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This is Scary!

Is Spandex Keeping you Fat?!

When I was fat, I was convinced that all dry cleaners were shrinking my clothes. Mei (May in American), my newest dry cleaner would cheerfully promise “no possible no shrink” as she quickly shook her head and took my bundle.

It used to be when your clothes didn’t fit you knew you were getting fat

Yet, suddenly it seemed, my suit pants made my butt look big, my dress shirts were too constrictive and wearing a tie made breathing impossible.

“Years ago, when we made a suit or a coat, it was built like a battleship. Today, it’s beautiful clothes but high comfort level,” said George Simonton, professor at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and lead designer on TLC’s I Don’t Have a Thing to Wear. “Everything has stretch — pants, skirts, dresses, blouses, knit tops.”

A cursory search on Old Navy’s website for “spandex” yielded 444 product matches. From “princess seam” blazers that stretch for a “comfortable fit,” to “girl reaction” skinny jeans with “added stretch.” Incidentally, Old Navy has over 1,000 stores in the U.S. and is a subsidiary of the Gap (which has over 1,700 stores — including Banana Republic). According to USA Today, there are “plans to triple the number of Gap stores in China.”

Did you know, over 80% of the clothes you buy, has spandex in it? The word spandex is directly derived from the word “expands.” The fiber can stretch to more than 100 percent of its original state yet “stretch” back into shape. It is no wonder that spandex is considered a wonder fiber allowing clothes to morph to the body as opposed to limiting movement and comfort.

According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), women buy 78% of all apparel sold in the U.S. and 65% of these women are overweight. It does make you wonder, is comfort more important than guilt?

Women’s Wear Daily did a survey about four years ago or so and comfort was the number one reason women wore the clothes that they did,” Jill Ouellette, Chair, Fashion Marketing and Management at Northwood University told me. “Spandex helps to not only be more comfortable… you will favor it more highly than something that is simply 100% cotton,” she said.

Which makes me wonder, does clothing that morphs to fit the body comfortably, encourage people — or rather — allow people to forget that they may have put on weight? “Stretch is in fashion for the overweight consumer, but the stretch is for “slimming” your look – not for comfort or ease of movement,” said Mary Ann Gale, the Academic Director of Fashion Design at The Art Institute of California. “If you go to a department store’s plus size department, you will see the stretch fabric of choice is actually jersey, which does not constrain you. It is loose and non-conforming to the body (it also hides unsightly curves), she told me.

“It is no secret that Americans continue to gain weight and fashion firms have seized the opportunity to generate more revenue by offering clothes that fit a multitude of sizes and body types by using spandex fibers in everything from intimate apparel to active sportswear,” Aleta Campbell, design director for the Hollywood Institute added in a follow-up email.

Campbell notes that numerical sizing has dwindled and alpha sizing has increased. She thinks this has helped sales by reducing the stigma related to numeric sizing. “I think it’s one thing to be a ‘size 14 or 16’ in traditional tailored clothing and quite another to slip into a (perceived) smaller size because the stretch component allows one to wear a ‘medium’” she said.

Ten years ago, the cost of spandex was $12 a pound and ten years ago, I was fat. I no longer shop at the Gap or Old Navy, which is too bad, since the growing obesity epidemic has allowed the cost of spandex to drop to around $4 a pound.

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