What are you wearing?

January 31, 2019

Dear Editor:

Really, What Is the Fabric of Your Clothing?  S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is Woven within the Fabric of the Clothes on our Back.

While shopping around various stores and shops over the holiday season, I realized that fashion and sports clothing is not what it used to be.  Whether it is the fabrics of daily wear for women and men or the demands placed on sportswear, scientists and engineers are busy improving and creating new materials.

Not so many years ago, clothes were primarily made from today cotton and a few other materials, such as wool and silk.  Some of us remember when jeans came stiff and in two sizes, slim and husky.  Clothes that you were wearing became your sports clothes when you found yourself in a game.  Boots leaked in the winter and cotton shirts got soaked with sweat in the summer.

The materials that our clothes are made from today have become incredibly diverse and good at achieving the look and task required.  Think of Under Armor; the fabric of their sports clothing line had to come first.  Once they had the fabric, their designers could go to work creating for a mass market.

Today’s sports wear ranges from ski adventures in the deep snows of the mountains to running long distances across desert plains.  All these garments have been engineered to be durable, light-weight, compactable, and moisture-wicking.  They also help the body to maintain a normal body temperature.  In addition, many garments are made to be water-proof, rip-proof, padded, stain resistant, bacteria eliminating, etc.  This list of demands we expect from our sports clothing is long and specific.

Women and men’s fashion have been greatly affected by the advancements in fabric science.  Compare jeans of the 90’s with the form fitting skinny jeans of today.  And how sweat pants turned into yoga pants, which are now considered active wear and are acceptable clothing in most public locations.

Today’s clothing lines, pants or leggings for instance, provide much more “support” than they did in the past; they are snug to the body but do not restrict the body.  This is an especially challenging task for designers because every body is a unique shape and there are unique shapes within every body.  In addition every one of our bodies change shape (lose or gain at little) within the lifetime of our clothes.  And in the case of our legs, they tamper in and out from our ankles to our hips.  So now many of our garments have an elastic (snap back) fabric woven within them.  They are designed to hold your body tight but not too tight, which gives the form fitting look and smooth curves.

Pick a store, any store and look at the label on any piece of clothing and it will probably be some blend of a polyester or rayon.  Yes, you can find cotton, wool, and silk, but what used to be the rule is now the exception.  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are what have allowed for this transformation to happen.

Polyester and rayon are broad names for a wide variety of materials.  There are huge possibilities and endless opportunities yet to be discovered for these materials.  Fashion and sports equipment will continue to develop new and better materials, but with the invention of IoT (Internet of Things), a whole new market will soon be opening.

Imagination is key to advancement; we cannot be trapped into thinking that STEM is only about building bridges or doing complex math equations.  When people think of science and mathematics they probably are not thinking about fashion and sports equipment, but many fashions and sports equipment would not be possible without science and math.

Andrew J. Frisch
Science, Mathematics, S.T.E.M. teacher
Farwell High School

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