Just like Kleenex has come to be the generic term for a tissue in the US, or Coke for any cola beverage, so Spandex has come to be a catch-all term for any shiny fabric with a four-way stretch. However, Spandex and Lycra are both brand names for elastane, which is a very stretchy synthetic fiber that can regain its original shape after it has been stretched out, and that put it light years ahead of the competition when it was first created in the 1960s. Even now, there’s nothing that can compete with elastane on its home turf.
Elastane is stretchy, strong, resilient, versatile and cheap. Superheroes, dancers and athletes wouldn’t look nearly as good without it and they’d have a much tougher time with their daily routines. Sure, other fibers can stretch out and recover their original shape but sooner or later, they’ll stop recovering all the way and that’s when sagginess and bagginess enter the picture. Elastane can be used in both knitted and woven fabrics.
Elastane fabrics can vary in weight, according to purpose. There’s lightweight, thinner elastane suitable for casual costuming and light wear, to highly-engineered performance fabrics worn by professional athletes and the strong heavy-duty elastane sometimes utilized in orthopedic devices and the more intimidating girdles out there.
Elastane fabric is almost always shiny to some degree, although some heavier versions are only semi-shiny, or have a shiny side and a matte side.
Generally, it should be washed in cold water and allowed to air dry. Because it’s a synthetic fiber, it’s not very absorbent and it’ll dry pretty fast. Because it’s so resilient, you can sling a wet piece of Spandex over a hanger in the tub and it’ll dry just fine with no deformation. Don’t put it in the dryer because plastic doesn’t play well with heat.