Historically, clothing has been made from many materials. These materials range from grasses to furs to much more elaborate and exotic materials. Some cultures, such as the various people of the Arctic circle, until recently, made their clothing entirely of prepared and decorated furs and skins. Other cultures have supplemented and replaced leather and skins with cloth. Cloth is either woven or knitted and can be made from a large variety of fibers, which in turn can be natural, cellulose, or synthetic.
Humans have shown extreme inventiveness in devising clothing solutions to environmental hazards and the distinction between clothing and other protective equipment is not always clear-cut; examples include space suit, air conditioned clothing, armor, diving suit, swimsuit, bee-keeper's protective clothing, motorcycle leathers, high-visibility clothing, and protective clothing in general.
Clothing is generally made of cloth. There are many different types of cloth, with different names and uses. Main differences between types of cloth include how the cloth was made (woven or knitted, and how either of those techniques were implemented), what fiber it was made from, and what weight the cloth is. Different types of cloth are used for different types of clothing.
Some common natural clothing materials are:
- Cloth, typically made of cotton, flax, wool, ramie, silk
- Down for down-filled parkas
Some clothing is made from synthetic fibers, which are man made and not biodegradable, made primarily from petrochemicals:
- Nylon was first produced in 1935. Nylon is a thermoplastic silky material. It became famous when used in women's stockings ("nylons") in 1940. It was intended to be a synthetic replacement for silk and substituted for it in many different products after silk became scarce during World War II.
- Polyesters include naturally-occurring chemicals and synthetics. Natural polyesters and a few synthetic ones are biodegradable, but most synthetic polyesters are not. Polyesters may change shape after the application of heat and are combustible at high temperatures. They tend to shrink away from flames and self-extinguish upon ignition. Polyester fibers have high tenacity and E-modulus as well as low water absorption and minimal shrinkage in comparison with other industrial fibers.
- Spandex (or elastane) is known for its exceptional elasticity. It is stronger and more durable than rubber, its major non-synthetic competitor. It was invented in 1959.
Less-common clothing materials include:
- PVC-Polyvinyl chloride
- Recycled or Recovered Cotton
- Recycled PET
- Recycled paper
- Other Natural Fibers
- International Textile and Apparel Association, scholarly publications
- German Hosiery Museum (English language)
- Molecular Evolution of Pediculus humanus and the Origin of Clothing by Ralf Kittler, Manfred Kayser and Mark Stoneking (.PDF file)
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