Technology and Fashion History
improvements in the last forty years of the 20th century included improved
fabric technology and automated garment construction techniques. Busy
lifestyles, easier home laundering and workplace changes embracing dress down
Fridays, have encouraged a more relaxed attitude to clothing in many situations. Dress adapted to meet these needs.
the regenerated fibre developed in the late Victorian era was joined by a new kind
of fibre also man made, but totally synthesised from chemicals found in the
petrol industry. Synthetic fibres developed in the 1930s and 1940s, came
into general use in the 1950s. Polyamide (Nylon), Polyester, Polyacrylonitriles (Acrylics), Polyolefins and Polyurethanes (Spandex, and
Lycra) were all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s.
Left - DuPont Chemist Julian Hill re-enacts his April 1930 cold drawing of the
first superpolymer fibre.
Right Wallace Carothers the inventor of Polyamide/Nylon.
Images courtesy of Dupont
Later combinations with natural fibres
such as wool or cotton introduced the consumer to the concept of easy care fibre
blends with a natural feel. Polycotton garments and the reduced costs of wool
and acrylic mixed knits encouraged people to discard clothes more easily as
clothes sewn with speedier operations could also be produced faster at less
Viscose rayon was courted again in the 1980s, when there was the start of
a reaction against synthetic fibres. Viscose crinkle fabrics and fabrics with
exceptional drape or sheer effects wooed the consumer back.
By 2000 designers
had caught on to adding Lycra or Spandex to fibres like viscose and acetate and
created garments with great comfort and better shape retention in wear.
concentrated in improving all the man made fibres and by the 1980s, new
variations which produced luxury look fabrics hit the marketplace. These
improvements in fibre manufacture continue today and the buzzword for the 1990s
Perhaps the biggest fibre
development story of all is the believability of fake furs. Quality fake furs
are not cheap, but they are so convincingly acceptable that the consumer has
embraced them. You are reading an original Fashion Technolgy article by Pauline
Weston Thomas at
revolutionized in the late C20th by the use of Lycra and later by microfibres. Fabrics like fleece and Sympatex were specifically developed for fluctuations in weather conditions. It
is unlikely that street fashion would have adopted them so readily if there had
not been the status association of sporting prowess. When this was combined with
effective functional utility, a fabric fashion was born that encompassed all
ages from young
skateboarders to elderly golfers.
Moisture management fibres were developed to accommodate the desire for more
comfortable sportswear. Function is paramount according to Dupont who manufacture Coolmax
and Tactel. These fibres are used commonly today in socks and lingerie.
Of these fibres perfect for sportswear they say:- " The Coolmax®
family of fibres with effective moisture-management properties for specific
individually demanded requirements, guarantee consumers stay cool, fresh and dry
in every situation. Whilst Tactel® creates either shiny, bi-, multicolour or
iridescent effects in stylish exercise wear, leisurewear with high-fashion
approach and sports couture. Tactel freshFX™
has also proved a success. This range of
polyamide yarns combines the anti-microbial properties of silver - a natural,
innocuous and dermatologically tested active ingredient - with the typical
characteristics of the Tactel® family: lightness, breathability, softness, hard
wearing and easy care.
Tactel® supermicro is an extremely lightweight,
super-fine yarn that is perfect for sheer lightweight fabrics, ideal for the
intimate apparel market. INVISTA aim to stay ahead of the game by anticipating
new trends and consumer needs. Tactel® diabolo has unmatched drape
and bright aesthetics which makes it a real favourite with intimate apparel
manufacturers and brands."
So by March 2007 the search for new materials was as strong as it was a 100
years before. With mounting eco concerns we hear that in Australia a
sludge made by bacteria, in a vat of fermenting wine, has been used to create a
(foul smelling) garment. Early days for the new product - but with
refinements this could be a fabric of the future.
Just remember that
pineapple, corn and bamboo are all commercially produced materials now.
The picture right is of corn the basic constituent of Sorona a corn based
fibre. DuPont™ Sorona™ is from a annually renewable agricultural products like
corn sugar, DuPont can produce 1,3 propanediol (PDO), the key building block for
DuPont™ Sorona® – the company's newest polymer platform.
