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Undergarments are no longer seen as the ‘unmentionables’ of time’s past. For many of us they have become more than a protective layer between outerwear and skin, they have become fashion items that display personality and attitude.

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Increased disposable income means consumers want more than just comfort, they want added functions such as a thermal barrier, or the strength to shape, support or conceal the human form. Consumers need to be sure they understand what constitutes a functional undergarment and how they should care for it.

While the primary function of underwear remains, consumers are now also happy to pay more for attractive and fashionable items. This can mean more comfortable, and perhaps less hard-wearing, materials are incorporated into their manufacture. This can present a problem, as consumers often lack the required knowledge to properly choose and care for their undergarments.

What Makes an Undergarment?

Underwear cannot be simply defined as one form of clothing. Gender and function both affect a garment’s design, with females wearing lingerie, bras and pants; men wearing briefs and shorts; and both genders wearing t-shirts, tank tops, long johns and specialty undergarments.

With undergarments no longer strictly hidden from view, the range of materials being utilized in their manufacture has increased. Cotton remains the dominant fiber due to its softness, absorbency, skin-friendliness and affordability. Silk is popular for its skin-friendly properties but remains expensive. Other common materials, such as rayon, polyester, nylon and Spandex, are now being joined by emerging fiber made from sour milk, soybean and bamboo. Fashion has dictated that undergarments are now also accessorized with ribbons, lace, embroidery, cord, beads, feathers, etc. In general, consumers are advised to ensure at least the inner layer of any undergarment is made from cotton, even if outer layers contain other fibers and accessories.

The wide range of materials being used in undergarments mean it can be difficult to choose the right item of clothing for function, and then care for it in a way that will extend its life.

The Latest Fashions

Fashion and increasing functional demands have led to the introduction of new fibers, more ergonomic designs, and cutting-edge technology into the world of underwear. Comfort and body-shaping have led to the introduction of elastic fibers or ribbons into material mixes. For example, Spandex is widely used to improve the freedom of movement and shape the body; used in percentages greater than 12%, it ensures an authentic second skin feeling and touch.

To provide enhanced comfort, drape, and luxurious hand feel, undergarment manufacturers are employing new manufactured fibers such as Lyocell. The most renown brands are TENCEL™ Modal and TENCEL™ Lyocell, both being the flagship brands of Lenzing AG. Lyocell is a regenerated cellulosic fiber sharing a lot of similar properties with cotton and rayon but possessing more silk-like hand feel and luster. The production process of Lyocell is believed to be eco-friendlier than rayon because the solvent is almost completely reused, reducing its environmental impact. 

When consumers shop around in the underwear section of a store or on the website, they may notice that some garment labels stated, “made from bamboo fiber”, with the claim that bamboo fiber has exceptional properties. This is the moment when consumers need to pay close attention because not all “bamboo fiber” can be called bamboo fiber. Under the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act and the Textile Fiber Rule of FTC, textiles can only be called bamboo if they are made directly from actual bamboo fiber. This type of product is not commonly seen. The most commonly found so-called “bamboo fiber” in the market is nothing else but rayon that was created using bamboo as a plant source to produce rayon. This type of product can only be labeled and advertised as “rayon (or viscose) made from bamboo”.

What consumers should always remember to do in purchasing undergarments is to check the fiber content label to make sure they are being informed with the correct information and not mystified by marketing gimmicks.

From Fashion to Function

Consumers are no longer content with aesthetically appealing designs, they expect undergarments to function in different ways, improve their quality of life and meet their needs in multiple situations. A prime example is ‘leisurée’ – a combination of athleisure wear and lingerie. Leisurée combines the best elements of high-style, comfort and function from both categories and creates underwear that can be used in both the office and the gym.

The demands being placed upon manufacturers as consumers demand both fashionable and functional underwear mean the range of articles available is always growing. Odor management in sportswear and nutrient and moisture enrichment in premium underwear are just two examples of how fashion and functionality are combining in the undergarment market. 

Caring for Underwear

The increasing complexity of structure and material type in undergarments means many items now require special care instructions to protect them from the cycle of washing and wearing. Consumers are advised to always follow the care label.

SGS Solutions: Function Testing for Clothing

Clothing must be tested to validate all functional claims. Standards relating to performance do exist, however they are often voluntary, meaning testing is often done against product standards. This creates ambiguity for the consumer who is left with seemingly professional, yet actually unintelligible, descriptions. Consumers are advised to always check that the testing claims have been verified by an accredited third-party testing service like SGS.

SGS has dedicated performance and function testing laboratories for textiles around the world. In addition to standard function tests, SGS has also developed specialized in-house testing procedures for a wide-range of claims, including comfort, sock and garment compression, and the cooling effect. SGS is committed to working with the fashion world to create authoritative testing solutions that protect the interests of the both the consumer and our corporate partners.

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To learn more about SGS Softline services, contact:

Min Zhu
Consumer and Retail
US and Canada Softlines Technical Director
SGS North America, Inc.