Did you know that there’s more to activewear than cute colors and patterns? Almost every detail of our activewear has been engineered for success from the fabric composition to design and construction.

Thanks to science and technology, we can rely on performance-enhancing activewear fabric to support our fitness goals.

Whether you need a little help drying up during a sweat sesh, or you need some sun protection during your usual afternoon run, there’s a feature that can solve your problem.

But the real question is, are you looking out for these fabric features while shopping for activewear?

You wouldn’t purchase a phone without first checking the features, so why not do the same with your super expensive activewear.

If you need help finding the right features for your performance goals, here are the main fabric features to look for on your next activewear haul.

1. Moisture-wicking

Moisture-wicking is the transport of moisture from the skin, through the fabric, and into the outside environment. The moisture, in this case, pertains mostly to perspiration during a workout.

On multiple occasions, I’ve walked out of the gym mid sweat sesh because of major crotch and underboob sweat maps! If you’re super conscious your sweat patches on your workout clothes, then the moisture management fabric feature is not to be overlooked!

So how does this work? Moisture can pass between fibers, yarns and through the fiber itself. The fabric construction and fiber type determine the moisture management capability of the fabric.

Some fabrics are more hydrophilic (higher tendency to absorb moisture) than others.

Pure cotton, for example, absorbs moisture easily and can quickly become saturated holding up to 20-40% more moisture than synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester.

Also, some fabric technology incorporates a combination of absorbent and repellant fibers to allow the spreading of perspiration through the fabrics and allow easy evaporation of moisture into the air.

Activewear with moisture-wicking fabric feature is often advertised as “Quick drying” or having “Dry Technology”.

While shopping online, check out the product details to confirm that this feature is available.

2. Compression & Stretch

Spandex, also known as lycra or elastane, is a stretchy synthetic fiber that is used in many kinds of clothing.

Quick fact: the word “spandex” is an anagram for “expands”.

This fiber is usually combined with another fiber in fabric to enhance the overall elastic property of the fabric.

Activewear brands are responding to consumers’ need for compression and stretching by sourcing fabrics with considerable amounts of stretch in their activewear lines.

You’ll often find activewear with an elastane composition between 5% to 21%. The reason for this lower composition being that a full body rubber band might not be the most comfortable gym attire.

Elastane used in sportswear for multiple reasons:

  • To provide a sculpting and flattering appearance.
  • When added to the waistband on active bottoms, it ensures that the waist stays put and doesn’t slip.
  • Elastane also provides compression which can improve blood circulation, reduce lactic acid and DOMS- delayed onset muscle soreness.

3. Pill / Abrasion Resistance

Pilling has become one of the most common irks of activewear lovers and activewear brands are taking note.

Activewear fabric can become abraded due to friction between surfaces. This causes the fabric fibers to rise to the surface (pilling), creating a scattered and unappealing look.

To counter fabric pilling, scientists have created fabrics with improved strength and reduced susceptibility to breakage. Thus, minimizing the wear on the activewear fabric and prolonging its shelf life.

Abrasion-resistant fabrics can also be made from a blend of softeners and crosslinking agents to improve adhesion, and ultimately, fabric durability and strength.

The adhesion is necessary to ensure that the fibers are firmly bound and more resistant to friction.

Next time you’re in the market for a new pair of leggings, it might be worth your while to look out for this feature if pilling is not your cup of tea!

4. Odor Resistance & Antimicrobial Properties

Fabric scientists have responded to the increased industry need for improved performance with odor resistant and antimicrobial technologies.

More and more activewear brands are introducing collections with these features.For example, Carbon38 (a luxury activewear brand and retailer) makes most of their leggings with antimicrobial features.

Check out my review of the Carbon38 Tanjung legging with antimicrobial properties.

Odor resistance and antimicrobial fabric features help activewear combat the stink factor after an intense sweat sesh.

Sweat is odorless, however, it supports an environment for odor-causing bacteria to grow when combined with fabrics.

By incorporating/embedding silver into the fabric yarns or infusing into the yarns with a fabric finish, the odor-causing bacteria can be killed.

Odor resistance works better with the aid of moisture wicking. This is because the sweat needs to be trapped to allow the moisture and odor evaporate into the outside environment.

I’m conscious of my smell at the gym, so odor resistance is a necessity for my workout leggings. If you’re shopping in-store, search for the words “antimicrobial”, “odor resistant”, or “odor control” on the product description tags.

5. Breathability

I imagine that if you’re working up a sweat while exercising, you’re already warmed up. At least I think that’s how biology works! Fabric breathability is a major factor when shopping for activewear, especially in the summer.

Also, if clothing is not breathable, it makes it difficult for moisture to escape. Moisture can build up inside your clothing, which stays snug on the skin, resulting in more heat.

Because most activewear is designed to cling to the athlete’s body for optimum performance, ensuring proper ventilation is tricky.

Activewear brands are incorporating this much-needed feature into their designs by experimenting with fabric blends as well as clothing construction.

Cotton is a natural fiber and is considered the most breathable fabric type for active clothing. Although you’re more likely to find activewear made from synthetic fabrics like polyester and polyamides in the market.

Also, mesh fabric is ideal for ventilation and is especially useful for areas on the body where heat accumulates easily.

Laser cut designs are also a great way to increase ventilation.

You’ll find mesh and laser cut details on the sleeves, cleavage area, and back of most active crop tops and sports bras. On tights, the open mesh details are usually placed around the thighs and also the hem of the leggings.

6. Insulation

Winter is coming and your basic polyester leggings alone aren’t going to cut it! Good insulating fabrics should provide thermal regulation as well as comfort.

Thermal activewear keeps you warm by maintaining the temperature in the layer of air between the fabric and the skin. Thermal active clothing is often constructed with tight-knit fabric and lined with fleece or waddings for better insulation.

Gone are the days when you had to layer your leggings to keep warm. You can stay nice and toasty in the chilly weather with a just one pair of fleece lined leggings.

7. UV Blocking

You can whip out both your SPF50+ sunscreen and UPF50+ workout clothes this summer because, with UV blocking activewear, you’ll be getting full coverage!

Fabrics treated with a UV blocker function just like sunscreen to protect the skin from harmful Ultraviolet (UV) rays.

UPF- Ultraviolet Protection Factor- is the rating system for fabric with UV blocking properties which prevent UV rays from penetrating the skin through the fabric.

This is not to be mistaken for SPF- Sun Protection Factor- the metric used for cosmetic sunscreen products.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, in environmental abundance, UV is the most important modifiable risk factor for skin cancer and many other environmentally-influenced skin disorders.

Sun blocking works by combining absorbent and repellent technologies. Sunscreen contains both inorganic and organic active ingredients such as zinc oxide/titanium oxide and oxybenzone.

The inorganic ingredients work by reflecting UV rays upon contact, while the organic ingredients absorb the UV rays and emit them in the form of heat.

Clothing with UPF50+ protection will block at least 49/50th (that is 98%) of the sun’s rays. Activewear brands with UPF50+ fitness clothing include Athleta, Solbari, and Coolibar.

That’s it, ladies! Next time you’re out shopping for activewear, make sure your picks have one or two of these features.


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