Shape Retention – How Hugging The Curves Has Changed The Underwear Industry

In the shelf life of underwear, it is usually the shape and fit of underwear that gives way long before the fashion and design becomes outdated. Elasticity in the waist and leg bands or thinning of the fabric makes the underwear no longer functional and least of all attractive. Perhaps this was the reason for so few changes in underwear design in the last few decades. After all, if underwear was so short lived, why work to create new designs and styles that appeal, if their staying power did not warrant it? Designers of underwear have been exploring this factor as their designs have found a market niche and created a following among both men and women wearers. Changes in fabric use is now providing for underwear that can retain its shape and fit while still meeting fashion needs.

With the development of fabric engineering, fabrics can be created that meet the various specific fashion needs of different lines of clothing. Perhaps the greatest advancement has been in the area of elasticity use in underwear. As customers seek underwear that contours to their shape, rather than works against it, various combinations of fibers are used for this purpose. Initially, elastic was the only option to be included in underwear to allow for stretch and shape retention. Later, with advances in textile manufacturing, spandex (or elastane) fibers were blended in small percentages with other fabric fibers. Spandex, an anagram of expand, is often called by its most famous brand name title: Lycra, specifically developed by Dupont. It is a man-made elastane fiber known for its exceptional elasticity.

Textile news and analysis sites including Inteletex expound on the merits of elastane/spandex use in clothing manufacturing. Dr Ian Holme states on this site that: “Yarns containing elastane are continuing to make significant inroads into the knitted fabric market. The high stretch and rapid recovery properties of elastane provide unsurpassed elastic recovery properties which have been utilized by fabric and garment makers to provide elastic stretch and impart garment body clinging, shaping and shape retention, and silhouette shaping and slimming properties. Indeed, it’s now estimated that 35-40% of all apparel in developed markets may contain some elastane in filament form.”

To understand the importance of the feature of elasticity, one needs only to wander the sites, advertising sources and product descriptions for various underwear designers to see the many references to this feature. Calvin Klein lists “shape retention” as a feature descriptor of their flexible fit short. JM Intermode describes the “excellent stretch” and “high shape retention after frequent washings” of their Canadian designs. Armani includes “added spandex for additional comfort and shape retention.” Gossamer lists “lycra for shape retention” in their product descriptors. 2(x)ist made a commitment to the public demands for a “fabric with enhanced shape retention and stretch comfort” and developed a liquid cotton collection with DOW XLA in concert with DOW Chemicals. Finally, Alenver describes its collection’s “body defining comfort with 5% elastane providing shape retention and fit”. The difference in fabrication comes in the proportions of natural fibers verses elastane fibers used by the different designers.

Word on the street and customer reports are also important indicators for designers as to whether their products are meeting the customers’ needs. Alenver reports that customers are gushing about their products. After washing in hot water, after washing in cold water – their underwear is maintaining its original shape and fit. Rap musicians who have taken to the unique messaged collection from Alenver also site specific benefits to their underwear. They choose to wear their underwear underneath their swimsuits when swimming. Even with this additional exposure to chlorine and salt water, these customers maintain that the Alenver underwear still maintains its shape and fit. Alenver proudly states this is because of the combination of materials. The mix of 95% pure cotton, from the best cotton sources in Peru, provides comfort and 5% elastane provides shape retention and fit. Additionally, with more than a 1_-inch width, the elastic waistband and bra band stay put, even while they display their one word message. Messages are woven into the fabric of the waistband’s elastic for permanency, yet the elastic is lined for comfort and softness against the skin.

In today’s world, an active lifestyle is par for the course for most individuals. Having clothing that addresses and meets that need is a necessity and not just a preference. Clothing needs to move with the body, meet the physical demands the body requests of it, and then most importantly return to its original shape. Wearers need no longer worry about their underwear losing its fit and shape before losing its appeal and allure.

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