Selecting Sweatsuits, Fleece Separates and Warm-Ups: Clothing Industry Fact Sheet from Ohio State
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Selecting Sweatsuits, Fleece Separates and Warm-Ups


Norma Pitts
Joyce A. Smith

The popularity of actionwear-sweatsuits, fleecewear separates, warm-ups-has grown with the popularity of fitness and exercise. Often these items also are selected for casual wear and lounging. Many brands and styles are available, so fabrics, fibers, garment construction, special features, care requirements, and other product qualities need to be considered, as well as appropriateness for your personal use.

fabrics and fibers

"Sweats" and warm-ups are available in a wide array of fabrics and fibers. The majority are knit fabrics, but vary in weight and thickness, stretchiness, comfort against the skin, absorbency, care requirements and attractiveness.

fabric/fiber Structure

The most common fabric used for warm-ups or sweatsuits is knitted fleece. In addition to sweatsuit fleece, fabrics used include stretch velour, knit pique, and stretch terry. Some woven fabrics may be combined with knit sections as trim or fashion detail.

Sweatsuit fleece may be double knit construction with a brushed or napped back. This fabric retains shape and resists runs. Compared to single knits, double knits are fairly firm, less stretchable, and resist wrinkling. Generally, double knits have a rib-like appearance of vertical loops on the surface. A knit variation is a pique stitch, giving a honey-combed or diamond effect.

Most sweatsuit fleece fabrics are of jersey single knit. These are generally less expensive than double knits, since they require less yarn and can be produced more quickly. The fabrics may be lighter in weight, stretch, and may not retain their shape as well as double knits. The amount of extra yarn introduced into the knit structure to form the backing affects shape retention and stability. Better quality knits have more yarns incorporated into the structure, thus increasing weight, firmness, and shrinkage control.

Some sweatsuits are of a tricot knit structure with a fleece back. These knits often are made of fine yarns from synthetic fibers, and tend to have a very smooth surface of smaller loops. Again, the more compact the knit the firmer the knit fabric.

Stretch knit velour and stretch knit terry are other fabrics used for actionwear. Typical uses include casual loungewear or exercise warm-ups. Extra yarns knitted in a jersey knit base form the pile surface. The fabrics have stretch in the crosswise direction. Velours feature a spongy hand with a velvety soft, thick surface. Terry knits are lighter in weight, with a loop terry surface.

The knit structure may be difficult to distinguish, so compare fabric structure and weight when shopping. Read label information. Compact fabrics with a firm structure and high yarn count are less likely to change size and shape than those with loose, soft yarns and low yarn count. fiber content also will influence product characteristics and performance.

fiber Content

A variety of fibers and blends are offered in sweatsuit and warm-up fabrics. These include acrylic, cotton, polyester, or nylon; or blends of cotton/polyester, cotton/acrylic, acrylic/cotton, cotton/polyester/rayon, polyester/acrylic, or polyester/cotton. Check the percentage of each fiber, since the amount contributes to fabric performance and fabric characteristics.

Cotton feels comfortable against the skin, tends to shrink more than cotton blends, and is more absorbent than blended fabrics. However, with profuse perspiration, garments may become heavy and soggy and stick to the wearer after a heavy workout or run.

Acrylic is soft against the skin, but is subject to pilling and to static build-up. It has good insulating qualities and loft, and is generally easy care and quick drying.

Polyester has good abrasion resistance, is resilient, easy care, and quick drying. It also has low moisture absorption; therefore, 100% polyester garments are less comfortable than those blended with cotton or rayon.

Nylon is strong, durable, resilient, abrasion resistant, but subject to pilling. Low moisture absorption contributes to static build-up and quick drying properties. Napping helps the garment feel more comfortable against the skin. If nylon garments are used for running in warm weather, woven mesh sections in garments allow air to pass through for more comfort. Sweatsuits made of nylon may not feel as soft as those made from other fibers and blends.

