|Fabric also known as||Cloth of gold|
|Fabric composition||Woven metallic threads (often interspersed with natural or synthetic yarn)|
|Fabric possible thread count variations||100-300|
|Heat retention abilities||Low|
|Stretchability (give)||Depends on the subtype of lamé (either no give or highly stretchy)|
|Prone to pilling/bubbling||Low|
|Country where fabric was first produced||Ancient Assyria|
|Biggest exporting/producing country today||China|
|Recommended washing temperatures||Dry clean genuine lamé—machine-wash imitation lamé|
|Commonly used in||Blouses, dresses, neckties, costumes, cosplay, high fashion, jeans, skirts, jackets, shoes, bags, curtains, drapes, fencing uniforms|
What is lamé fabric?
Lamé is a fabric either entirely made of or interspersed with metallic fibers. According to historical records, this type of fabric is more than 4,000 years old, and in the past, it was associated exclusively with royalty and nobility. Today, lamé fabric is more widely available, but types of lamé that feature precious metals remain incredibly expensive. Both genuine and imitation lamé are commonly used in high fashion and costumes.
History of lamé fabric
The earliest historical records of lamé fabric date back to Ancient Assyria, which was a nation in the Middle East that existed between 2500 BC and 600 AD. Some of the oldest Assyrian cuneiform records report the existence of a fabric made from gold or silver that was worn exclusively by royalty.
Due to the high cost of precious metals, access to lamé fabric remained limited to individuals of means throughout the vast majority of this textile’s history. Lamé became reasonably popular among the elite of practically every major civilization to emerge on the Eurasian continent throughout the centuries, and in Europe, this fabric became known as the “cloth of gold” due to both its incorporation of gold fibers and its resemblance to gold coins or jewelry.
Cloth of gold is mentioned explicitly on Roman headstones, and this fabric also appears in the Bible. Some scholars suggest that the “Golden Fleece,” which plays an important role in Greek myth, may have also been lamé. Many European ecclesiastical garments featured gold thread.
In modern times, lamé experienced a brief resurgence of popularity in the 1920s when the decadence of the flapper movement revitalized interest in gaudy or expensive fabrics. Lamé became popular again in the 1960s when movie stars and musicians like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley frequently donned lamé garments.
By this point, however, it had become possible to produce fabrics that resembled gold or silver lamé using synthetic materials and aluminum, which significantly reduced the exclusivity of this type of fabric. It’s relatively easy, however, to tell the difference between genuine and imitation lamé, so lamé fabric featuring precious metal fibers remains an indicator of class and means.
Lamé fabric today
While still an infrequently used fabric, lamé never seems to quite go out of style. It’s uncommon to see average people wearing either imitation or genuine precious metal lamé out on the street, but you can find each type of lamé within specific contexts.
High-fashion designers, for instance, appear to be irreconcilably enamoured with the unique attributes of genuine lamé, and imitation lamé has become a popular material for costumes—especially within the international cosplay (costume-play) community. Imitation and genuine lamé sell for wildly different prices with authentic “cloth of gold” being one of the world’s most expensive fabrics and imitation lamé being one of the cheapest.
How is lamé fabric made?
Traditionally, lamé fabric was produced with gold that was beaten into long, thin strips and wound around a silk core. In many cases, gold used for lamé production was mixed with other metals, such as silver, to improve its strength and durability. Mixing gold with silver, however, causes the resulting alloy to tarnish over time, reducing the beauty of genuine gold lamé garments.
Today, textile manufacturers generally coat gold lamé thread with a type of clear plastic to increase its strength and prevent tarnishing. It is still common practice, however, to use an alloy featuring both gold and silver to improve the durability of the lamé thread. Up until the mid-20th century, gold lamé fabrics remained prone to tarnishing, but this is no longer an issue. Similar coatings are applied to silver or platinum lamé.
In some cases, genuine precious metal lamé might be made by wrapping gold, silver, or another metal around cotton or a synthetic textile fiber, but using core fibers other than silk is much more common in the production of imitation lamé. This type of lamé usually features colored aluminum wrapped around a synthetic fiber core and coated with plastic. It is remarkably inexpensive compared to genuine lamé, but it lacks many of the beneficial attributes of authentic lamé fabric.
Textile manufacturers can either weave or knit genuine or imitation lamé yarn into sheets of fabric. It is generally unnecessary to subject lamé fabric to flame-retardant treatments, and textile manufacturers do not dye lamé fabric.
How is lamé fabric used?
Both imitation and genuine lamé are used almost exclusively for the production of apparel and accessories. For whatever reason, lamé has never become a particularly popular material for homewares production with the notable exceptions of curtains and drapes.
Instead, genuine lamé is commonly used to make handbags, shoes, evening wear, and dresses along with men’s neckties. Almost every year, a renowned fashion designer will come out with a collection that features lamé fabric, so this textile is never far from the red carpet.
