Now we’ve covered a lot on selling and buying panties but what about the actual panties themselves. What are they made out of? I dive deeper into the natural, man-made, and synthetic fibers and even briefly discuss how they’re made.
Our known basic underwear has been around since the early 1900’s but stemmed from previous styles much, much earlier in life. During the 1950’s is when underwear became a fashion statement being vamped up with colors, prints, and various fabrics.
Fabrics can be created from single fibers or blends. Cotton, polyester, silk, bamboo, hemp, wool, linen are all single fibers. Mixing any of the two like poly cotton is a blend of fibers. Most underwear comes with some kind of elastane in it to provide stretch therefore, many panties and underwear are a blend.
Natural fibers have a number of benefits including better airflow & breathability, eco-friendly & sustainable during manufacturing, and since they’re made up of organic materials from plants and animals, they’re biodegradable!
Cotton is a gift to the world yet one of the most complex field crops. It’s sensitive to environmental conditions needing the most ideal temperatures, humidity, and soil conditions. That’s why it’s commonly grown in the mid-south.
It takes the cotton plant about 4-5 months to grow before it’s harvested. After the first 2 months of growing, the plant will produce flowers. These flowers are where the boll is formed. The boll’s wall thickens, layer by layer, and living cells cross from one side to the other forming spirals. The boll reaches full size within 3-4 weeks after flowering but needs an additional 4-5 weeks to fully mature. Once the boll has matured, it opens and the living fibers inside dry out naturally by air. We then see it as soft and fluffy cotton and then is ready to be harvested.
You can expect the average cotton boll to have nearly 500,000 fibers! And it takes roughly 350 bolls to make a t-shirt.
When the plant height is about 8-10 high above ground, the roots are more than 3 feet deep. Matured plants have root depths up to 9 feet!
It takes about 1400 gallons of water to grow 1 lb of cotton!
During manufacturing, the cotton goes through a ginning process where it separates the balls from the stems. Once the cotton is collected, it’s spun into a thin yarn using various lengths of the fibers which then eventually get knitted or weaved together to make fabrics.
Cotton is absorbent and soft to the touch with natural antimicrobial properties. It adapts well to season changes and keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer and is generally a great choice for everyday wear. It’s hypoallergenic qualities are gentle to the skin and doesn’t usually cause irritation making it a great choice for panties.
As the cotton crop needs some pesticides, make sure you wash your clothes when you get home because not always are the pesticides washed off before spun into textiles and your skin can absorb those chemicals.
A type of fabric that many wouldn’t think about, especially when choosing panties. Personally, I always associated hemp to be rough like linen but after doing endless research, I found that it can be much softer than that especially when blended with other soft fibers like cotton.
Hemp is a strong natural fiber that comes from the Cannabis Sativa plant. It’s been around for thousands of years and was actually quite popular in clothing before it got banned in the 70’s as it was grouped together with marijuana as a scheduled I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. In 2018, they passed an amendment to the Farm Bill that legalized growing hemp again and it’s rapidly becoming popular as it has thousands of different uses, underwear included!
A lot of people wonder, is hemp maijuana? The answer is kind of… hemp is a type of marijuana plant but more like its cousin. Though you can still smoke it, hemp buds are high in CBD and low in THC, levels at 0.3%. Whereas, marijuana buds are high in THC, 5-25%, and lower in CBD.
Plain & simple: CBD gives you a relaxing effect, whereas THC gives you the psychological high effect.
When growing hemp, you don’t need such strict environmental controls like cotton. Hemp grows fast and doesn’t usually require pesticides or fertilizers – which mostly are composed of chemicals – so tends to be more environmentally friendly. It has skinny leaves, grows close together, and gets up to 20 feet tall!
On average, hemp requires 700 gallons of water to produce 2 lbs of fabric. Half the water and twice the yield compared to cotton!
Hemp is durable and has incredible tensile strength making it excellent for bags, sacks, and heavy duty clothing like pants or jackets. There isn’t any stretch when it comes to hemp so be wary of that but that can make it great for upholstery.
