Material Matters: Nylon

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Material Matters is a series providing a quick overview of different materials we find in our clothes, where they come from, their uses, and some quick facts that provide a general understanding of their properties. In this article we will be going over the popular synthetic fiber: 


General Properties

  • Breathability: Low

  • Durability: High

  • Washability: High

  • Shrinkability: Low

  • Clinginess: Medium-High

  • Environmental impact: High

  • Prone to Wrinkling: No

A Brief History

Nylon is a fully synthetic fiber invented in 1938 by Dr, Wallace Carothers (no I’m not making that up) for the famous plastics company DuPont. The material is made from coal, water and air, more specifically, the joining of diamine acid and dicarboxylic aci… you know, it doesn’t really matter. It’s plastic guys.

Originally it was introduced into the consumer products industry as bristles in toothbrushes and later in the clothing industry as a more durable replacement for silk female stockings. Nylon stockings, or “Nylons” were huge with American women in the 40’s, I mean these ladies went desperate mom looking for fidget spinners in 2017 at Christmas kind of wild. There were legitimate riots in 1946, one in Pittsburgh saw over 40,000 people trying to procure 13,000 pairs. Who knew “more durable” stockings were so sought after? Nylon then took on a more critical role in the war effort during World War II via it’s inclusion in parachutes, paracords, and tents, essentially eliminating it’s consumer availability during the war, driving up stocking prices on the black market by a factor of 10 (there’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d write). In the 50’s and 60’s Nylon had a stranglehold on the women’s undergarment segment of the fashion industry. Everything from the Yeezy-esque stockings, to lingerie, to dresses, and more. However, because nylon is a synthetic, it doesn’t breath as well as its natural fiber counterparts and has a very low water absorbency rate, making it great for swimming gear and terrible for undergarments. Eventually, stockings went out of vogue and women realized they wanted their ladies to “just breath a little damn it!” causing the inclusion of nylon in apparel to steadily decrease since the 70s.

Things to Consider

The appeal of nylon, besides its cheap cost of manufacturing, is that it’s water resistant, mold resistant, odor resistant, wrinkle resistant, abrasion resistant, doesn’t catch fire (but does melt at 500°F), ultra lightweight, super durable, and much easier to dye than polyester, meaning it requires less-harsh chemicals during the production process. These properties make nylon-blend fabrics great for products like athletic hats, running shorts, gym bags, shoes, backpacks, lightweight jackets, bathing suits, and even hair brushes. However, if you see high percentages (over 20%) of nylon on the tags of your shirts, suit jackets, blazers, casual and dress pants, sweaters, or scarves try to opt for a garment made with more natural fibers like wool, cotton, silk, or linen for the sake of your sweat.

Common Uses:

Stockings, parachutes, rope, hats, gym bags, backpacks, toothbrush bristles, running shorts, sleeping bags, shoes, rain jackets, bathing suits, guitar strings.

Care Tips:

Like polyester, another plastics-based synthetic material, machine wash and dry, iron at low temperatures if necessary, and avoid prolonged sun exposure.

Stay tuned for more articles on the materials we interact with every day because when it comes to what you wear, material matters.