Lululemon shorts are some of the best workout shorts out there, and it’s no secret that I’m pretty much obsessed with their speed shorts. I’m in good company, too–there are whole communities of speeds shorts aficionados out there. One of THE most common questions in the lululemon shorts community is: what’s the difference between 2-way and 4-way stretch and how do you tell them apart? Today, that’s exactly what I’m going to show you!
By the way, all this info applies to all of lululemon’s running/training shorts and skirts, not just shorts. Most styles are generally made of the same material, just in different cuts. So whether you have your eye on speed shorts, hotty hot shorts, tracker shorts, run times shorts, or some other style of lululemon shorts or skirts, this guide will help you figure out what’s what.
Note that this doesn’t apply to lulu yoga styles such as wunder shorts, boogie shorts, or other form-fitting shorts. Those are typically made of one of the materials described in my active fabrics guide.
Unfortunately, lululemon stopped producing their original 2-way fabric around 2015. Although I’m still holding out hope that it’ll come back, most of this info applies to older styles of shorts.
Key differences: 2-way stretch versus 4-way stretch
Feel: 2-way fabric feels crispy and more stiff, while 4-way feels buttery.
Stretch: literally, 2-way only stretches 2 ways. If you gently tug 2-way fabric and feel the stretch, then turn the fabric 90 degrees and stretch it again, you’ll notice it will only stretch in one of those directions and be rigid in the other. It has some stretch, but not complete flexibility in every direction.
Structure: 2-way holds its shape better while 4-way tends to drape. This means the fit and overall look is different. The structure of 2-way is often heralded for its booty-shaping powers. 4-way lays completely flat with no structure, and for that reason, 4-way shorts often appear slightly longer than their 2-way counterparts. 2-way will also tend to crease more easily than 4-way. Notice in the picture above, the red shorts on top have developed distinct whiskering around the hip crease, while the camo shorts lie pretty much flat. (Note: not all 2-way shorts will have visible whiskering.)
Durability: since 4-way fabric is more stretchy, it’s also more delicate. 4-way fabric can be torn or snagged if you’re not careful, while 2-way fabric is very durable.
A note about swift material
Currently, lululemon sells the occasional pair of shorts in a fabric that’s neither of the fabrics above above, but is a material usually referred to as simply “Swift”. Sometimes it’s labeled as 2-way on lululemon’s website and tags, and sometimes as 4-way. Some people have given it the name “3-way” because it’s not a true 2-way nor is it a true 4-way, but somewhere in between. It does not have as much structure as the original 2-way, but it also is not as buttery and stretchy as 4-way. This is the same material lululemon uses for their studio pants and street to studio pants.
Spotting swift material is really easy. If you look closely, there are very faint vertical lines on the fabric. It looks like this:
See those very subtle vertical lines? This photo is of studio pants, but the fabric and its lines will look the same on shorts, too.
This material is virtually always solid colors, not prints or patterns. This material is relatively rare on shorts; only a few colors out there were made with it.
How to tell the difference between 2-way and 4-way stretch
So you have some old shorts, or you’re interested in buying some. How can you tell what’s 2-way and what’s 4-way?
Method #1: the tug test
The first way is the stretch method: use your hands to grab a little bit of material and gently tug. Now rotate the fabric by 90 degrees and tug again. In other words, tuck north/south and then tug east/west. When you pull in the vertical direction, 2-way will feel totally rigid with no give at all. When you pull in the horizontal and diagonal directions, that same 2-way fabric will feel slightly stretchy. If it feels stretchy in every direction at every angle, it’s 4-way.
Method #2: the tent test
Lay your shorts on a flat surface, like a table or the floor.
Use your hands to pull up on the leg opening; try to shape the it into a tent/arc/tunnel kind of thing. Now, let it go.
If it’s 2-way, it will keep some of that structure and stand on its own. See the nice smooth arc in the photo above?
If the fabric is 4-way stretch, it will flop right back down in a lumpy heap. No smooth arcs here.
Try it a couple of times. Notice that 2-way can be coaxed into shapes, whereas 4-way just sort of deflates.
Here’s how some other shorts looked after the tent test:
Can you tell which is which?
Answer: 4-way on the left, 2-way on the right. Again, the 2-way fabric formed a nice open arc, while the 4-way melted back to the floor.
Here’s another one:
Answer: the yellow are 2-way, the pink are 4-way.
Notice how the 2-way fabric holds its shape and stays open if you coax it into the right position. No matter how much you try to shape and mold 4-way fabric, it will never make a nice tent.
More examples of 2-way and 4-way colors and patterns
I hope you’re starting to feel better about identifying each type of material. To provide more concrete examples, here’s how my collection breaks down.
This is my current collection of 2-way shorts and their names:
Top, L-R: love red, ray, flare tonka stripe, fossil elevation stripe split pea
Middle, L-R: quiet stripe, heathered paris pink, seacheck plum, sailor stripe (this one is actually Ivivva)
Bottom, L-R: flash jacquard, chevron, spring has sprung
One thing you to note from my collection: plaids are always 2-way. I’ve never seen any plaid made in 4-way fabric. Stripes are almost always 2-way, although recently, a handful of stripes have been released in 4-way.
Now, here’s my current 4-way collection:
Top, L-R: dottie tribe, bruised berry, fatigue camo
Middle, L-R: menthol, black, inky floral
Bottom, L-R: harbor blue, neon pink
The common theme you’ll see in both photos is that solid colors and other patterns can come in either 4-way or 2-way. Although solids are commonly made in 4-way, that’s definitely not always true.
Note that the same shorts are always made of the same fabric. So, if you find inky floral speed shorts, they are all 4-way. There is not variation in the material used for the same shorts. The only exception to this is a basic color such as white, where the same color was made in multiple materials and released at different times.
Which is better: 2-way or 4-way?
The short answer: it depends!
2-way and 4-way stretch fabric have different properties in terms of both fit and feel. The extra structure of 2-way can be more flattering to some people, and the fact that it holds its shape on its own is more appealing to some. However, 4-way offers more give and stretch, which means some people find them more comfortable.
Personally, I tend to prefer 2-way stretch, though I love both. I like the way they fit and feel, and I don’t notice the slight loss in mobility. I also like that 2-way is virtually indestructible when I’m hiking or scraping it against a barbell. Plus, almost all of my favorite patterns and colors happen to be 2-way, so I’m a little biased!
Ultimately, you can really only determine which is better for you through trial and error. It truly comes down to your personal preference, body type, and activities for which you use them.