Unless you are a superhero, supermodel, actor, professional athlete, or any other person with a perfectly sculpted body, spandex will provide an unforgiving representation of your body type.

Who could forget the creative spandex outfits that were donned by the prolific rockers of the 1980s. Worn by the wrong person, spandex shorts are definitely capable of making one blush. However, the form-fitting qualities of the fabric make it a very useful material in a variety of applications. Latex is another fabric used in a variety of industrial applications due to its natural elasticity and ability to mold around surrounding forms. However, spandex is also extremely strong and durable. These unusual properties make it a strong competitor of latex.

Differences between Spandex and Latex

In 1959, two chemists by the names of Joseph Shivers and CL Landquist successfully created Spandex: a synthetic variation of latex. Spandex (which is a clever branding created from an amalgamation of the word “expands”) was first produced in Waynesboro, Virginia at Dupont’s Benger laboratory. The major difference between spandex and latex is that spandex is slightly more porous, especially when stretched taught. However, latex is more durable than spandex and, in certain cases, a non-porous surface is desirable.

Spandex Production

The production process of spandex is known as “solution dry-spinning” and its full chemical name is “polyurethene-polyurea compolomer,” which is basically a mixture of plastic and rubber. Dry-spinning is an interesting process that results in a fabric produced from a plastic-like compound. After chemically producing the component polymer solvent, the solution is then injected into a high-speed spinning cylinder. As the solution is spun through the cylinder, the polymer passes through a metal mesh called a “spinneret.” The strained polymer solution is then heated, which solidifies the solution into fibrous “pre-spandex” strands. The strands are then bundled and treated, completing the transfer between polymer solution and solid spandex fiber. However, the fiber that we perceive is actually a collection of smaller mini-fibers that have adhered to one another during the dry spinning process.

Spandex Applications

While the most well-known applications for spandex are in the apparel industry, it is also a staple fabric in the hospitality and industrial industries. One of the lesser-known uses of spandex is in the production of spandex table coverings and latex chair coverings. Spandex can be an excellent way for interior decorators and event-planners to create a sleek modern look in any dining area. In lieu of a traditional linen tablecloth, a fitted spandex table covering will conform to the dimensions of most traditional sized tables. Moreover, the elastic nature of the fiber ensures that utilitarian items such as table cloths and fitted toppers will be durable enough to withstand the wear that accompanies frequent use. Spandex is also well-used in elastic chair coverings and chair bands. As shrinkage often makes for long-term difficulty when it comes to table coverings and chair coverings, using an elastic fiber allows for a perfect fit time and again. Finally, by employing matching spandex table and chair coverings, one can create a matching effect for a formal table setting scheme that suggests a contemporary modern design.

The same qualities that make spandex perfect for table and chair coverings are also beneficial for industrial applications. Many of the products which require rubber (or are made with rubber components) can use spandex for the same purposes. Most notably, the rubber tubing and hosing that is widely used in the medical industry now substitutes spandex for latex in many instances. Medical support products, such as knee or back braces, often make use of spandex’s elasticity. It is also used in many household products. For instance, fitted sheets and microbead pillows are often produced using spandex.

Of course spandex, as with most fabrics, is used most often in the apparel industry. More specifically, sporting apparel and accessories make use of spandex in many items. The range of motion allowed by the elasticity of spandex fibers make it a perfect choice for runners and cyclers. Moreover, tight-fitting spandex apparel reduces the potential for any resistance to wind. This makes it especially useful for competitive cyclists who must strive for every second during a race. Spandex is also very useful as a medium for supportive garments. Spandex sports bras are a very popular item as they allow for maximum support without interrupting motion. Even sports accessories are often constructed with spandex. For instance, volleyballs and soccer balls are often made with spandex.

Style Considerations

When it comes to style, however, the days of spandex outerwear are mostly confined to the eclectic fashion era of the 1980s. For one thing, spandex shorts probably won’t do you any favors in terms of appearance. Unless you are a superhero, supermodel, actor, professional athlete, or any other person with a perfectly sculpted body, it will provide an unforgiving representation of your body type. Personally, I prefer some space between my clothing and body so as to create some measure of mystery to distract from surplus body mass. While one could write this off as me being self-conscious, I prefer to think of it as general modesty. Furthermore, any heads that I might turn by donning a pair of spandex shorts would be turning for the wrong reason from my perspective. Therefore, I will leave the spandex outfits for those that can truly pull them off. Superheroes, hair band rockers, and professional wrestlers are far more suited to rock the spandex look than a slightly overweight middle-aged man such as I. However, I’d be lying if I failed to admit my old spandex jumpsuit that I once wore as an aspiring 1980s break dancer. I suppose time (and perhaps spandex) makes fools of us all.