While genuine lamé is generally reserved for high-end, fashionable garments, it’s easier to find imitation lamé used in women’s jeans, skirts, and blouses. This type of fabric is especially popular in garments designed for girls, young women, and elderly women.
Due to its eye-catching appeal, costume designers commonly use lamé as a material for theatrical productions. To recreate the frequently outlandish character designs encountered in anime and comic books, cosplayers rely on lamé for their often self-made character costumes.
Lamé is also used in the sport of fencing due to its conductive qualities. Fencing suits are known as “lamés,” and since they conduct electricity, they allow hits to be registered on electronic devices.
Where is lamé fabric produced?
As an integral component of the high fashion industry, genuine precious metal lamé is commonly made in small batches in niche textile factories located in the world’s fashion capitals such as New York City, London, or Milan. Imitation lamé, on the other hand, is a cheap, synthetic textile, and as a result, it is most commonly produced in China, which is the world’s epicenter of synthetic fabric production.
How much does lamé fabric cost?
Even though textile production processes have become dramatically more efficient, certain types of lamé remain among the most expensive fabrics in the world. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fabric that is more expensive than genuine gold or silver lamé. A single meter of this fabric commonly costs as much as £500-£700, and precious metal lamé dresses can be priced as high as £2,000.
Lamé made with aluminum that looks similar to gold or silver lamé fabric usually only costs between £3-£50 per yard. For certain fashion-minded people, however, there’s simply no substitute for genuine lamé, and they’re willing to pay handsomely for a chance to wear this fabric on the red carpet or another place where glitz and glamour rule the day.
What different types of lamé fabric are there?
Over the years, textile manufacturers have developed a wide range of different types of lamé fabric. Here are a few examples:
1. Tissue lamé
This type of lamé fabric is so thin that it almost resembles tissue paper. Commonly featuring lamé yarn interspersed with mylar, this incredibly lightweight form of lamé very rarely features genuine gold or silver fibers.
2. Hologram lamé
By employing a specific weaving pattern combined with specially coated yarn, hologram lamé achieves an iridescent, holographic effect. It’s possible to make this multicolored fabric using either genuine or imitation lamé.
3. Pearl lamé
Similar to hologram lamé, pearl lamé also has an iridescent sheen. However, the sheen of pearl lamé more closely resembles the coloration of mother-of-pearl. This type of lamé can be either imitation or genuine.
4. Liquid lamé
Named for its flowing texture and excellent drape, liquid lamé looks watery and sensual when worn close to the skin. Most types of liquid lamé do not feature real gold or silver.
5. Spandex lamé
Many types of imitation lamé feature Spandex fibers that improve the give of finished garments. While less common, it is also possible to incorporate elastane into genuine lamé.
Some fabric manufacturers and designers contend that genuine lamé can only be made with pure metallic fibers and that garments featuring textile yarn with wound metal ribbons are instead “guipé.” Since almost all lamé now features metal ribbons wound around textile yarn, however, this distinction is no longer very relevant.
7. Precious metal lamé
While incredibly expensive, only lamé made using genuine gold, silver, platinum, or another precious metal can truly be considered “cloth of gold.”
8. Aluminum or imitation lamé
Lamé consisting of aluminum wound around rayon, polyester, or another type of synthetic textile fiber may be significantly less expensive than genuine lamé, but it’s not as lustrous or beautiful as the genuine article.
Lurex is a trademarked type of fabric consisting of synthetic fibers coated with vaporized metal. Most types of Lurex feature aluminum coatings, but it’s also possible to produce Lurex featuring genuine gold or silver.
How does lamé fabric impact the environment?
Compared to more mainstream fabrics, lamé is not in very high demand, so the overall environmental impact of this textile is minimal. Even though only very small amounts of lamé are produced or discarded every year, however, this fabric has a decidedly negative impact on the environment.
While it’s relatively easy to melt down and repurpose gold or silver used in genuine lamé production, neither of these precious metals biodegrade, and they are both known for their impressive lasting power. Since genuine lamé fibers generally feature silk cores, however, this type of lamé fabric is the most biodegradable.
Environmental phenomena break down aluminum faster than gold or silver, but this metal is also neurotoxic, making imitation lamé a dangerous environmental contaminant. Imitation lamé also commonly features synthetic fiber cores instead of silk, and in addition to having poor biodegradability, most synthetic fibers are made using a cocktail of toxic chemicals.
Unfortunately, there is no way to fully mitigate the environmental impact of lamé. The best approach is to only use genuine lamé fabric, but authentic cloth of gold is prohibitively expensive for most apparel and accessory manufacturers.
Lamé fabric certifications available
There are no certifications specifically for lamé fabric. If imitation lamé features recycled aluminum and recycled synthetic fiber cores, it may be eligible for Global Recycle Standard (GRS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. Additionally, fully synthetic lamé may be eligible for certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and producers of genuine gold lamé may be able to acquire certificates proving the carat quality of the gold included in their textiles. Combined with certification by Silk Mark of the silk cores present in genuine lamé yarn, this is the closest that lamé manufacturers can get to full certification.