Spandex vs. Polyester

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Women workout in exercise clothing made with a spandex blend.
Women workout in exercise clothing made with a spandex blend. (Image: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Synthetic fabrics are man-made textiles produced with chemicals. Among these are spandex and polyester, which manufacturers use for making clothing. Spandex materials stretch, while polyester withstands a variety of conditions, making it durable. Some manufacturers add other chemicals to these synthetic fabrics, bringing out other fabric characteristics such as water repelling and stain resistance. You can find both fabrics in retail stores in various colors.

Spandex History

Joseph Shivers, a scientist at DuPont, invented spandex in 1959. DuPont marketed spandex under the brand name Lycra, and sometimes people refer to the material as elastane. The word “spandex” is a play on words based on the notion that the material is “expandable.” Spandex consists of a substance that allows the material to stretch and maintain its shape. Additionally, manufactures blend spandex with other fabrics such as linen, polyester and cotton.

Spandex Applications

Spandex consists of a fiber-forming substance referred to as long-chain synthetic polymer. Once the fabric develops, it is a lightweight comfortable material because of its elasticity and ability to retain its initial shape. DuPont first introduced the world to spandex or Lycra with women’s lingerie and other underwear. Eventually manufacturers expanded the uses of spandex to swimsuits, uniforms and exercise outfits. This synthetic fabric is a frequent option for lifestyle clothing manufacturers.

About Polyester

James Dickson and John Whinfield, both British chemists who worked at Calico Printer’s Association, patented polyethylene terephthalate in 1941. This type of synthetic polymer comes from petroleum, and most people refer to polyethylene terephthalate as polyester. Dickson and Whinfield eventually developed Terylene, making it the first polyester fiber in the world. Both men created polyester based on the nylon inventor Wallace Carother’s research. Eventually, the DuPont company bought the rights to Terylene in the United States and continued researching the polyester fiber, creating its own form, named Darcon, in 1950.

Polyester Applications

In the 1900s plenty of people wore polyester clothing. Even though polyester retained heat and the material was uncomfortable to wear, this type of clothing was inexpensive to make because of the cheap cost of petroleum. The public’s image of polyester from the over-advertisement of cheap suits with large lapels eventually discouraged people from buying polyester clothing. However, polyester started making a comeback with the development of more breathable materials such as microfiber, a wash and go fabric. Other applications that use polyester include wrinkle-free high-end shirts, beddings, costumes, plastic bottles and home decor.

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