Lycra Spandex and the Aging Body in the Tropics

2011 September 2011 Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the September 2011 Edition

On my first lengthy winter sojourn to Manzanillo, I packed every summer tank top and shelf-bra I owned and of course the bathing suits and beach wear that have travelled with me on many resort vacations. But this was not a vacation per se rather a transition to our second home and quite a different lifestyle than at the resorts. By the time we returned to Canada in the spring, I had learned a great deal about dressing for a tropical climate and trundled most of what I had brought with me back to the dry climate it belonged in.

Flashing back to the 1970’s and 80’s many a young woman and rock band musician will be forever grateful for the introduction of a new fabric ‘stretch denim’ by

British fashion designer Peter Golding who would ultimately be invited to Buckingham Palace (2004) to be recognized by The Queen for his contribution to British designi. Ever since then, a person could actually sit down in a tight pair of jeans and not injure some internal organs or contend with chapped knee caps and thighs! You didn’t even have to lie down flat on the bed to pull up the zipper anymore!

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that stretch fabric has become entirely common place these days and if you wanted to avoid it, it’s darn near impossible especially for women. Never before have so many bodies of varied shapes and sizes been encased in so much Lycra or spandex. If you’re a size zero, in your teens or twenties and have no body fat you might look good in it. For the rest of the masses, not so much!! It is so unfortunate that the world of fashion dictates trends to us that are simply not flattering for the average person. And so everywhere one goes we see ‘muffin top’ syndrome on so many women who want to be fashionable (or can’t find the right styles) and force themselves into skinny bottoms.

But one unofficial rule of science is ‘if there’s too much being pushed in or harnessed, it’s going to pop out somewhere else’. Thus the term muffin top seen so commonly above hip hugging pants that ride below the navel.

And of course there are those of us who are trying to age gracefully by wearing suitable pieces for our years while attempting to be comfortable and stay cool in the heat.

But wouldn’t you know it; the stretchy ‘beast’ has caught up with us too. So there we are, looking at tank tops and shelf bras that look like they may fit a tiny elf and the label reads extra- large. Why? Because it stretches!! The same goes for under wear, swim suits and T-shirts. Sometimes we are left with very little choice causing some of us to look like slumping layer cakes. (Still tasty but out of the fridge for too long).

Now if all of that isn’t bad enough, the worst problem has not been touched upon. These materials are usually combined with polyester, rayon or nylon for example and are akin to wrapping your body in plastic wrap. They might be insular for harsh winter climates but not the tropics. They do not allow the skin to breath nor are they absorbent. Perspiration has nowhere to go and just basically trickles down our bodies wherever it may. It’s a terrible feeling. These products will eventually disintegrate from the salt air, humidity and heat. You should expect to turn over your lingerie items every two to three years and swim suits will suddenly just give out.

Here are some personal solutions that have improved my comfort in the tropics. Check the labels on everything. I have actually found shelf bras, tank tops and undies that are 98% cotton and 2% Lycra. Cotton is our saving grace. It breathes and is absorbent. I realize they still stretch a little and may not be as flattering as we would like but cotton takes care of half the problem.

Now we can top these off with loose flowing colourful tops, shawls, big shirts and such and feel so much better. I have been able to find capris with the same cotton combination and if the waist is elasticized, swallow your pride and opt for a size larger and a looser fit. I have also taken to longer flowing skirts that are not elasticized at the waist. They are much cooler and more comfortable than pants or shorts. In some of the higher end stores in Manzanillo and vacation boutiques back in Canada and the U.S. there are some really wonderful 100% cotton clothes that are a bit of an investment but worth it as they can be a staple item in your wardrobe forever. They have very nice shirts, shorts and long casual pants for men as well.

As for swim wear, my personal experience is that you may as well opt for cheaper brands and bargains because quality will not delay the deterioration. I was very sad to have to throw out my favourite and very expensive swimsuit found in Florida years ago. I will shed no tears over the next ones that I found on deep discounted sales and in discount stores. And if you have that wonderful evening dress you just can’t part with I suggest an air-conditioned taxi to an air-conditioned restaurant or club.

So the bottom line for me is this: it’s not just about comfort, even as we age we can give it ‘attitude’ be creative and still feel good about ourselves!! I’ve stopped shopping at stores that cater to the young mods knowing full well you can’t stay young forever but you can feel terrific and look attractive too.

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