In 2007 the first fabric made from grape ferment was shown in Australia. Australian researchers using bacteria to grow a sludge from fermenting
wine and beer at the University of Western Australia. The aim of the project was
to provoke discussion about future fashions and the use of materials other than
the usual silk or cotton. A researcher noticed that when oxygen
entered the wine vats and the wine was turned to vinegar another aspect was the
layer of slimy sludge that grew on the surface. The sludge layer was
cellulose a waste product of acetobacter bacteria.
To make a dress the researchers used a life size inflatable doll and lifted the slimy
rubbery cellulose layers onto the doll. Once the cellulose dress forms around the doll
shape, the dress is removed from the inflated form. No stitching, heat or
adhesives are used to get the material to form together. It's just the bacteria
that holds the material together. In the dry state the cellulose dress material
is like tissue paper so the dresses must be kept wet to avoid ripping easily!
This all sounds a little like keeping the Mary Rose ship in good condition after
it was taken from the seabed!
Whilst this novel dress material may seem amusing, great discoveries often start with something
which is not quite right. Nylon is an example of this. The original nylon
fibre was better suited to a tooth brush bristle than a gown. Needless to
say experiments are continuing with the fermented cellulose in the hope that a
polymerization of the cellulose can be achieved to ultimately produce a long
fibre or stable dress. You are reading an original Fashion Technology article by
Pauline Weston Thomas at
Designers are also innovating and turning to modern materials unlike our
preconceived ideas of what a fabric should be like. This can bring a newness to fabrications. In 2007
Prada recently used a new fabrication of mohair reforming as silk. Marni
also used fabrics that used heat fusion with nylon polypropylene. Other materials like Tyvek® are recycled into clothing.
An example of moving boundaries is the use of Tyvek® in fashion in
unexplored ways to create unusual crafted clothing. Tyvek® is made by
DuPont and is the packaging material we all know and are fascinated by when we
get a special delivery envelope from the likes of FedEx.
Schoettle who works from New York City wrote to tell me about her fashion work
She has a website called
Mau Conceptual Clothing.
She makes some of her clothing and designer bags using industrial and surplus
materials. Her post-industrial folkwear fashion line is all made from
Tyvek®. When seen on the human body many of Marian's garments have a
Japanese quality to the fashion styles.
Polish Designers Anna Kuczynska and Michal Lojewski also feature Tyvek® in
several projects for their fashion line UEG.
Tyvek® is a malleable
material which can be exploited in the fashion world to create new looks. In the
1990s I recall how experimental embroiders on CompuServe forums talked of opening
up Tyvek® envelopes for innovative machine embroidery and
quilting experiments and creative techniques. All materials can be explored and taken to new heights.
Their limits are only the imagination of the creative artist.
Right - Image of Tyvek®
garments courtesy of Mau
Conceptual Clothing. You are reading an original Fashion Technolgy
article by Pauline Weston Thomas at
Perhaps most importantly in the world of textiles existing man made fibres
can be super enhanced and refined. Invista for example revealed a new four way stretch denim fabric
in 2006. By
adding T400 fibre to their XFit fibre they have created a fibre
that can be used in fabrics that are processed with abrasion and
other aggressive finishing techniques.
The advantage of XFit Lycra spandex stretch fibre is that of
helping create better fit and comfort in wear without affecting
performance and wash and wear endurance. XFit helps keep the
denim still feeling like denim which means more designers will
be willing to use it and more consumers will be happier to buy
it. Usually then higher the stretch content in denim the
poorer the long term endurance of the fabric. XFit fibre
Innovations in textiles continue and those to Lycra are
amazing. Read the many changes that have happened to Lycra from
the press release by Dupont below.
INVISTA announces patent on LYCRA® brand warp stretch
<<MILAN: February 2007 – INVISTA has announced that it has been granted a
patent on warp stretch technology, a key component in the development of
bi-stretch denim fabrics used in making XFIT LYCRA® garments. XFIT LYCRA® fabric
is INVISTA’s brand concept for garments that deliver the benefits of 360-degree
shape and movement because they stretch and recover in multiple directions.