It’s absorbent, breathable, and also has a natural antibacterial property to it. Though it has many great qualities, it is prone to wrinkling but that can be avoided by removing it from the wash right away and placing it on a low, tumble-dry setting. It’s normal for hemp fabrics to shed after getting wet especially after the first few washings but will eventually get better with time.
Don’t expect hemp clothing to be vibrant with colors. Hemp fibers don’t hold dyes very well and therefore are more dull or muted with color. So this may not be a great choice if you like to show off the flashy colors.
Silk is made from two main proteins, sericin and fibroin, produced from the silkworm. The fibroin is the silk’s structure in liquid form while encapsulated by the sticky sericin that gives it strength and solidifies after it reaches air. It was first used in China during the Han dynasty and still continued to be used today.
After silkworms hatch, they are placed specifically on mulberry leaves to eat to become big and strong. It takes roughly 35 days before they produce their cocoons which are about 1 mile long in filament. Farmers let some metamorphose into Bombyx moths while others are collected still in their cocoons. The collected silkworms are then boiled to create long singular fibers. Since each individual fiber is super delicate, it takes between 3-10 cocoon fibers to create silk thread.
It takes about 5000 silkworms to make a kimono
Though it has an appealing soft, smooth, and silky texture, silk is very expensive and tends to be considered “high-end”. You’ll typically find lingerie made of silk with delicate fine details but can also be found in underwear too.
While like the other natural fibers, it’s strong, hypoallergenic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and it wicks moisture away. Another fabric great for all year round wear but when worn as shirts, it’s likely to have static cling as it’s a poor conductor of electricity. It also loses almost a quarter of its strength when wet.
Sewing your own clothes is fun, but silk is very slippery and needs good handling skills so I wouldn’t recommend it if you are a beginner sewer. You’ll also be looking at spending up to $80 a yard on quality silk.
MAN MADE FIBERS
Also known as semi-synthetic or regenerated fibers. Made from natural polymers like cellulose which comes from cotton or wood. Though it starts with a natural approach, it is processed in a way that makes it more synthetic.
Also known as Viscose -a UK term- refers to the way the fabric is made- using the cellulose fiber from plants, like bamboo. It’s versatile and used for clothing like blouses and dresses, or items around the home, like drapes or rugs. Well loved for its silky-satin feel like silk, all while being cheaper to produce.
Though Bamboo is ecologically sustainable, as it’s fast and easy to grow with little to no pesticides, the process itself is not. It uses harmful chemicals like sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide, and carbon disulfide to solidify extracted pulp. It’s then spun in multiple spinners weaving them into rayon yarn.
Popular in underwear for its comfortable and breathable feel, antibacterial, antifungal, and hypoallergenic properties, absorbing qualities, odor-resistance, and being biodegradable.
Processed from beech-tree pulp found in the North-Eastern section of the United States. Becoming a second option for cotton as it has similar qualities to its soft, durable texture. It wicks moisture away making it perfect for panties.
Trying to be as eco-friendly as possible, it still needs chemicals to process the wood pulp. Luckily, it uses a closed-loop system where the chemicals are used and reused over and over again. It’s more sustainable than your synthetic fabrics but still causes deforestation wreaking havoc on Mother Nature and taking multiple decades to grow a new tree.
Synthetic fibers are fibers created in a lab through a chemical process to replicate natural fibers. They’re lightweight, have excellent elasticity, and virtually wrinkle-free. Synthetic fibers are durable and are more cost-effective, though since they are not natural, many people have allergies to certain types of fibers.
Non-renewable resources like oil, petroleum, and coal are used to create these fibers which means they’re not biodegradable. Synthetics are composed primarily of plastics, be wary to wash clothes in hot water as it may distort the material. Definitely don’t get too close to open flames. If caught on fire, the material will bead and shrivel up melting onto the skin.
Nylon can take between 30-40 years to decompose while polyester and elastane can take more than 500 years!
In 1937, Otto Bayer created polyurethane to replace rubber and form into special plastics during WWII. Eventually finding its way into apparel, polyurethane was found to have excellent elasticity. The brand, Lycra, was invented in 1958 and became the goddess of stretch. In the United States, we commonly call it Spandex, which is an anagram of “expands”.
