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If you’ve shimmied into a swimsuit or spanked yourself into shapewear, then you’re intimately familiar with spandex. If you’re not up to speed on your fashionable fabrics, just ask your mother or grandmother about spandex back in their day -- they wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house without it covering their thighs and backsides. Since it first stretched onto the scene, spandex has blended with a multitude of fabric knits and has inched its way into foundation garments, bathing suits and all manner of clothing that need a little give and take.
It took DuPont employee Joseph Shivers about 10 years to create the chemical wonder that is spandex. The year was 1959 and undergarments and clothing would never be the same when DuPont introduced the trade name Lycra for Shivers’ invention. Spandex is a harmonious marriage of chemistry and clothing. The chemical formula allows a polymer to exponentially expand beyond its original size and then snap right back to attention, without any sagging or give, which is essential to clothing that’s meant to camouflage or hold in jiggly bits.
Women were really the first to enjoy the sartorial benefits of spandex. Foundation garments, such as girdles and bras, were combined with spandex, allowing a woman to look more shapely and less bulgy or roly-poly in her outer clothing. Swimsuits were the natural next stretch for spandex, and because it is resistant to the deteriorating effects of sweat, perfumes and detergents, it’s ideal for athletic wear. The 1968 French Olympic ski team squeezed their buff bods into spandex garments. Eventually, men and women stuffed themselves into spandex exercise shorts and athletic gear. Little girls wear leggings woven with spandex and big girls wear jeans that are a comfortable hybrid of denim and spandex, making them easier to pull up and over all manner of curves.
It's a Stretch
When the chemical creation is combined with a material, such as wool or cotton, and knitted on a knitting machine, the fabric becomes a knit. With knits, the fabric loops run in one direction; with wovens, a cross-hatch finish is created. The knit also has more stretch in both directions than a woven, and with the introduction of spandex, it reassumes its shape, making it ideal for body-conscious clothing.
Spandex is easily manipulated in garment construction, and because the properties make it easy to dye, it’s particularly suitable for fashion. You should always follow the care instructions on the clothing label, but typically, spandex can be laundered in warm or cold water on the gentle cycle. While it can be tumbled dry on a low setting without losing its shape, if it is added to your lingerie, tights, leggings, swimsuits or exercise wear, allow the garment to dry flat or hang dry. And of course, don’t use chlorine bleach on your spandex-infused clothes.