Fabrics made with the new technology contain T400™ fibre in the warp, or in both
the warp and weft, allowing designers to employ a variety of aggressive washes
and abrasions without sacrificing the comfort and fit for which LYCRA® is known.
T400™ is INVISTA’s trademark for fibres, fabrics, and garments made with its
patented elastomultiester fibre.
This patent represents a breakthrough in the production of fabrics and garments
with stretch in the warp direction. "This technology is particularly significant
in denim where stabilisation has always been a challenge in the indigo dyeing
process," says Robert Kirkwood, INVISTA’s Global Vice President of Technology.
"Our technology allows mills to control stretch during this process, resulting
in balanced fabrics that provide both comfort and excellent shape retention."
INVISTA is licensing this technology to mills, brands and retailers, which
include brands like Lee Cooper, Fiorucci and Girbaud for Europe, and JBrand and
Serfontaine in the United States....>>
Innovations in textiles are countless and the way consumers shop today it's
clear there needs to be a never ending supply of novel ideas. The
consumers appetite for new clothes, new fashions and new surprising materials
knows no bounds.
the main a woman chooses her clothes to either sexually attract men or to
impress other women. Yet it is often
forgotten that much shopping is 'Replacement Buying'. This includes purchase of
items which fulfil daily requirements such as pantyhose, socks, underwear,
shoes, nightwear, sportswear, protective clothing, accessories and umbrellas. Some of these essential items are often unseen by
anyone other than the wearer.
types of purchasing include reward, impulse and compensation buying. The
purchaser is almost always able to justify this kind of buying. Then they
seek moral support from a friend to help reassure them they were right to
Impulse buying can be justified with the excuse that the shop will
have sold the colour, size, style and pattern by next week. This
is actually only too true, as many manufacturers can now respond just in time to
fashion demands and bring their fashion ranges into the shops in a six weekly
cycle using small short-run manufacturing. For example Marks and Spencer used JIT (Just In Time)
to restrict volume on certain styles with a shorter fashion life.
Many of their acclaimed Per Una range items are destined for a small production
run only. Sometimes this is also called fast track and now there is also
Demand Based Flow.
In recent years (from 2006) you may have attempted to order
something online at Marks and Spencer only to be told 1-2 week wait, or available
plus a date 5 to 8 weeks later - Demand Based Flow at work.
Clearly the credit crunch of 2008 means this technique will become even more
important as retailers and manufacturers work to match demand with real time
purchasing power of the people.
For those unaffected by the 2008 credit squeeze and with cash to spend,
there will be many fashion clothing bargains for several years. You are
reading an original Fashion Technolgy article by Pauline Weston Thomas at
market groups developed in the 1990s. Children between 5 years and 10
years are now called 'Tweenies' and even have their own TV series by that
name. They act and behave as aspiring teenagers buying tweenie targeted cosmetics, music,
magazines, clothes and fripperies under parental guidance with an average of £6
pocket money a week. Also called 'Tweenagers' they make up an impressive 2 billion pound annual market in the
reasons account for many of the purchases of older people.
But concepts of who and what is old or young are changing. We talk now of middle youth
rather than middle age. The fifty year old woman acts like the 35 year old
of yesterday, whilst the sixty year old has the attitude of a generation much
more youthful than that of her parents at the same age.
whole new apparel market called
housewear has become important to the ever shifting change in homelife
patterns. Increased leisure time, working from home and dressing down all
contribute to watered down comfort fashion. As well as comfort, today's
consumer also seeks style and figure flattery all combined
with easy care. Knit fabrics such as slinky acetate and Lycra mixes provide
comfortable at home wear ideal for centrally heated rooms.
Middle youth likes to shop.
directly from TV shopping Channels such as QVC gives consumers a chance to see
the garments on models whilst the items are then measured with
a tape by the presenter. For the housebound, work bound and disabled
customers, shopping this way with a 30 day approval facility is very
attractive. More importantly, because the service is so good customers return time and again. They happily give brand allegiance if they are
satisfied with the service.
