A History of Spandex: How this Versatile, Stretchy Material Came to Be

Next time you slip into your most comfortable pair of leggings, think of Dr. Joseph Shivers – the man who invented spandex.

According to Greatist, Shivers started out his career as a chemist at DuPont, where one of his projects was to find a better alternative for women’s girdles. In the early 1900s, women’s girdles were actually made from rubber – yep, the same stuff that’s used to make shoes and tires. Obviously, rubber girdles weren’t comfortable to wear, but women didn’t have any other options available to them. On top of this, as modern factories and manufacturing ramped up – not to mention the Second World War – rubber was becoming less available. This led Shivers to his quest to create an alternative that was breathable, comfortable and more affordable and available than rubber.

Along with the help of his colleagues, Shivers created the first attempt in 1949 – an elastic fiber that they spun into tight, fitted fabrics. However, after testing this fabric, Dr. Shivers and his team realized that although it stretched easily, it didn’t return to its original shape, so it was useless when it came to slimming undergarments.

Shivers’ research then stalled, but he returned to the project five years later and created another fabric. This new material was based on his previous research, but unlike the product from half a decade earlier, this new fabric could be stretched significantly – as much as five times the original size – while retaining its original shape. This new material was called lycra by DuPont, but adopted the name “spandex” in short order – an anagram of “expands,” as Inventor-Strategies.com notes.

This newly created fabric was the perfect solution, but came at an imperfect time – in the early ‘50s, girdles were going out of style, but fortunately swimwear and leggings were on the horizon. As the running trend took stride in to the ‘70s and yoga pants another two decades later, spandex became incredibly versatile in the style world.

 This versatility is what makes spandex still so useful in a wide range of fashion projects today. At Fabrictopia, we carry a selection of vividly colored spandex nylon fabrics that are perfect for your next DIY sewing project. Stop by our store at 6959 Harwin Drive in Houston to shop our full inventory or call us at 713-977-0747 to learn more about our available products.

April 05, 2017