Polyurethane contains carcinogenic chemicals and other toxic chemicals during production so it’s not ideal for the environment or our bodies but tends to be in most of our clothing. It’s typically a small percentage that’s weaved into our fabrics which are well desired for socks, underwear, and bras. Since the material is flexible and stretchy, it’s great for athletic wear, leggings, and swimsuits. Jeans and jeggings are now commonly found with elastane in them.
Also found fame during WWII to replace silk and hemp for parachutes. Once the war ended, there was a shortage of natural fibers for clothing so people got creative and used old parachutes to create dresses. DuPont, the creator of Lycra, picked up on this and then created the nylon stocking in the early 1940’s.
It’s similar to elastane with flexible properties but with a more silk-like texture. Since Nylon is a fabricated plastic, it’s used in almost everything, automobiles, food packaging, toothbrushes, tents, and so much more. It’s finally declining in clothing after all these years.
Polyester, again, a strong, durable fabric. Many clothes will contain polyester for its wrinkle-free, quick-drying, and stain-resistant qualities.
PET is a certain type of polyester fabric created from plastic bottles and recyclable materials. It’s melted down and spun into new fabric. They considered it sustainable as you can continue using the same process time again.
One might think, sweet, I can be more “earth-friendly” by wearing polyester but it’s still made out of chemicals. Chemicals that we’re wearing next to our genitalia and absorbing through our skin! Think twice.
YES! You can wear PVC – polyvinyl chloride – a special kind of leather typically coming in black or white with that “liquid” look.
Fashionable in the 60’s during the go-go era, you’d find women with white, thigh-high boots made of PVC. Now, not so fashionable out and about, you’ll find PVC mostly worn by punk-rock enthusiasts or for the BDSM culture.
You have to be gentle with PVC fabric as it’s heat-sensitive and can’t ever be washed in a washing machine.
Another popular synthetic fabric made from non-renewable resources. Flourishes among the panty world. A strong and stretchy textile even when wet. 😉
Easy to maintain, wrinkle-free, and soft against the skin. Pitfalls to this material include, every time it’s washed, microplastic fibers end up in water systems, oceans, and underneath the soil in septic tanks since it’s not biodegradable.
A FEW OTHER FABRICS
Satin describes the way fibers are woven together to give it the lustrous sheen. It can be made from silk, polyester, or rayon. Sateen is also a style using shorter fibers like cotton and has less shine.
Perfect for making lingerie as it has a smooth, luxurious feel and when put on the body gives you a glowing, radiant aura all while being cost-effective.
Often crafted with delicate floral or botanical design, lace is popular with lingerie for its open pattern- getting to show more skin! Made with elastane and nylon or sometimes silk (cha-ching, cha-ching), it’s usually soft and flowy against the skin.
A sheer, transparent fabric with a glitter shine. Originally made from silk and now made of polyester or nylon for cost-effectiveness. Super light in weight yet the perfect amount of stiffness. It adds beautiful touches to lingerie with a net-like construction all while staying soft to the touch. Also popular with wedding gowns or evening dresses.
Cotton, hemp, and silk are the #1 choice for panties but can be more costly to be sustainable – think of going to the grocery store. If you want to eat and live healthier, you have to pay the price and that’s true with clothes too. The more people who buy and support these sustainable options, the cost eventually decreases.
In order to make synthetic clothing, they have to use non-renewable sources like oil, coal, and petroleum. And do you want that snuggled up to your coochie? I think not… or at least I don’t.
After learning everything that I did about fibers, fabrics, and the way they’re made, I’ll definitely be making more of a conscientious effort to go with 100% natural fabrics. As I grow older, I’m starting to look out for myself – trying to put less chemicals in my body and now, near my skin. I’m sure I’ll still pick up clothes made from quick production here and there but my next purchase is to try those hemp panties!
Even though I’ll encourage all consumers to buy 100% natural, the bottom line comes down to what feels, fits, and functions best for you. Happy shopping!
The Panty Guide