The History of Spandex in Fashion & ETL

Spandex is very important in ETL designs, just as it has revolutionized fashion history since its invention less than 75 years ago. I believe that fashion designers are still exploring the possibilities for Spandex in fashion, and I am certainly doing my part to invent new uses for the fiber. Read on to learn how ETL pushes spandex to new heights, using the elastic yarn in garments that are constantly being stretched, wrapped, and “re-designed.”

The Use of Spandex in ETL

The first ETL collection uses a fabulous “knit” fabric (meaning the fibers are knitted, instead of woven, together) composed of 95% “modal” fibers (made from wood pulp from beech trees) and 5% spandex fibers. Spandex fibers are basically elastic. If you rearrange the letters in spandex, you’ll find it’s an anagram for . . . expands!

I love the modal/spandex fabric used in our first collection. The spandex yarns in the fabric allow the dress to stretch, then recover, and still retain its shape. You can do a lot of twisting and turning with the designs, and the spandex makes that possible!


Importantly, this modal/spandex fabric is Made in the USA by a fabulous New York mill specializing in knit fabrics. As you may know, I place a top priority on buying fabrics Made in the USA, so that I know the people making the fabrics have the protection of American labor laws.


By comparison to most fabrics, Spandex is very young:

1952: Spandex Introduced To The World

A male chemist, Joseph Shivers, invented spandex in the 1950s. In 1952, Spandex was introduced to the world in Good Housekeeping magazine through its first brand name, Lycra, and quickly used to great the girdle, a sleeve of rubber depicted above. I’m sure this was as uncomfortable as it looks.

1972: Disco Jumpsuits

Walking fire hazard met the nightclub in the form of disco jumpsuits. A quick Etsy search for Vintage Disco Jumpsuits confirms that the Spandex content in these jumpsuits was around 66% (compared to the 5% used in ETL fabrics today!) [Side note: ETL is on Etsy]

1980s: Aerobics Fashion Takes On Spandex

Lycra/Spandex became a trendy gym outfit in the 80s. Lycra leotards with leg warmers were presented as the perfect Aerobic workout gear. Needless to say, this was not the most convenient or comfortable outfit for working out.

 (You’re welcome for the video.)

2001: Spandex Becomes Masculine

Outside of the athletic aerobicisers in the above video, men haven’t had access to the benefits of Spandex in fashion for very long. Stretch makes fit easier, so it was traditionally seen as something only women would be interested in. (This isn’t supposed to make sense.) In the early 2000s Banana Republic launched jeans for men with stretch (interesting Atlantic article here). Now you can buy their hilariously named “Rapid Movement” stretch denim jeans. Or, you can just buy stretchy pants actually made for movement from Nike, which I would consider a pioneer in Spandex.

2018: Kim Kardashian Embraces Spandex

You’ve likely noticed a proliferation of stretch in recent years. Spandex has been able to carve out a niche for itself within high fashion in the 2010s, as mainstream celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner are often seen wearing body-shaping Yeezy Spandex outfits such as that depicted in the above timeline.

2019: Emma the Lion Pushes the Boundaries of Spandex in Fashion

If you’re reading this, take 20% off any order from ETL (always free shipping + no sales tax if you’re outside of Texas!) this week (May 26 - June 2), using this code: SPANDEXEXPANDS