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The body beautiful never felt the need to be more in shape than now with the advent of Lycra as a fashion fabric tailored for all occasions-not just to exercise in.

Try squeezing into skin tight clothing and one realizes that it isn’t exactly an easy task. That’s what was happening till the late fifties when people tried to literally worm themselves into restrictive garments because it was the fashion of the day. Now wouldn’t it have been easier if there had been a stretch fibre like Lycra then?

In 1959, when Lycra was introduced by Du Pont Company, it was a super stretching spandex fibre. Today the name Lycra has turned into a generic term for all stretch fabrics whether silk or cotton. In India, Elyxa is the Indian brand name for Lycra which is produced by Thapar Du Pont Fibres Ltd. in the country.

In the 80s, and 90s the body conscious awareness led to a tremendous increase in the use of stretch fabrics. Not only are stretch fabrics a must for the underwear industry but, today, Lycra is used by Marks and Spencers in tracksuits, by Prosche in car sun roofs, by Yves St. Laurent in briefs, by Levis and Lee in Jeans and by top fashion designers like Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Christian Dior, Azzedine Alaia, Donna Karan and Jean Paul Gaultire.

Fabrics with the use of Lycra have the ability to stretch five to six times their length and recover back to their original length. The composition of Lycra is a manmade elastane fibre which is actually a segmented polyurethane. Being composed of soft or flexible segments which are bounded together with a hard or rigid segment, it is this molecular structure which gives the fibre its ability to stretch and return to its original shape.

Lycra moved from the ladies underwear girdle to the outer wear section rapidly. It was swim wear and stockings in the 70s and bicycle shorts and aerobic wear in the 80s. Body hugging garments in the late 80s and 90s have made stretch fabrics indispensable. Long before Lycra came into the market, the garment industry relied on rubber for inducing stretch into the item. But rubber had its disadvantages unlike Lycra. It could not be dyed easily, it was relatively coarse and heavy and did not make the garments comfortable. It was wore out faster with perspiration and body oils.

In the late 40s, the discovery of Helanca did help because the yarn made from nylon behaved much better than rubber. It stretched to three times its relaxed length in heavier weights and four to five times in lighter weights. Form-fitting garments were now possible. It was the 80s that brought in varied forms of dressing, both for formal and informal wear. The sophisticated padded shouldered power dressing look aimed at the working women and sharply contrasted with the fitness boom that gripped the world. Young and old everywhere were followers of the keep-fit cult. It is here that both men and women and sharply contrasted with the fitness boom that gripped the world. Young and old everywhere were followers of the keep-fit cult. It is here that both men and women realized that looking good in fitted clothes meant having a figure worth showing off and for that one had to work for it.

With the growing awareness to fitness and health, exercise clothes also turned into fashion wear and leotards hitherto used in the gym were suddenly appearing at cocktail parties. It is now considered good fashion sense to wear clingly leotards, exercise tights, leggings, footless tights and even dance wear throughout the day. Stretch fabric had opened up a whole new market for itself and the possibilities were phenomenal.

One of the first western wear designers to use stretch was Azzedine Alaia. He used stretch imaginatively-cutting it cleverly and scanning it perfectly-so that the fabric highlighted the woman’s every contour. It was little wonder therefore that he was called the King of Cling.

Fabrics are in one or two-way stretch. This means that at times both the warp and weft have a percentage of the stretch yarn. Lycra is never used in its purest form but in combination with natural or manmade fibres or blends of both. In T-shirts it is used at times for the garment as well as the embellishments like collar and cuffs.

In India, experiments were made by Lakshmi Mills of Coimbatore and Madura Coats to blend in a mere four grams of Elyxa in the rubia fabric (2x2) which is popular for cholis blouses-to enable them to not only fit well but also make them comfortable so that the blouse moves in the direction of the body.

Blouses in Elyxa can be tailored in the conventional way but can be a size smaller so that they fit perfectly. Other fashion items like dress materials for salwar kameezes and ethnic wear will give the garments a better fit. The very restrictive churidars (drainpipe pants) can now turn into a comfortable fashion item.

Stretch fabric also plays an important part in children’s wear. With its comfortable property for stretching, the fabric can last out its life for a much longer period for children’s wear.

Swim wear in India has turned into a fashion item with Bata and Proline each bringing out a range for water sports. Lycra is extremely suitable since its resistance (to degradation by sunlight, body oils and when treated by other chemicals like chlorine in swimming pools) is high. Also, it is abrasion resistant and can safely be washed without loss of shape.

Designers in India are also excited about the use of Dlyxa for their garments. Designer James Ferreira has been using stretch fabrics for a long time for his creations. It is ideal for garments because of its feel and fall. Of course for a travel wardrobe nothing can touch garments made of stretch fabrics. they are crease resistant and easy to manage and ideal to pack in a suitcase, reveals Ferreira-popular Indian designer who specializes in coordinates and suits. He uses jersey material for accessories like blouses and skirts. I find that jersey is ideal for them because they complement the jackets and coats that I create. Also, the sarong skirts that I have made look best in soft jersey. The various forms of drapes that are popular in India and Western garments take on a better shape when they are created in jersey.

It is also believed that in the case of athletics and sports, a form-fitting garment makes all the difference in the performance of an athlete. This is because with fitted garments the muscle temperature increases by as much as two to three percent. This in turn will help a sportsperson to perform more efficiently. When muscles are compressed with fitted garments, their efficiency improves as the physical power and endurance of an athlete increases. Stretch fabrics negate the effects of heat and cold on the body thereby helping the body to stay at peak performing level.

The most popular garments in the 90s are the skin tight leotards in solids or prints-both in cotton and in silk. These are normally teamed with tube bops or bustiers which are in vivid colours. Skirts and dresses also are a favourite. These are either mini or midi and are nearly always form fitting. Jersey also reacts very well to permanent pleating and has a remarkable drip dry quality which is easy to maintain.

Fashion now has a new addition to its favourties. Cotton, silk denim and now jersey. All fabrics that make life much easier to live in this fast packed world.