Why are acetate/spandex blends so hard to find?
June 7, 2011 10:15 PM   Subscribe

Why aren't acetate/spandex blends more widely available?

I have some clothing from the Chico's Travelers line and I love the fabric, which I think the tag says is 95% acetate and 5% spandex--it's so soft, light, wrinkle-free, and machine-washable (well, I'm not sure about that last part, but I put it in the wash and it comes out okay). But in my efforts to find quality clothing made from this fabric in a color other than black I've been stymied as I find hardly anyone making clothing out of it...pretty much just Chico's and some brand that's only sold on the Home Shopping Network. I am totally befuddled by this--why are so few companies selling clothes from this material? Is there a technical reason? A legal one? Something else?
posted by phoenixy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm going to take a stab at it this, but keep in mind this is only my opinion, which may not be the answer you're looking for.

A) Lots of people want more natural fibers. I and many of my friends/family/etc look for mostly cotton or linen things, or wools in cooler weather, or cashmeres, or silk, and the like. It's just that these are considered more 'quality' in many regards and many things that *some* consider stylish are more often made from these fabrics and not from synthetic blends. From which follows--

B) Many do not consider Chico's a particularly "stylish" store. I, a late 20's female, regard Chico's as a place where my female relatives in their 60's shop because the clothes are "wrinkle-free and machine-washable". From which follows--

C) Many retail stores hope to market themselves as "fashionable" and less "wrinkle-free and machine-washable" because "fashionable" people are more likely have money (or at least more likely to want to spend money, whether or not they have it) than a more sensible person who is more concerned with convenience and comfort. Following this logic, they would want to steer clear of appealing to a more 'mom' set to appeal to a younger set.

BUT, there are many stores that also recognize the considerably large market of the 'sensible set' as well, and cater to them with similar fabrics.

Disclaimer: My mom, my stepmom, my (40ish) sister, and my aunt all LOVE Chico's, but they are decidedly unfashionable. But that doesn't mean that they don't look cute, put together, and respectable. They just have a different aesthetic, different peer group, and different priorities.

And again, this is all just a laywoman's uninformed attempt at answering your question and my no means is it my intent to offend, which sincerely I hope I do not.
posted by greta simone at 10:51 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it's just not a very fashionable fabric right now, and if it's not selling, it won't be sold by most. There is, however, a certain demographic to which Chico's appeals - mostly middle-aged and older women who aren't keeping up with the trends and simply want to look nice and be comfortable. There's nothing wrong with that, but that demographic doesn't rule the fashion market.

I'm not an expert either, though. I just read a lot of fashion blogs (shhh).
posted by katillathehun at 11:15 PM on June 7, 2011

I accidentally bought an acetate-spandex shirt once and I found that it made sweat cling to me like whoa. It didn't even breathe as well as polyester or poly-cotton. Obviously, that's anecdotal, but it might not just be me. Since then, I've learned to stay away from its particular feel.
posted by wintersweet at 11:52 PM on June 7, 2011

I think the acetate-spandex blend's main selling point as a fabric is that it falls into the "easy care" category. You for similar but more broadly available items, might look into clothing made with Tencel; Orvis sells some, including for example these pants that come in a lot of colors.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:25 AM on June 8, 2011

Best answer: I like the fabric too (apparently I'm old and unfashionable! thanks!), but I have found that it doesn't stand up to a lot of use over years, and it's impossible to match with other fabrics (your whole outfit must be the same fabric). I think that might be one reason people don't buy it as much. There are a few other places to look, though:
Coldwater Creek
Norm Thompson
Monterey Bay
posted by Houstonian at 3:48 AM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think there is limited appeal. I'm 40 and for me, Chico's travel stuff is "work clothes" on days when I have to look professional but still be able to move & look unwrinkled or unstained at the end of the day. (While I have a desk job, a large part of it is training people in a PC lab so I never know when I'll be kneeling on the floor fixing something. Linen is crap for that, sadly.). But I don't wear it out socially, so to speak, because it's "work drag". Similarly, I have a friend
I don't buy tons of it but I am very glad it exists.
posted by pointystick at 4:06 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

ooh, sorry got cut off. A friend who works in a hospital setting wears it for work because it is easy to move in and looks the same at 5 pm a it does at 9 am. But she changes into to more "on trend" & casual, sporty clothes in her off hours.
posted by pointystick at 4:08 AM on June 8, 2011

Response by poster: I know it isn't very fashionable, but I wouldn't think that would explain why apparently only two clothing stores in the entire world sell it...certainly there are tons of hideous and unfashionable pieces of attire sold all over the place. Is that really the only reason?
posted by phoenixy at 6:15 AM on June 8, 2011

Best answer: Also, IIRC it was pretty fashionable-for-work in the late 90s/early 2000s - I remember lots of little skirts and pants and jackets, all black and weirdly drapey-clingy. Fashionable people did wear that stuff, though maybe not trendy cutting-edge fashionable people. A little black skirt and some of those stretchy-fabric Steve Madden platforms, a white tee and you (well, not me) were all set to go.

Eileen Fisher has this "washable stretch crepe" fabric that is viscose/nylon/lycra which comes in various darker colors and in different pieces. I actually had a couple of kind of neat skirts with foldover waists from there a few years ago - it's pricey, but it holds up really, really well.

J Jill also has this "wearever" line that might be relevant - I don't think it's acetate-spandex, but it's that same kind of slinky uncrushable fabric.

