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Thanks to the growing athleisure trend, clothes once intended for exercise are no longer restricted to gyms, race tracks, and yoga studios.
With this change in consumer demands, activewear now combines the key elements of comfort, durability, and luxury, making fabric choice a vital ingredient in manufacture.
Thankfully, innovations in fabric technology mean that the latest activewear supports both functional and design needs. So, whether you’re looking for the best exercise fabric for staying cool while you sweat or a sports jersey with great color retention and design, it’s now possible to have it all.
Find out more in our guide to the various types of activewear fabric commonly used today.
Most activewear is made from synthetic fibers or a combination of natural and synthetic fibers. But if you prefer to wear natural fibers, here are the three main alternatives:
Regular cotton is terrible for any activities that might involve sweating. This is because cotton is very hydrophilic, meaning that it holds water and takes a long time to dry as a result.
Once it gets wet, cotton can cause chafing in hot weather and hypothermia in cold weather. Avoid cotton activewear, unless you only intend to use it for relaxation.
It may be hard to believe but a panda’s favorite food can be pulped and processed into a soft rayon fabric that’s ideal for activewear.
Bamboo protects the skin from UV rays, and it’s also light, durable, soft, antimicrobial and great at wicking away moisture. But one downside is that activewear made from bamboo tends to stretch and lose its form over time.
Merino wool is a great activewear material as it’s warm yet breathable, antimicrobial and wicks away moisture. It’s also less scratchy than other types of wool. Because of the way it regulates body heat, it’s ideal for hiking and other outdoor pursuits.
Synthetic fibers have come a long way since the sweaty, clingy fabrics of the 1970s. These days almost all activewear is made from polyester thanks to the way it allows you to sweat and feel cool, or at least, as cool as possible when you’re running in the Florida heat.
Here are the three main synthetic fibers used in exercise fabric:
Polyester is often the go-to fabric for activewear as it’s breathable, durable, non-absorbent, shrink-resistant and crease-free.
It also takes color well so it’s great for vibrant prints on leggings, jerseys and other exercise apparel. But one downside of polyester is that it offers the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and tends to hold in odors.
Nylon is a strong yet lightweight material with low moisture absorbency. It’s also resistant to dirt, fast-drying, and crease-free.
It also wicks away moisture and is more breathable and durable than polyester, making it ideal for baseball stirrups and other sporting equipment that faces a lot of wear and tear.
You might know this smooth and stretchy fabric as Lycra, but Lycra is actually a brand name of spandex, as we explain below.
Spandex is ideal for activewear as it’s breathable, wicks away moisture and dries fast. But it’s main strength is that it can expand to almost six times its size and then regain its original shape! Just be sure to keep your spandex gym wear out of the drier to protect its stretchy abilities for longer.
Trademarked Activewear Material
There are thousands of trademarks technical fabrics ideal for activewear. Here are some of the most well-known examples on the market:
Lycra by Invista
Much like Jell-O, Tupperware and Velcro, Lycra is actually a trademarked brand and comes under the general category of spandex.
As a type of spandex, Lycra is extremely stretchy and has great recovery. It’s often blended with other fibers to help clothing maintain its shape and support, and can be used in all types of garments, from activewear to hosiery to the latest swimwear.
Tactel by Invista
Another Invista trademark, Tactel is strong, soft, light and dries eight times quicker than cotton. Tactel fabric feels like a soft jersey and is often used in activewear and underwear.
Supplex by Invista
Invista scientists developed Supplex fabrics as an improvement on regular cotton for use in activewear. Supplex fabric retains the softness of cotton but is faster-drying and breathable, with great shape and color retention.
Dri-Fit by Nike
Trademarked by Nike, Dri-Fit is a type of polyester with a small amount of stretch and small, regular holes in the fabric for a high evaporation rate. This fabric is most commonly used in ‘technical’ running shirts which help to wick moisture away from the body quickly.
PolarTec by Malden Mills
PolarTec fabrics have the advantages of wool without the itchiness, bulkiness or care requirements.
There are over 300 different fabrics, which vary in texture, weight and are designed for different activities. But all PolarTec fabrics offer great color-retention and are breathable, durable and wicks moisture away from the body.
Tasc by Tasc Performance
Tasc is a blend of spandex, wool, organic cotton, and chemical-free bamboo. The result is an incredibly soft fabric that regulates body temperature and repels odors, making it ideal for all forms of activewear.
X-Static by Noble Biomaterials
X-Static contains silver, known for its antimicrobial properties, as a way to prevent fungal and bacterial growth. Silver is an ideal and unique element in activewear thanks to the way it continues working and never washes out.
Your Guide to Activewear Fabric
From natural fibers to high-tech trademarked fabrics, there’s no end of choices when it comes to choosing the perfect fabric for your exercise apparel.
But, whichever fabric you favor for your activewear, it’s important to follow the care instructions to ensure that it continues performing as the manufacturers intended.
Now you know more about the different types of activewear fabric, check out this guide to find the best gym clothes for your needs.