Shopping and consumer forums like, and our own
fashion-era forum are great ways to discuss the products these channels sell.
Similarly shopping via the Internet from reliable brand
stores such as figleaves.com, THE GAP and Maidenform offers the consumer a huge
range of jeans and casual wear, or bras and underwear in extreme sizes
often not found in the high street. Clear pictures of the garments, stock
availability and guaranteed return rights combined with the comfort of home
fitting and speedy delivery will capture even more internet purchasers this
By 2008 many well known high street names were well established on the
internet. They include brands such as Hobbs, River Island, Planet, Windsmoor,
Alex & Co, Minuet Petite, Topshop, House of Fraser, Debenhams, John
Lewis, Coast-stores.com, East.co.uk, Oasis, New Look, Principles and Warehouse
as well as online catalogues such as Boden and NEXT.
possible reason for the expanding success of TV and Web shopping is that direct
shopping has tuned into the needs of the baby boomer generation. Web shopping is
private niche shopping experiences from exotic fetish underwear to Italian silk
ties to oversized footwear. Every hour of the day 450 baby boomers turn
50. They make up an affluent and active consuming section of the
information elite of society.
Suddenly they are consuming with opinion. They
refuse to buy what they do not see themselves wearing just because stores stock
particular items the buyer decides is fashionable. They refuse to be pegged as
middle aged. They feel they are able to self decode what they want fashion wise. They know what they are looking for when browsing stores, but all too often it
is not available. So now they browse the Internet and they become the buyer and
self directed rather than store shopping for items being bought in and pre-chosen by a merchandiser. Self selection from a world wide range will create new autonomous
want to be comfortable, they want to be youthful, they want to feel and be
sophisticated, they want to be casual and show they still have a finger on the
pulse. These 60's teenagers intend to be heard. Many major chain stores are
simply not getting it right. In order to survive in the 21st century apparel
stores need to be aware that alienating the 40 to 64 year old will be a big
mistake. This age group will, by the year 2010 be the largest demographic group.
The fashion and beauty desires of the 60+ and 70+ generation need now to be addressed in the world of
print. In particular magazines and newspapers with fashion articles of
'what to wear in your 20s, 30s and 40s etc.,' need to realise that their actual
readers may be much older than their hoped for demographic. A fashion article or beauty topic that cuts out a huge
mass of women because they are 60+ or 70++ is insulting to the readers.
grey consumer does count and plans to be around much longer than their
forebears. The grey consumer has the cash because the grey consumer probably
knew the value of thrift and avoided too much credit in the past like their younger
counterparts. You are reading an original Fashion Technolgy article by
Pauline Weston Thomas at
Stores and manufacturers should listen carefully to the opinions, the complaints
letters and the comments of customers. Other factors retailers need to take into
account include the decor and lighting of stores. Many stores are designed by
people under 35 who have a different perception of colour and light than the
person over fifty, so that perceptions of colour and dim lighting may make older
customers disaffected. However there are still some great stores out there such
as Marks & Spencer and
Debenhams providing a range of clothes in the UK at affordable prices and who
continue to satisfy customers.
But if your fashion needs are not being met in the high street, vote not with your
feet, but with your fingers. Click onto the web, move into the 21st
decide to do some of your shopping on line. Purchasing replacement items like
underwear and jeans is an ideal starting point for success. Everyday tights or
socks for example can be added to a tesco.com on line grocery shop in the UK or
obtained from many specialists such as Figleaves.com.
fashion items and accessories or specific sizes that are difficult to find in the urban jungle can often be
located via the Internet.
Fashion items such as those by designer labels
Prada, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, YSL, Diesel, Fendi, Miu Miu and Gaultier to
name just a few, can all be found at Yoox and be with you within days without
trudging the stores. In the same way
designer perfumes can be with you in a few
days too. You have been reading an original Fashion Technolgy article by
Pauline Weston Thomas at
Page designed 2001. Updated October 2008.
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