Don’t let its name deceive you—neoprene is anything but new to the fabric market, and yet it’s been making such revolutionary statements in the fashion world since Spring/Summer 2014 (and I’m not talking about any scuba suits).
It may very well be the only fabric that can keep you, your boyfriend, your laptop, your feet and even your cat all protected against the elements with the help of a stylish outer shell.
What it really is
By Miriam Webster’s definition it is “a synthetic rubber made by the polymerization of chloroprene, characterized by superior resistance (as to oils), and used especially for special-purpose clothing (as gloves and wet suits).”
In the fashion world, that just means we’ve found an amazing, versatile material to satisfy our futuristic fashion fantasies and it doesn’t have to include fiber optics or LED’s a la Hussein Chalayan.
Neoprene is a very wearable, accessible, and effortless way to look fashion forward. Primarily discovered for its ability to keep your body warm under water, it was first used as a garment in the 50s when the surfing twin brothers behind Southern Californian shop Dive N’ Surf decided to turn it into a wet suit.
From there, this nifty fabric went on to take over athletic fashion with the Body Glove, sports bras, and even sneakers. Today, it’s taken over pretty much everything and with its versatility and color-flexibility, it’s clear that leather never really stood a chance.
What it can be a.k.a. don’t you just love sci-fi
Loved by designers for its vibrancy in every color or print and its ability to hold sculptural shapes, neoprene is incredibly versatile (if you didn’t already get the picture, we’ll tell you again and again).
In loose form, it can mimic the bounciness of crinoline, perfect the flounce in a skirt, take on the shape of Liz Black’s circle dress worn by Lady Gaga c. 2012 (though it may not actually have been neoprene), and put a lid on the boxy top.
It’s great for adding body to a look. When used to follow a simple shift dress pattern, it adds a structured elegance one would not normally get out of such a straight silhouette. And it takes on pleats amazingly.
On the other hand, neoprene didn’t start out in dive suits and the Body Glove for nothing. This flexible fabric can also be very sexy. You know how a wet suit hugs all those bumps and curves? A body-con skirt, dress, crop top, or anything in neoprene can do that for you too—minus the wrinkles and plus the youthful, sporty chicness that comes with a clean line.
How to handle it
You know it’s neoprene when it has a light, foamy texture. Full-on neoprene will feel like a marshmallow when you squeeze it (depending on the thickness). But for garments, it is typical to use a mix of neoprene with some other fabrics.
Since it’s synthetic, it tends to be less breathable so a long-sleeved or heavy garments will definitely feel a bit warm. This makes neoprene ideal for jackets and outerwear. At the same time, it can also work well for summery pieces like dresses, camisoles, and even light, airy shorts.
Depending on how much of another fabric is mixed in, neoprene generally does not wrinkle and thus will not require any ironing. In fact you shouldn’t iron it because the heat may even damage the fabric. Full-on neoprene should be dry-cleaned but other fabric mixes can be laundered in the typical way.
Whatever your style fancy, neoprene can surely give it a tickle, having bound its way into pretty much every kind of fashion piece you can think of. Even if it falls out of fashion, the material itself is durable and wearable enough that it can still slip discreetly back into your wardrobe and complement other trendier pieces later on. It’s the sort of fabric that can make everything look new no matter when—the name says it all.