Blends contribute the properties of each particular fiber. Polyester/cotton blends are durable, more wrinkle resistant, and shrink less than 100% cotton, unless specially treated or structured. Polyester/cotton blends generally are easy care and comfortable. Cotton/polyester blends have greater amounts of cotton and tend to hold their shape, are comfortable and more absorbent than all synthetic garments.

In polyester/acrylic combinations, the polyester provides additional strength and durability, while the acrylic contributes loft. This easy care fabric is quick drying and lighter in weight than comparable blends with natural fibers.

As you consider fabric and fiber combinations, consider your needs and preferences. Often, comfort is a desired feature. Comfort will vary somewhat, according to end use of the product and personal preference. Factors such as texture, contact or feel against the skin, moisture absorbency, and weight relate to comfort. Style, cut, and sizing also contribute to product attributes.

Garment Construction

Examine how the garments have been cut, sewn and finished. Also check trim detail. The sweatsuit should be cut with the grain, that is, the grainline or vertical loops of knitted fabrics at the garment center should be nearly at right angles to the lower edge, rather than distorted. The side seams of top and pants should be perpendicular to the floor, rather than twisted to the front or back. If the garment is twisted, it will remain out of shape even after laundering. Stitches should be of even length, straight, and fastened securely. Stitching should permit ample stretch without breaking. Quality seams are serged (overcast) or zig-zagged to lie flat, yet have give. Double stitched seams provide extra strength. Look at areas of stress for reinforcement, such as double stitching or taping at shoulders and neck areas to prevent stretching. Topstitching should be even, smooth, and free from distortion.

Give particular attention to garment sections and trim details. Multisectioned garments should be accurately cut, smooth, and evenly stitched. The trim should be smooth and flat, with careful application to "give" with the fabric surface to which it is applied, without drawing. For example, trim applied along a vertical side seam should not draw up the side or pucker, but remain flat. Cording can be used in areas that need no stretch, or can be made of elasticized material.

Elastic or drawstring casings are commonly used at the waistline, leg openings and sleeve edges. Multiple row elastic casings provide comfort and flexibility, and evenly distribute fullness. Whether single or multiple casing, hems should be flat and even. Openings for cords in non-elastic, drawstring or combination types should be finished and reinforced.

Look at other garment details. Examine self-ribbing used for necklines, lower edges, and sleeve finishes. Edge trims should be of even width, with ease evenly distributed. Collars, pockets, and zippers should be smoothly applied and evenly stitched. Check for reinforcement of pockets. How well a garment is made contributes to quality, durability, and overall appearance.


Care is influenced by fiber content, fabric structure and garment finishing. Check the label for proper care and consider care requirements of the product when purchasing. Care can make a difference in terms of convenience and ease of laundering. Some sweatsuits specify machine wash and tumble dry for easy care, to maintain color, shape and texture of the garment. Machine drying fluffs the fabric. Other products specify: machine wash cold, lay flat to dry. Reblocking or reshaping to retain size and appearance requires additional effort. Depending upon fiber content and thickness, some garments dry quickly. Consider the ease of care in relation to other product characteristics and benefits.

Styles and Market Offerings

Choices in styling of "sweats" and warm-ups are many, and range from fleece separates in many colors to matched sets with distinctive detailing.

Mix or match fleecewear separates, color coordinate, or layer in many exciting combinations. Tops, cardigans, pants and shorts are offered in a range of color.

Another choice is coordinated ensembles featuring multiple color splicing combinations. Solid color sections may be combined with striped sections. Or, various color strips may be applied and color contrast used on welt and/or corded pocket for color interest and variety. You will find fleece separates and sweatsuits in a variety of fiber combinations for toddlers, young children, older youth, and men and women.

Some novel looks for the younger set include screen print motifs and appliques of animals, familiar objects, or three-dimensional trim. For older youth and adults, colorful wildlife prints on sweatsuits of blended fleece are popular. Embroidered or screen prints of favorite sportswear logos or sports teams add to the variety of choices.

