While the elastic that we know of today may only date back to the mid 19th century, elasticity has actually been used by man for thousands of years, with the very first elastic strings fashioned from animal guts, intended to hold items together. From here, humans realized that elastic could also be used as a weapon, which gave birth to the bow and arrow, and, after this, a number of other uses for elastic were conceived. However, it was not until around the 1840’s that elastic began to be used in mainstream fashion, but, once its versatility in the fashion industry was finally discovered, it soon began appearing on a wide range of garments.
Elastic braces were invented in the 1840’s, and had a huge impact on men’s fashion at the time. Designed to hold up the high-waisted trousers and undergarments that were worn at that time, elastic braces changed the direction of men’s fashion, allowing for a wider range of waistbands and trouser styles to be worn. However, the elastic suspenders at this time were designed to be purely functional, and were completely hidden from sight by the waistcoats that were also worn with this look, meaning that little attention was paid to the actual aesthetics of these braces.
Over the years, elastic began to become more widely used in fashion, and this elastic was created by transforming latex into a usable rubber. However, during and after the second World War, there were huge shortages of natural rubber experienced, which led to research and studies into ways in which to make synthetic forms of elastic. The first few outcomes of this were great for use within the automobile industries, although not so good for textiles, as elastic made from natural fibers was still highly preferred. However, this all changed in 1959, when, after years of research, spandex was invented.
The invention of spandex brought about huge changes in the textiles industry, as there was now finally an elastic that not only readily accepted dyes and did not absorb too much moisture, but also held up when washed in a machine time and time again. Spandex fibers are also able to stretch to hundreds of times of their original length, giving textile manufacturers a level of elasticity that they had not yet experimented with. This meant that, at the beginning, it was only really used in items such as bras and workout clothes, but, as the years went on, it became a significant structural material in the majority of clothes out there. Today, spandex is used in 80% of clothing purchased by Americans, as it can be usefully incorporated into just about everything, from comfortable night clothes to classic denim jeans.
While elastic is mostly used in fashion for fitting purposes, it also gives clothes the ability to stretch, without losing their original shape. From socks to fitted shirts, elastic likely features in the majority of clothes in your wardrobe, and it is always fascinating to know more about exactly how this material ended up making its way into our daily lives.