Over the years sports clothes have developed in leaps and bounds and, with new innovations and trends introduced on an ongoing basis, team clothing in South Africa will continue to evolve. New lightweight fabrics with added enhancements allow sportsmen and women to perform at their optimum without any discomfort.

It’s quite unbelievable to think that tennis players in the 1920’s were expected to play top flight matches in long skirts and trousers, or that the leading golfers of the day could still manage a birdie or two making a drive in tight, form-fitting jackets!

From wool to synthetics

One simply has to compare two unequivocal greats of the swimming pool to see how far sports apparel has developed. The 1920’s world champion, Johnny Weissmuller, won 5 Olympic gold medals and 1 bronze in a cumbersome, full-piece swimsuit made out of heavy, water absorbent wool while current legend, Michael Phelps, claimed 14 gold medals attired in a streamline spandex suit.

It was really the introduction of synthetic materials that changed the look and feel of sportswear and if we take a close look at the vast majority of sports clothing worn today, it is spandex that has arguably had the greatest impact.


Also known as elastane, spandex is classified as an elastometric fibre, or quite simply a fibre or material that is able to expand over 500% without breaking. The additional wonder of this technically-bred super-fibre is its ability to recover to its original size when not in use.

Spandex, an anagram of expand, first took the world by storm as the preferred attire of the superheroes like Superman and Batman but was soon embraced by our current heroes and heroines: the athletes of the modern world. Swimmers, gymnasts and figure skaters wear spandex to great effect – even our cricketers wear spandex undergarments on the field.

Benefits of spandex

Apart from its ability to stretch and recover to the original shape and form, spandex is

• extremely comfortable
• lightweight and supple
• resistant to body oils or perspirants
• abrasion resistant
• pile and static free

Miracle microfibre

Another miracle material is mircrofibre, a synthetic material made from fibre with a denier (unit of measure of the linear mass density of fibres) of 1 or less. It is generally made from polyesters, nylon or both and is an extremely popular alternative to cotton.

This ‘nineties’ material is really quite remarkable and its wickability, or the ability to spread out any moisture so that it can easily pass through the fabric’s surface, is one if its greatest assets. Other major benefits of wearing microfibre include

• keeping athletes cool and dry, reducing skin irritations
• excellent heat retention qualities when wet
• holding 7 times its own weight in moisture

Cool, cost-effective calico

A final material that continues to attract fans is calico, a natural material derived from cotton that is often unprocessed. Also known as muslin or mutton cloth, calico is both inexpensive and readily available. It is soft, breathable, durable and absorbent and if we have to take our carbon footprint into account, it’s clear which fabric should ideally be chosen by environ-friendly sportsmen and women.


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