I'm fascinated by the idea of uncrushable, universal fabrics but the texture creeps me out - it's not organic, but it has this cool, clingy, fleshy quality.

Honestly, Chico's and J Jill and so on get an unjustly bad rap because the clothes as styled in the stores/catalogs can be a bit dismal. But I know (okay, I'm a bit obsessed about this kind of thing) several women who wear a lot of pieces from those places but not styled as intended; also, when I wore the more oddball Eileen Fisher pieces, I got compliments all the time from fashionable people.
posted by Frowner at 6:20 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: PS I know I didn't explicitly ask about similar fabrics or places that sold it in the question, although I guess I kind of implicitly did--but the suggestions are very welcome, so keep them coming!
posted by phoenixy at 6:23 AM on June 8, 2011

Microfiber Jersey is a similar fabric that behaves similarly as far as being pretty wrinkle-free. It comes and goes, though, and I think right now it's in a "go" phase.

Ann Taylor Loft also frequently has dresses in cotton jersey that are NOT tissue weight or just a weird weight over all that are not 100% wrinkle free but pretty close.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:36 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know they may not be exactly the same blend but there are a lot of clothes out there that stuff has the same properties.

I'd suggest maybe trying shops that specialize in travel wear or clothes for people going backpacking around Europe sort of thing. http://www.sierratradingpost.com/d/268_Womens-Hiking-and-Travel-Shirts.html (just as an example, but google something like "Womens travel clothes" and you'll get lots of hits). They are usually a bit pricier, but I've bought items like that for traveling and they've all been good quality and lasted ages.

I don't know how dressy you are looking for but they also make a similarly easy care blend t-shirts and the like for exercising & sport, but it has sweat wicking properties which makes it great in hot weather. My husband swears by them and says they are as cool as cotton but he doesn't have to worry about ironing or getting marks on it. He gets them from sportswear stores in lots of great plain solid colours.
posted by wwax at 6:54 AM on June 8, 2011

Tilley also does a lot of unfashionable, respectable-looking stuff in "easy to wash" synthetic blends.
posted by kmennie at 6:57 AM on June 8, 2011

I have loads of dresses from Susana Monaco in Supplex, a nylon/lycra blend patented by Dupont. The brand's cuts and colors are more modern than Chico's, and the fabric fits with your easy-care, machine-washable requirements.
posted by evoque at 6:59 AM on June 8, 2011

I know it isn't very fashionable, but I wouldn't think that would explain why apparently only two clothing stores in the entire world sell it...certainly there are tons of hideous and unfashionable pieces of attire sold all over the place. Is that really the only reason?

The way I see it like this:

More women in this country are size 16s than size 2s. But it's much much easier to find size 2s in a store than size 16s. Because most stores are trying to sell an image-and a size 16 image is not what they are trying to sell, even though size 16s are bigger share of the market. Similarly, cute, fashionable clothes are the image many stores are trying to sell, even though that is not necessarily what the majority of people seek.
posted by greta simone at 7:21 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I meant to continue--that's why there are more stores catering to size 0-8 than there are Lane Bryants in the world, even though it would make sense to have more of the latter and less of the fewer.
posted by greta simone at 7:22 AM on June 8, 2011

I think some of it may have to do with fashion but it also has to do with how it wears. I've bought plenty of wrinkle-free travel clothing in my time and most of the fabric is really unbreathable and not practical to travel to hot places in. I wouldn't buy it again. As a sewer I've always been dismayed that I couldn't find fabric like that to sew from.

If you're looking for other shops that carry it definitely look at travel-specific shops. A lot of it will be an "outdoorsy" style but there are lots of new lines of travel clothing that look like normal clothes, and are made from anti-wrinkle synthetics.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:22 AM on June 8, 2011

Best answer: The acetate/spandex fabric that OP refers to is called "slinky" in the garment industry. It is still used in trendy evening clothes and two or three piece sets. Mostly considered a "budget" or low end fabric.

like rayon, acetate is made from regenerated cellulose, which is natural. Rayon & Acetate share cotton's properties for vapor and heat transmission. However, the chemicals that dissolve wood pulp or cotton fibers to make pulp are not necessarily earth friendly.

[Wrinkle Resistant cottons are usually coated with a resin which effectively closes down vapor and heat transmission]

Imagine squirting thick paste thru a shower head or pasta making machine: that is how the fibers are formed. Acetate is extruded into acetic acid, [vinegar] that's how it gets its name. Acetate has a glossy finish and is heavier than rayon.

Both rayon and acetate have low abrasion resistance, they wear out very quickly in the areas that rub or flex. On the other hand, nylon and polyester are extremely durable.

I used to be a total snob against "man made" fibers, but polyester and nylon have come a long way. For vapor and heat properties, the fibers are manufactured with a lattice structure which spirals throughout, this can actively ventilate heat and sweat away from your body. In fact, socks and undergarments made from synthetic fibers are superior to manmade fibers. Look at the high performance brands used by athletes and outdoorspeople. Nobody wears cotton socks, they get wet and stay wet.

Nylon [the generic name] or Supplex [the trademarked name] combined with elastin or spandex is the Miracle Fabric. Soft, resiliant, beautiful drape. I also love Polyester/Rayon/Spandex blends. Both of these blends are superior to Acetate/ Spandex for durabiility.

posted by ohshenandoah at 2:09 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

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