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The Big Book

How synthetic fabrics became mainstream

Andie Corban Nov 29, 2019
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A dress fitting circa 1930, when synthetic fabrics were new to the market.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When synthetic fabrics were first introduced to the market around 100 years ago, fabrics like cotton and silk reigned supreme. Consumers were skeptical of these new and unfamiliar fabrics, said Kassia St. Clair, author of the book “The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History.”

Companies that produced synthetics launched a multipronged marketing campaign to make the fabrics mainstream. One way they did this was through futuristic branding, St. Clair said.

“It’s hard for us to think now that words like nylon and Lycra might have had huge cache,” she said. “But at the time, that was part of the thinking that went into it.”

The companies also tried to convince Parisian fashion designers to use the new fabrics in their collections.

“If its good enough for Yves Saint Laurent or someone like that, then of course, it’s good enough for me.”

To hear the full story, click on the audio player above.

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