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Moisture Management: Myths, Magic, and Misconceptions

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Moisture Management: Myths, Magic, and Misconceptions,

Moisture management concepts and promotional activities are crossing over from recreational performance apparel into general wearing apparel.

Moisture management claims are now common in some of the larger, better known general wearing apparel catalogs and websites. Because moisture management is important in a variety of ways for many end products, it is worthwhile separating fact from fiction.

Cotton Incorporated is developing technology to enhance liquid moisture transport from skin to the outer layer of fabric. One of the key measurements for moisture management acceptance is the vertical wicking test. It is not known, however, how this test relates to actual performance of a garment when worn. Other types of evaluations were completed at North Carolina State University (NCSU) as part of a series of projects on cotton moisture management.

Myth: Synthetics Absorb Less
Synthetic fabrics designed for use in recreational performance apparel must be absorbent or wick. Although synthetic fibers, such as polyester, may be inherently hydrophobic, wicking is accomplished via a wicking finish or by other means.

Consider the premise that synthetic fabrics used for recreational performance apparel must be absorbent. When comparing cotton fabrics to such synthetic fabrics, fabric thickness is an important physical parameter that determines how much water (or perspiration) a fabric will hold (absorbs or pick up).

The fiber content itself does not control absorbency. The effect of fiber content is seen in how the fabric is constructed. Therefore, it is possible to make cotton fabrics that can provide moisture management properties. Data supporting this reasoning is presented in this study.

In general, a thick polyester fabric will absorb more liquid that a thin cotton fabric. Most synthetic fabrics intended for use in recreational performance apparel are thin. The fact that synthetic recreational performance apparel garments are thin and are treated to make them wick (like any properly prepared cotton naturally does) is often the key to “high tech” moisture management performance.

Myth: Synthetics Dry Faster
Drying time and drying rate are two distinct concepts. Drying time may be defined as the time for a damp or wet fabric to dry under a given set of conditions. Drying rate is often expressed as the mass of moisture evaporated per unit time for a given sample size; i.e., area. Drying time depends on how much moisture or perspiration a fabric or garment contains, as well as other factors including environmental conditions.

Drying time, when starting with saturated fabric and with all else equal; e.g., construction, depends on the absorbent capacity of the fabric, as shown later. The absorbent capacity, in turn, is mostly dependent upon the fabric thickness.
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