Uses Of Synthetic Fabrics

There are many synthetic fibers, many which we don't realize are man-made. Most were developed just after World War 2.

Synthetic fabrics have had a bad press for years. Noses turn up in disdain at the mention of Polyester and (ugh!) Spandex. Yet, lest we forget, polyester was touted as a miracle fabric when it was launched in 1953. Strong, wrinkle-resistant and glossy, it was the fabric of choice for the yuppies of the era. And as for Spandex, the problem with this little item is of guilt by association. Put Julia Roberts and Tina Turner in spandex, and sales would go boom! However, the real success story is nylon, which has done more to spread the American way of life than all the politicians, all the foreign aid, and all the wars. The invention of nylon stockings in the early 40¡¦s, and their issue to victorious GIs as a secret weapon in the battle against Nazism, and later, Communism, was a master-stroke.

There are myriad synthetic fibers on the market, some of which we don¡¦t even realize are man-made. Many were developed in the immediate post-war era of the 50s, but others have been around for much longer.

- Acetate, first produced commercially in the US in 1924. Derived from cellulose, it has a luxurious feel and texture. It¡¦s used for clothing and furniture, and it also makes for a good cigarette filter.

- Acrylic, produced in 1950 from a petrochemical substance called acrylonitrile. It is used for clothing, furniture, sails and industrial cloth. Can also be used as a replacement for asbestos, and to reinforce concrete and stucco.

- Lyocell. See Rayon.

- Nylon, first commercially produced in 1939, was the GIs secret weapon. It is a long-chain synthetic polyamide. (Imagine trying to sell ¡¥long-chain synthetic polyamide' stockings.) It is very strong, elastic, looks good. It¡¦s used for indoor and outdoor clothing, for carpets, and in furniture. It is also used in parachutes, seat belts, ropes, tarpaulins, tire cord, and hoses.

- Olefin, developed in 1958, is very light and comfortable. It is strong, and is used for active and sportswear. It¡¦s also used in cars and trucks, in home furnishings, ropes and industrial carpets.

- The Good. -Polyester. First commercially produced in 1953, its real name, changed after it became a Hollywood star, is Polyethelyneterephthalate. It is strong, wrinkle-resistant, retains heat-set crease, and stays crisp and fresh in all weathers. It¡¦s used in all forms of clothing, home furnishing, tires, autos, sails, and for many industrial tasks that require a fabric of strength and durability.

- The Bad, as in baaaad - Rayon. This is the granddaddy of them in all, first commercially produced in the USA in 1910. It¡¦s used in clothing, home furnishing, tires, and bandages.

- The Ugly, - Spandex. Born in the dog days of 1959. Strong, durable, more elastic than elastic, this fabric is worn for comfort, compression and foundation.

As can be seen from the above list, synthetic fabrics have a long and distinguished pedigree, and surprisingly, in a recent online survey, for the top fashion innovations of the century, wash and wear fabric came top of the list, with polyester at number 16 just beating out cotton T-shirts, and burying the mini-skirt.

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