearing these bright, shiny clothes can be fun, cleaning the synthetics can be a challenge.

The tricky part: With today's high-tech fabrics, it's sometimes hard to tell the real from the fake.

Real patent leather is leather processed on the grain side to form a bright, hard surface. The process involves degreasing the hide, stretching it on frames and coating it with paints and linseed oil, then alternately baking it in the sun and rubbing it with pumice stone.

In other words, it's a lot of trouble. And like leather or suede, it doesn't come cheap. Which explains why so much of what passes for patent leather is really made from vinyl or plastic.

To tell the difference, look on the underside of the garment. If it has a sueded back, it's real leather and should be treated as such. If the back is plain or a knitted fiber, it's fake.

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