Lycra was invented in 1959 by chemist Joseph Shivers and is one of the many brand names for the material spandex. Technically there is no differentiation between Lycra and generic spandex; with Lycra being the trademark name of spandex used by the company Invista (formerly part of DuPont).
Since its inception Lycra has gained a large percentage of market share when it comes to fabric construction materials. This is due to the overwhelming versatility of the Lycra fiber. Unlike natural fibers which tend to only come in one variety; Lycra is a man-made material so it can be produced to different specifications including the width of the fiber or even the fiber color.
Lycra is also popular because it can be blended with other fibers in various concentrations to help impart some of the natural benefits of the Lycra fiber into otherwise difficult materials. It is a particularly common practice to blend Lycra with cotton to produce a lightweight material that dries quickly, stretches and resists wrinkles.
Indeed, the properties of Lycra do a good deal to drive its popularity. Lycra is resistant to bacteria, is easily dyed, dries quickly, doesn't wrinkle, resists chlorine and UV rays, stretches while retaining its original shape and eliminates static cling.
Many of these specific Lycra properties make it an ideal material for inclusion in swimsuits, undergarments as well as athletic apparel. Essentially any material that is going to come into repeated contact with human sweat or chlorinated pool water can be improved upon by adding a percentage of Lycra fibers to the natural fiber mix.
Though they are much less popular than items of clothing that contain a percentage of Lycra it is possible to find individual pieces of clothing that are made entirely from Lycra. Compression shorts and leggings are some of the most popular 100% of Lycra pieces of clothing. These are most commonly worn among athletes and individuals who need orthopedic support.
In the 1970s and 80s Lycra leggings were a popular fashion trend however these have fallen out of favor in recent times and are now seen as unfashionable.