Nowadays, you might notice more Spandex fabric in clothes than ever before. Spandex as a material is still relatively new in its application –– it’s only really been around in fashion for about 80 years or so. Compare that to something like cotton, which has been used by humans for the last 6,000 years or so.
Interestingly, Spandex is not a brand name; in fact, it’s just a nickname because “polyether-polyurea copolymer” did not catch on quite as easily.
Despite its relatively recent invention, people everywhere have already found a host of diverse uses for Spandex. From boyshorts to leggings and tank tops, Spandex helps fashion meet functionality. In general, you could say it’s best used when you need –– or want –– to be extra flexible.
But when exactly is the best time to wear this stretch fabric? If you want to explore all the uses of Spandex, read on!
What Is Spandex?
Spandex is a type of synthetic fiber polymer fabric; it’s a stretchy fabric that you can find in sportswear, swimwear, hosiery, and other flexible material.
In more scientific terms, Spandex consists of a long-chain synthetic polymer known as polyurethane. Being an elastomer, Spandex fibers can be stretched out repeatedly to a certain extent (nearly 500% more than their length, in fact) and then bounce back.
In plain English? Spandex is a fabric fiber that adds a lot of stretch and snugness to the clothes you love.
What Are the Benefits of Spandex?
Spandex was created to fill a specific purpose in clothing and textiles.
Here are some aspects that are particularly useful:
- Strength: It is strong, durable, yet still flexible enough to withstand strain.
- Stretch: The lightweight feel and elastic properties make it particularly popular. They can expand and shrink back to their original size at incredible levels.
- Resilience: This fabric is resilient against many types of stress. Resilience against physical abrasion, detergent, and body oils make Spandex great for an active lifestyle.
- Versatility: It can be combined with other fabrics for a variety of materials (cotton Spandex and Nylon Spandex being popular options). It can also easily be dyed.
- Resistance: Spandex fibers are resistant to a couple of environmental factors. Mildew, fungus, insects, and other pests do minor damage to Spandex cloth. It is also not harmed by chlorine or salt water –– making it ideal for swimwear.
- Easy Care: It can be washed in a regular washing machine and can also be dry cleaned. However, like lots of textiles, regularly washing or ironing Spandex at very high temperatures can diminish the stretch of the fibers over time.
The History of Spandex
Fluctuations in the price of rubber in the 1940s and wartime rations contributed to the early production of Spandex. Originally, Spandex was meant as a replacement for rubber.
The product that came about is actually lighter and more versatile than rubber. Polyurethane, the base substance for Spandex, was created in 1937 in Germany.
After World War II, many German scientists relocated to the US, where many were employed by the DuPont company. There, they made further innovations in Spandex and other textiles. This all eventually produced Spandex as we know it today.
What Is the Difference Between Spandex, Lycra, and Elastane?
In short: there is no difference! Spandex, Lycra, and elastane are all different words for the same thing.
Lycra is the same as Spandex fibers, but the name Lycra is owned by the Dupont company –– much in the same way we sometimes refer to tissues as a Kleenex, people sometimes use these terms interchangeably.
What Are the Perfect Times To Wear Spandex?
Spandex In a Swimsuit
Most swimsuits are made of polyester, rayon, or nylon material. But no swimsuit material would be complete without Spandex. Spandex allows the swimsuit to be stretchy, as well as form fitting. It also helps the suit hold up well when swimming.
Before the innovations that made modern-day swimsuits possible, people often wore knitted, wool bathing suits. Although the wool was slightly elastic, it would lose its shape when it got wet. This resulted in heavy sagging and drag that used to bother swimmers before introducing Spandex material.
During Spandex production, inventors and designers specifically optimized Spandex for swimming. Stabilizers against damage from heat, chlorine, light atmospheric contaminants, discoloration, and mildew are added.
Spandex In Leggings
Leggings –– you know ‘em, you love ‘em. These ultra stretchy pants might have their origins in the neon tights of 80s fitness trends, but we have come a long way since then.
A pair of black leggings is a great staple to have in your closet. Leggings can be used for a jog outside, a lazy movie night, or, with the right accessories, can even create a more sophisticated look.
Spandex plays a vital role in the comfort and stretch that make leggings so popular. While black leggings are one of the most versatile clothing items a person can own, they also come in all kinds of prints and colors. This can help create a fun look for a music festival or dance club.
Spandex in Athletic Wear
Activewear is perhaps the largest category in which you will see Spandex material represented. When exercising, you want clothing that can move with you instead of holding you back. The resilience and flexibility that Spandex provides are ideal for athletes, whether they’re engaging in cardio, weight training, or stretching.
Some people might prefer looser, less form-fitting fits while exercising. Even in more relaxed athleisure type apparel, you can see Spandex represented. Elastic waistbands in joggers, for example, are often made of Spandex. This has the benefit of keeping you comfortable while also being able to account for and adapt to slight weight fluctuations.
Spandex In Loungewear
If there’s any time to focus on comfort above all else, it’s when you’re kicking back and relaxing at home. In that case, you want to avoid any clothes that feel too stiff or restricting. Material with Spandex in it will help provide the kind of stretch you want when you’re sprawled out on the couch.
You can find Spandex in all kinds of cozy loungewear. Even smaller garments, like socks, can include Spandex for extra stretch. The goal here is to create a garment that can adjust to your body so that you don’t have to worry about constant readjusting.
Spandex In Business Wear
You might be raising your eyebrows at the thought of Spandex being involved in business attire –– but you would be surprised! Especially after people became so used to working from home, the demand for cozy office wear is higher than ever. Sitting in front of a monitor all day can be straining enough –– who wants to feel uncomfortable while doing so?
While you might not be able to show up to work in bike shorts, Spandex is often incorporated into things like dress pants and blazers these days. A touch of Spandex can make a pair of slender slacks much more comfortable without even changing the outward appearance of the garment. It can also help fabrics look less wrinkly, as they can snap back to their original shape quicker.
Spandex In Underwear
As the very first layer of an outfit, you want to feel completely at ease in your underwear. Spandex can be combined with soft, breathable materials like cotton to create the perfect pair of underwear. Adding Spandex ensures a fit that is snug while still allowing for plenty of stretch that will leave you feeling like you’re not wearing anything at all.
Other undergarments, like bras, also benefit a lot from the inclusion of Spandex. Elastic chest bands can replace uncomfortable or stiff mechanisms like underwire. Sports bras and bralettes are also much more comfortable when they have a bit of flexibility to them. Spandex also ensures that they can retain their shape after multiple washes.
The Best Stretch
While Spandex is still a relatively new innovation in fashion, new discoveries about its practical application are always being made. Scientists are developing fibers with even better stretching capacities, for example.
You can also expect to see new combinations of Spandex with other textile fibers. As new innovations in the Spandex world are made, the kind of clothes that include Spandex will continue to grow.
Fashion is always evolving and going through different trends. We often talk about the cultural and societal changes that lead to these trends, but it is equally important to consider technological changes.
New textiles and production methods can lead to fashion revolutions –– like Spandex and athleisure, for example. So keep your eyes peeled and see where Spandex might lead you in your own personal style evolution!