Velours is the French word for velvet, and, like velvet, velour is woven by a special process with looped threads that are cut to form a pile, or textured surface. What distinguishes velour from velvet is the fabric from which it is woven. While velvet is most often made of silk or the synthetic fabrics nylon or acetate, velour is loosely woven of cotton, sometimes blended with synthetic fiber.
Long used as a drapery and upholstery fabric, particularly in automobiles, velour, when it gained popularity as a fabric for clothing in the 1970s, was often ridiculed for its upholstery background. Once members of popular 1970s rock groups such as the Bee Gees wore it, however, many young people began to consider the fabric hip and modern. The popularity of velour in the 1970s also relied on the previous decade. During the 1960s young men had begun to rebel against the conservative dress of previous generations and started to wear more brightly colored, casual clothes. Such clothes became highly fashionable for the average man, and velour was sewn into comfortable shirts and pants for men and women alike.
The most recognized velour garment of the 1970s is the jogging suit worn by both men and women. Sportswear companies such as Adidas began to make brightly patterned velour into jogging suits, with a loosely fitted top and pants made of matching fabric. A modified version of the velour jogging suit was used to represent futuristic clothing on the science fiction television series Star Trek (1966–69), which reached its peak of popularity in syndication in the 1970s.
Like many distinctive 1970s fashions, velour went out of fashion during the 1980s as men returned to a more conservative, buttoned-down look. However, the fabric came back into fashion for both men and women in the twenty-first century and its popularity was given a boost when singer and actress Jennifer Lopez (1970–) introduced her own line of velour fashions.
Gilmour, Sarah. 20th Century Fashion: The 70s, Punks, Glam Rockers, and New Romantics. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 1999.