Like millions of other sports fans my husband, Ian and I watched as much of the Olympic Games as we could. One night while watching swimming competition, Ian observed that “fabric is faster than skin”, referring to the high-tech swimwear that the athletes wore. As I always look for textiles in every situation, I considered including the innovations in sportswear manufacture in today’s blog.
Adapting clothing and other textiles to environmental conditions is not a new concept. From earliest days man sought to improve his lifestyle by making improvements to the manner in which textiles were produced, often by trial and error. Ancient warriors reinforced their body wear with elements from wicker to metal. The Chinese are credited with the production of asbestos and used this mineral as fireproofing for their firemen.
In April I wrote about the early processes of waterproofing fabric for making rain wear using rubber. Today there are various methods using polyester and polyurethane films, various immersions and other techniques. There is a very large, detailed website from REI called “Rainwear and How it Works”.
Of course every athletic activity has its own requirements for athletic wear for their athletes. Often individual participants have their own preferences. But one does not have to be a professional nor spend hours seeking the newest textile innovations. Of course there is Internet shopping, but nearly every town has many sources for apparel from big box stores to small specialty sports stores. Sports such as cycling and running require lightweight wicking fabrics. Wicking fabrics keep the wearer comfortable by allowing perspiration to wick thru the fabric, keeping cooler in heat and warmer in cold. The properties of many fabrics do not satisfy this criteria of breathability, polyester for one.
Other outdoor activities require sun protection. Many textiles have UV protection, which is important for everyone, but critical for children.
Of course not all outdoor activities are practiced in the warm summer months. Winter sports need clothing that is lightweight and can retain body heat.
Just as new technology improved tennis rackets, baseball bats and golf clubs, the new sports fabrics can make our experiences in the gym, on the courts and in the pool more enjoyable. But they probably will never improve my tennis game.