Other decisions to be made are style detail alternatives. Some "sweats" feature a basic pullover crew neck, long sleeves and matching rib knit at the neck, sleeve and bottom edges. (Other top style choices are Henley collars, Johnny collars, hooded cardigans, full-zip front, or partial zip pullovers with stand-up or convertible collars.) Some feature a zipper through a Byron collar. Sleeve styles may be short, long, raglan, set-in or attached at a dropped shoulder line. Some fleece tops are styled with a two-, three- or six-button front placket, with or without collar. Mock turtleneck insets to wear with collarless versions are also available.

Sweatpants feature elasticized waist and leg openings. Single and multiple elastic casings are styling choices, some with an extra drawstring to adjust the waistline. The additional drawstring may be less convenient, requiring tying on the inside. Jogging shorts are also coordinates offered with similar casing options.

Other Special Features

When selecting warm-ups or jogging wear for cold weather activities, consider fabric and design features for warmth: double layers or lined hood, hand warmer pockets, close fitting rib knit or elastic cuffs at wrists and ankles, and convertible collars that zip into turtlenecks. Thicker fabrics of triple, double, foam core, or firm, compacted knit structures are warmer than thinner fabrics, and also better retain size and shape. Some suits offer convenience features such as wrist wallet with Velcro closures and zip pockets to hold keys, coins or valuables. Extra knit gussets at the underarm and in the crotch area allow for comfort and expansion if involved in lots of motion. For safety in nighttime running, use jogging clothes with white trims, stripes or cuffs to reflect car headlights.


Windsuits are another popular type of actionwear for running and casual wear available for all members of the family. Windsuits are made of tightly woven lightweight fabrics, usually of nylon or polyester fiber content. Often windsuit outer fabrics have a crinkle look similar to parachute cloth; some are made of trilobal nylon, which creates a fabric with sheen. Garments may be lined of cotton or cotton/polyester blend fabric, which adds to comfort and absorbency, since the outer synthetic fabrics are low moisture absorbers (see fiber content section). Some are lined with nylon taffeta. If the suits are to be used for jogging, look for features which ventilate, such as woven mesh sections in the jacket, or leg ankle zippers to release.

Windsuits are especially popular for casual wear, with much fashion and design appeal. Windsuits usually include a zipper front jacket and pull on pants with elasticized waist and leg openings. Some companies offer coordinating shorts in the set. Bright colors combine in a mix of solid color blocks or splicing with printed fabric inserts for distinctive, interesting looks. Suits of solid color include details such as yokes, shirring, special cuff or pocket treatments which add interest.

Like other types of actionwear apparel, check the construction and fit of the garment. More ease will be necessary in these woven fabrics for freedom of movement. Windsuits may be less functional and adaptable to active sports or workout activities than are warm-ups and fleecewear, but add choice to the wardrobe, especially for casual sportswear.


Consider function, individuality, and fashion appeal when selecting fleece separates, sweatsuits and warm-ups. In addition, look for full, athletic cuts and shrinkage controlled knits for comfort, stability, and better performance. Study label and hangtag information. Consider the fabric, fiber content, and the performance features offered by the fiber or fiber blend.

Some companies offer a guarantee on fabric and construction, so keep dated sales slips with clothing records. Should any problems occur, return the garment with a sales slip or proof of purchase directly to the manufacturer.

Consider sizing. Fleecewear is often sized in small, medium, large, extra large, or by actual size numbers for various categories such as little boys, boys, children, toddlers, misses, women's sizes, men's big, extra tall, and regular sizes, and information for converting regular men's sizes to women's sizes. When comparison shopping, read labels, try on garments, compare separate units of pants and tops for pant length, arm length, and roominess, since variability exists within the same size by different companies. Compare all the various style and performance features, product information, and price to help determine which are the best "sweats" or warm-ups to buy to meet your needs.

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