Fitness and gym fashion became popular in the 1970s when satin mid-thigh shorts and cotton shirts or singlets were a common sight in gyms and tracks – the standard sportswear for health aficionados and enthusiasts. It was not until the previous decade, with the recent developments in fabric technology, that fashion for active lifestyle started gaining more attention.
It has not only revolutionised sportswear but also has given rise to a whole new set of fashion niche: activewear.
There are several types of fabric, natural and synthetic alike, that can be used for active apparel. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages:
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Between cotton and polyester, cotton gives off less odour after a workout, at least according to Belgian research.
This is because bacteria tend to thrive more in polyester. However, cotton absorbs more moisture and would weigh you down when doing high-intensity workouts. It is better worn for low-sweat activities, such as yoga or light weight-training.
The bamboo pulp can be processed into a rayon-like fabric that is soft but durable, breathable, and has both anti-microbial and moisture-wicking properties. It is also biodegradable, which makes it an eco-friendly choice of fabric. The only drawback is the use of chemicals during its textile processing, which could put some doubt in its eco-friendly reputation.
This fabric is warm, breathable, and also has anti-microbial and moisture-wicking capabilities. It is perfect for winter suit activities because it helps regulate body temperature. It feels softer than traditional wool and, combined with other materials like spandex, becomes more flexible.
Synthetic or technical fibres:
Polyester is a fabric made from petroleum-based products. It is widely used in both sportswear and activewear because it is durable, lightweight and breathable, does not wrinkle, and does not absorb moisture. What little moisture it manages to absorb, dries up quickly. However, not all people like the way it feels on the skin or the way it smells after vigorous activity.
This synthetic fabric became popular as the main material for women’s stockings. It feels as soft as silk, dries up fast (although not as fast as polyester), and is resistant to mildew. True to form to most technical fabric materials, it is breathable and wicks away moisture. Next to polyester, it is one of the most popular fabrics of choice for active lifestyle apparel.
Spandex, incidentally an anagram for the word expands, is best known for its ability to be stretched and still be able to recover its original shape. It is tight-fitting but still widely used in activities requiring freedom of movement, due to the flexibility it affords. Most activewear is not made purely of spandex but blended with other types of fabric.
Polypropylene comes from the same source as polyester and is completely water-resistant. It forces any moisture that comes into contact to pass through its fabric and into the surface where it is more likely to evaporate. Base layers are commonly made of a synthetic mesh of polypropylene and other technical fabric materials.
We have barely scratched the surface of fabric technology, and activewear fabric has already come a long way. As innovations continue to come up in the textile industry, you can expect to wear increasingly better and more functional clothes for the years to come.