Panty Fabrics 101

12 Nov

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By Marcy Montgomery Jones
Naomi & Nicole®

Whatever happened to good ol’ sensible 100% cotton panties? All of the fabric names and blends that you might see today on your panty’s label can make your head spin. Let’s decode the mystery so you know what’s up down there.

  • Organic Cotton is cotton grown without pesticides and is derived from plants that haven’t been genetically altered.
  • Pima Cotton is a generic name for premium, extra-long-fiber cotton that’s grown mostly in the U.S., Australia, and Peru. Pima was previously called American-Egyptian cotton but was renamed for the Pima Indians who were growing it for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Arizona. The primary difference between Pima cotton and regular cotton is that Pima has longer and stronger fibers. It feels silk-like and has a very fine weave. It’s also very absorbent.
  • Mercerized Cotton goes through a finishing process that swells the yarn of the fabric to give it a round, smooth surface and prevents the cotton from shrinking further. This process results in a stronger and more lustrous yarn that’s more easily dyed and is capable of holding brighter, deeper colors.

For a Ph.D. in all things cotton, check out Cotton Incorporated’s website.

  • Microfiber is the generic term for any synthetic fiber finer than silk. Fabrics made with microfibers are soft, lightweight, breathable, and durable. Because microfiber filaments can be packed so closely together, they can prevent moisture from passing though, yet allow air to flow back and forth. These high-tech synthetic filaments are so fine that their tight knits result in a super-smooth look that’s soft to the touch.
  • Polyester is the name of both a fabric and a fiber. This manufactured fiber was introduced in the early 1950s, and is second only to cotton in worldwide usage. Its ability to stretch and resist wrinkling makes it a popular fabric for lingerie. It has great strength (although less than Nylon), excellent resiliency, and high resistance to abrasion. Its low absorbency allows it to dry quickly.
  • Nylon was the first commercially successful synthetic fiber to be made entirely from ingredients other than natural fibers: coal, water, and air. Nylon is strong, durable, elastic, and resistant to abrasion and chemicals. It has low moisture absorbency and can be permanently set by heat.
  • Cordura® is Invista’s registered name for Nylon.  Invista used to be known as DuPont.
  • Polyamide is the European term for Nylon yarn or Nylon fabric.
  • Tactel® is Invista’s registered name for high-performing Nylon. It’s silkier and softer than Nylon, and has a crinkle finish. It’s lightweight and quick-drying.
  • Spandex is a synthetic fiber made from Polyurethane. It’s known for its exceptional elasticity. It’s lightweight, strong, durable, and doesn’t absorb water or oils.
  • Power Net is a generic term used to describe a knitted fabric in which inlaid Spandex fibers or yarns are used to give the fabric great elongation and elasticity.
  • Elastane is the preferred name for Spandex outside of the United States.
  • Lycra® is Invista’s registered name for Spandex. It’s lightweight and soft, but stronger and more durable than rubber. Lycra can be stretched to more than 500% of its resting length without breaking, and can be stretched repeatedly while maintaining its ability to return to its original length. It provides lightweight freedom of movement in foundation garments.
  • Dorlastan® is the registered name for Spandex made by Asahi Kasei.
  • Rayon is a silk-like, manufactured fiber made from wood pulp, cotton linters, or other vegetable matter. It’s known for draping well, and is absorbent. However, fabrics made from Rayon aren’t strong.
  • Modal is a specific variety of Rayon made with reconstituted cellulose from beech trees. It’s about 50% more water-absorbent than cotton. It has a soft and silky feeling, a good drape, and great breathability. Garments made in Modal have anti-crease properties, resist shrinking, and are relatively easy to care for.
  • Micro Modal® is the registered name of a micro fiber from Lenzing Group.  The fabric is a very fine and lightweight Modal. After numerous washings, garments made from Micro Modal remain soft and silky, with their colors staying bright and shiny. Micro Modal is 50% more absorbent than cotton, which allows skin to breathe and provides incredible comfort to the wearer.
  • Polyurethane is an incredibly resilient, flexible, and durable manufactured material that can have insulating properties.
  • Polydactyl, according to, is an adjective that means, “Having more than the normal number of fingers or toes.” Polydactyl cats are also known as Hemmingway Cats, named after author Earnest Hemmingway. This was a test to see if you were still paying attention.

And thus concludes this panty digest. I hope you now feel more enlightened as a consumer, or at least know now where to look the next time you have a question about panties. Post your panty fabric queries below so we can decipher the rhetoric together.

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CC Image courtesy of Erin – TwoMoreSeconds on Flickr
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