Lycra vs Spandex vs Elastane: What’s the Difference? Are They the Same Material?

Lycra vs Spandex vs Elastane: What's the Difference? Are they the Same Material?

A good garment should not only look well-made and be of high quality, but it should also fit comfortably.

While typical materials that are used in clothes, such as polyester, nylon, cotton, wool, etc., do an already good job on their own being comfortable to the touch and to wear as you go about your day, sometimes they require a little bit of help to provide the perfect fit.

Enter elastane, the material that revolutionized the clothing industry ever since its invention in 1937.

In a past article of ours, in which we touched on how elastane is used in jackets, we discussed its qualities and the reasons why it has become such an important part of the outdoor clothing industry. You can find it here.

Today we will take a look at how elastane is used in other areas of the clothing industry and also learn more about the difference between its commonly used names like Lycra, Spandex, etc.

Contents:

1. What is the Difference between Elastane, Spandex and Lycra?

Before we begin with a quick view of elastane’s history, let’s first clear up the name issue and what exactly is the difference between the “different” types of this material.

First and foremost, are Lycra, Elastane and Spandex all the same thing?

Yes. The material in itself is elastane, but the different names used depend on the country and on the brand that manufactures it.

For example, those living in the United States usually refer to elastane as Spandex, whereas the rest of the world call it elastane, unless they are referring to a particular brand name.

It’s for this reason that commercial names such as Lycra (patented by DuPont), Elaspan, Creora, Elastam or Dorlastan exist.

Thus, regardless of what name it bears, elastane is still elastane.

2. A Short History of Elastane and How It Is Made

Elastane’s history, just like Polyester‘s and Nylon‘s, begins at DuPont, the company that invented all three of these materials.

While trying to invent a rubber alternative, Farbenfabriken Bayer’s work resulted in elastane, a polyurethane polymer that exhibited a quality that other materials lacked, that of being elastic.

It was only in the 1950s that elastane for fabric use was actually developed by DuPont and U.S scientists, which were working independently, and the rest is history.

It was DuPont that patented the name “Lycra” for its elastane fibers that were used in the making of clothes and fabrics of the time.

As for elastane’s U.S name, Spandex, it came to be as an anagram of the word “expands”, in referral to the fibers’ ability to stretch extensively and then return to its original shape.

When it comes to how elastane is made, it is a process of chemical reactions between a diisocyanate and polyester, which results into a polymer that is then spun through spinning cells in which the fibers are created.

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You might also like: Nylon vs Polyester – Differences and Comparison

3. Why Exactly is Elastane so Important in the Clothing Industry?

Elastane fibers are capable of stretching up to 500% of their original length and then returning to their original shape and length, a process that they can withstand numerous times before eventually losing their ability to maintain the shape.

There are several other qualities that make elastane such an important material and you can read more on that on the piece mentioned above.

Now, focusing on the reasons why elastane is actually used, it mainly comes down to not just its qualities, but also its ability to work well with other fibers, such as polyester, nylon, cotton or wool, by increasing their ability to stretch considerably.

Nylon and Polyester on their own are stiff materials and the fabrics have barely any give to them when worn, which can result in very uncomfortable clothes if you are looking for something to move around in.

By blending and weaving together a small amount (typically 1-5%) of elastane fibers with nylon or polyester fibers, the resulting fabric is considerably stretchy and better able to adapt to the shapes of the body.

On the other hand, while wool and cotton do usually stretch a bit, after a few times of that, they tend to keep the stretched out shape and size, which is not preferable at all for clothes.

By incorporating elastane into the weaving process, the ability to stretch and return to the original shape resides on the elastic fibers, which make the clothes last longer and also fit a lot more comfortably.

The North Face Apex Bionic Softshell Jacket uses Elastane

Image: pinterest.com

4. Different Uses of Elastane in the Clothing Industry

Elastane is so commonly used that it can be found in a variety of different clothes, be it tops, bottoms, outerwear and smaller clothing pieces such as gloves, underwear and socks.

Due to its ability to stretch, elastane is useful in parts of different clothes that require elasticity, such as sleeve cuffs, swimwear or corsets, where a high degree of elasticity is needed.

We discussed jackets in our previous piece, and elastane is so versatile in use that it has allowed to develop different types of jackets, such as softshells, which are made to be breathable layering jackets that won’t bunch under a hard shell.

It’s precisely elastane that allows softshell jackets to fit so well and not move up and down as you move, but instead adapting to movement by stretching.

Cycling clothes and other sportive clothing, such as ski garments or race suits are so high performing due to elastane being part of the material they are made out of, which allows these technical pieces to adapt to movement effortlessly and comfortably.

person skiing

Aside from all those clothing pieces, the most popular ones are definitely leggings. Everyone loves leggings. They come in numerous designs, made of different materials, but elastane is there regardless of design or style.

It’s due to elastane that leggings fit so well on the body, shape the legs nicely and are so incredibly comfortable to wear.

Elastane is so widely used that you can find it everywhere you go. It’s in our bags as hair ties, in our wardrobes, in gyms and hospitals.

Its ability to stretch and retain its original shape and size make it an incredibly versatile material that even if we don’t always consciously notice it, it’s there improving our daily lives in different ways.

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