One of the most common questions that people ask us is "what kind of fabric is it?" Fabrics for athletic uniforms have evolved over the past 30 years as technology has advanced. In the early days, uniforms were wool, cotton or flannel which didn't breathe well and retained moisture so the garment became heavy when soaked with sweat. Also fabric made with natural fibers tends to fade over time, stains easily and shrinks. Then in the '70s and '80s man-made polyester fibers were used to make doubleknit fabric which is shrink and stain resistant, colorfast and durable, but very uncomfortable to wear due to its heavy weight and limited breathability. Finally, nylon and polyester mesh fabrics were introduced, which are more breathable because the fabric is perforated for ventilation, doesn't fade or shrink and is stain-resistant. But your garment is full of holes.
Moisture-Wicking Performance Fabric
Now modern fabrics in most cases are 100% polyester and are engineered to be breathable, quick-drying and draw the moisture away from your skin and dissipate, without the holes. This is called "moisture-wicking performance fabric," "moisture-management fabric," or just "performance fabric." It accomplishes everything desirable in athletic fabric without the perforated holes in mesh fabric. This class of fabric also includes "technical" fabric meaning that the fabric is developed for a specific use where function is the primary criterion.
The first developer of this class of fabric was DuPont Textiles, now called Invista. CoolMax® developed in 1986 as the first moisture-management fabric was revolutionary. The fabric consists of two polyester layers fused together and as you perspire, the moisture is "wicked" to the outer layer where it evaporates quickly and faster than any other fabric at the time.
A lot of people ask for "Dri-Fit" fabric. This is a trade name used by Nike who was one of the early adopters of performance fabric and it has become a generic term for performance fabric, just as Kleenex is to facial tissue. Nike first introduced Dri-Fit in the early '90s to replace cotton tee shirts worn under basketball uniforms. Then by the early 2000s the uniforms themselves migrated from nylon mesh and dazzle to Dri-Fit performance fabric. Today, every manufacturer has some version of this class of fabric. And every manufacturer calls it something different.
Performance fabric has all the properties that are desirable in athletic uniforms: lightweight, breathability, moisture-wicking, stain and fade resistant and will not shrink. Within the class of performance fabric there are variations which are engineered for different applications. You will still see the term "mesh" in some of the performance fabrics but that doesn't mean there are holes in the fabric. There is a fabric called "flat-back mesh" which is a two-ply fabric consisting of a thin mesh layer fused with a woven polyester layer so there are no visible holes. There are also fabrics that need to stretch, for example form-fitting apparel like cycling jerseys, compression garments, football pants, wrestling singlets and ladies long-sleeve volleyball jerseys. These fabrics are a combination of mostly polyester with Spandex or Elastane woven into the fabric to provide superior mechanical stretch.
All brands of uniforms that we carry offer performance fabric. AK calls it Dry-Flex (lighter), Prowick (heavier), PolySpan (stretch) or UltraFlex (heavy stretch), Dynamic calls it Dyna-Dry, Flex-Dry (two-way stretch) or Aerofiber (four-way stretch), A4 calls it polyester Interlock, Admiral Soccer calls it VaporDraw or VaporLite, Teamwork Athletic calls it Cool Mesh, Performance Tech and Stadium-Core Mesh. The variations are either the weight of the fabric, the amount of stretch, or both.
As previously mentioned, mesh fabric is knitted or woven in a way that creates perforations or small holes in the fabric for the purpose of ventilation. The predecessor to modern performance fabric, there is no distinct advantage of this type of fabric except it is typically a lower cost. For some applications like youth sports organizations or camps where the garment will not be worn for more than a season or two, it is a good choice because it is very durable at a lower cost.
One exception is pro-style football jerseys when mesh fabric is preferred because of its exceptional durability and strength. Mesh fabric does not have much stretch (unless it's stretch mesh) and it's more suitable for contact sports where the garment is stressed and pulled. AK Durastar pro game mesh, A4 Pro-Brite Game mesh and 4-Way Stretch mesh are examples of fabrics used in football jerseys. Tricot mesh and Polymesh are lighter weight options used for baseball, basketball and general athletics when a lightweight and low-cost jersey or short is desired.
Polyester Doubleknit (PDK)
Polyester doubleknit is a heavyweight, tightly woven fabric with a smooth finish. Very strong, dense and durable but has limited breathability. It may also be called heavy polyester. It is used primarily for baseball and softball pants or "throwback" style uniforms when a vintage fabric is desired and the garment will not be worn for game play.
Polyester Warp Knit
Similar to PDK in weight and characteristics, warp knit differs from doubleknit in that each needle loops its own thread. The needles produce parallel rows of loops simultaneously that are interlocked in a zigzag pattern. Used primarily in pinstripe fabric for baseball jerseys to knit the pinstripes into the fabric.
AK Knit "Airknit" Fabric
Another predecessor to performance fabric, AK Knit is heavyweight textured polyester fabric with tiny pinholes to provide breathability. Technically not a performance fabric and not a mesh, it does provide breathability and durability along with stain and shrink resistant properties. It is used primarily for hockey, baseball and lacrosse jerseys. All AK brand Pro Series NHL hockey jerseys and Select Series hockey jerseys use this fabric, called "AK Knit" because AK manufactures the fabric themselves.
A synthetic stretch fiber known for its excellent stretch and durability, spandex is used for form-fitting garments such as football pants, side inserts on football jerseys and sublimated hockey socks. The fabric is too heavy and not breathable enough to use for jerseys, so we have a number of fabrics that are a polyester/spandex blend which provide light weight, mechanical stretch and performance properties.
A 100% polyester smooth woven fabric which is shiny used primarily as inserts or accents on jerseys, the yoke (shoulder & sleeves) on football jerseys and some basketball uniforms. No performance properties, not breathable and tends to stick to your skin when sweating.
Polyester Twill fabric with adhesive backing used in garment decoration for sewn-on numbers, team names, player names and embroidered patches.
So in summary, all fabrics used in athletic uniforms fall into one of the categories shown above, although the terminology may differ from brand to brand. You can see pictures and specifications for each fabric in our Fabric Guide. Hopefully this information will help you to determine which garment is best for your needs. As always, you can ask us for a recommendation if you are not sure. If you are going to purchase custom made uniforms we will always recommend the proper fabric for your specific needs.
We welcome your comments and questions.