Hidden Science archive

Hidden Science was a mobile phone action – found within the Orange ‘Do Some Good’ app between April 2011-July 2012. Users were asked to submit their burning science questions via the app to have them answered directly by scientists, with all answers posted onto the Future Morph website.

 Submitted questions had to related to one of the 16 different themes which included Space, Food, Sport, Medical Science, Earth Science, Computers & IT, Fashion & Textiles, and more!

A selection of the questions submitted to the Fashion & Textiles theme are shown below.

From London Fashion week and the Clothes Show Live, to Camden Market and Rodeo Drive – where do you go to for your fashion inspiration? Celebrities are always highlighted in the media for their latest fashion favourites or failures but who are the people behind these creations? How did they get to work in this industry and what are the jobs out there that could catapult you into the fashion limelight? From textile technologists to fashion photographers and footwear designers, science exists behind all of your favourite garments and you could become a part of it.

Check out a selection of the questions that would submitted and their corresponding answers. You never know, this may well help you to step out in style as you set off down your career catwalk.

1. How do they put the colour in lipsticks?

To add the colour to lipsticks, cosmetic scientists grind solid non-toxic pigments such as iron oxide (AKA rust) to a fine powder and stir it in to the hot molten lipstick goop – which is an edible mixture of fats and waxes.

2. Does the colour of clothing affect your temperature?

Yes. Dressing head to toe in black and standing in full sun makes you hot and bothered – try it. However we are mammals with clever cooling systems, so you will drink more and sweat more and your core temperature won’t change much. Also, some clothing is designed for ventilation so a black hijab is not as hot as skinny jeans and a long sleeved tee shirt in black.

3. Is there such a thing as disolvable clothes?

Yes. In the 1960s you could buy dresses and pants made from paper and designed to be disposable. I think the paper had a high fibre content – like paper bank notes – so a frock didn’t dissolve in the rain. Soluble films are available now and used to make lacy machine embroidery. Chains of stitches are locked together by sewing across a sheet of plastic film, then the special plastic is dissolved out in warm water, leaving just the chains of stitching. September’s Sewing World magazine features a scarf project using this material. See also www.solublefilm.co.uk

4. How do you make waterproof fabric?

Waterproof fabrics can be made in several ways: 1) Use a fibre like cotton that swells when it gets wet, weave it tightly and it will seal itself in the wet – this is the idea behind the cotton duck used for bike luggage. 2) Use a fine fibre like nylon and weave it so tightly no water droplets can fit through the gaps. Water has quite high surface tension which helps here. 3) Coat an ordinary fabric in a waterproof film. Some of the films used are breathable but others are not and the clothing is like wearing a plastic bag. Any holes made by pinning and stitching have to be sealed up carefully too, but this is the most common way to make a waterproof fabric.

5. Will wearing high shoes every day affect your feet?

I think there are a number of factors here – one is the height of the heel. The higher the heel, the more weight is put onto the balls of the feet, and your toes. Our bodies weren’t designed to have our weight so localised, so this will affect them. It has been reported that Victoria Beckham has had bunions from wearing her high heels, and she has been advised not to wear them as high – or as much.

If you wear a heel that supports all of the foot fairly evenly, I am guessing the heel will not be pronounced – in which case, it will not be “high” – so I would be surprised if you can have a high heel that can be worn all day without affecting your feet – and probably your back as well!

6. Are some items of clothing made using science?

Some items of clothing are made with the use of science. Just considering the following fabrics – which are just a tiny proportion of those made using science, and hopefully you will be convinced – Nylon (developed by some chemists); polyester; Velcro; Teflon coatings for clothes to make them easier to clean; Gortex; lycra; elastic; plastic buttons; …

7. What are science lab coats made out of?

Cotton, usually. It is cellulose, which is fairly chemically inert. This means it doesn’t catch light quickly and tends to smoulder if it does instead of going up in a whoosh of flame. It is reasonably resistant to acids and alkalis – it gives you enough time to take the garment off in an emergency. Lab chemists like heavy denim jeans because they are cotton too. Any bad smells coming from lab coats are a consequence of an inadequate laundry regime. They are not part of the natural make up of the material or the wearer.

8. Is cotton a natural product?

Yes. It is a natural vegetable fibre from the seed pods of plants of the genus Gossypium. The fibre is almost pure cellulose.

9. When were jeans invented?

Levi Strauss claim that jeans were invented in 1873, around the time the sewing machine as we know it was designed.

10. Can you get a bag that will withstand all types of weather all year round?

Yes. In the UK, this usually means keeping things dry so synthetic fibres, waterproof laminates e.g. PVC coating, welded seams (no leaky needle holes) and a roll-top closure are the way to go. Your local outdoor clothing store will sell you one of these, at a price. In other climates, temperature control becomes important. Electronic equipment and pharmaceuticals have a limited acceptable temperature range. Insulation is the way to go here – the padded bags sold by supermarkets are a start, cold boxes are better. The insulation relies on trapped air, the bag and its contents will warm down or cool up eventually but the time to ambient temperature can be increased using cold bricks or warming gels.