Denim feels tough, rugged. Cotton feels light and fresh. Fleece is warm and cuddly. Silk is more airy, and satin is almost too smooth. The nice thing about all of those materials, however, is that they don’t require the level of expertise suggested by the makers of performance fabrics.
Although an interest in fashion leads naturally to making distinctions between the quality of cloth from one brand to the next, I’m feel like I’m slowly seeing a rise in apparel that has more technical details than the average male shopper is accustomed to learning.
Last month, for example, New York-based Bugatchi launched OoohCotton Tech fabric, which is described as “a unique blend of soft long-staple mercerized cotton (120 count / 2 ply) with quick-dry technology to promote the evaporation of moisture, keeping the skin dry and at a constant body temperature.”
OoohCotton (I keep forgetting how many “Os” to include) also has an eight-way stretch, which essentially means it should be as free-flowing as your baggiest sweatshirt but won’t need to be ironed.
More recently, I was pitched by a company called Active Cashmere, also based out of New York, which is set to launch its first-ever full collection of essentials for everyday wear for Fall / Winter 2020 at Fred Segal stores in the U.S. as well as online, with a bigger release slated for next month.
While Active Cashmere has worked in collaboration with several other brands in the past — Barneys New York, Bird, Isetan and Lululemon — the “gender agnostic” collection will allow the company to put its expertise in performance fabric into the spotlight. These are the details:
Active Cashmere seamlessly blends quality with function, utilizing its innovative fiber treatment process to enhance cashmere’s natural qualities. The proprietary process allows the cashmere to retain the highest quality and soft hand feel for years, while also making it water-repellent and machine wash safe with no shrinkage, ensuring the garment’s initial shape and form is retained and its quality improves with every wash and wear.
This all sounded great, except I couldn’t help feeling as though I’d heard similar things somewhere before. Then I remembered Kit And Ace and its “technical cashmere,” which Slate investigated in 2015, only to find that it basically meant garments you could machine-wash and dry, and that some items. like a “social brushed long sleeve” men’s shirt, only had six per cent technical cashmere, “the balance made up of modal, viscose, and elastane.”
Today, Kit And Ace describes itself as a manufacturer of “technical apparel for the modern commuter,” and I can say I’ve bought several of their golf shirts and found them more comfortable and breathable than any others.
In some respects, I think performance fabrics could make men more interested in what they put on, because it gives them something concrete on which to base their decision other than a colour or a cut. It could almost become like the way some guys nerd out over the features of a car, or the specs of a smartphone or stereo system.
Performance fabrics could also win fans if they want their wardrobe to align with specific functional needs. I remember first being exposed to Mizzen + Main, a maker of “moisture-wicking, wrinkle-free” dress shirts on an episode of the Tim Ferris Show podcast where the self-styled experimenter in “lifestyle design” talked about how well they stayed intact when he was travelling from one startup conference to another. I’ve been meaning to buy one ever since — or at least I was, until the pandemic scuttled all my travel plans for the foreseeable future.
On the flip side, the restrictions of COVID-19 might lend themselves to exploring performance fabrics for almost the opposite reason: instead of wanting to feel more at ease while sitting in a boardroom or walking through a convention centre, the right performance fabrics could meet the need for a work from home wear that straddles the line between personal and professional uses.
This was clearly the thinking by companies like Bugatchi. “We are aware of the global lifestyle changes, and how they are affecting dress codes,” its CEO Cecile Revah was quoted amid the OoohCotton launch.
Let me spell it out a bit: many of us are buying less, so when we do make a purchase, it should have a better business case than what we might have used to justify getting out our credit cards in the past.
The longer-term question is whether performance fabrics really offer enough innovation to sway cost-conscious consumers, and whether some of those innovations might eventually become so mainstream they no longer stand out. After all, the very emergence of performance fabric could raise expectations: shouldn’t the majority of clothing be easy to move in, impervious to moisture and supple enough you don’t need to iron them very often?
What we put on our bodies right now doesn’t necessarily need to look quite as high end as it did back in February, but it needs to deliver a quality experience. Otherwise, those clothes might become subject to the sartorial equivalent of a performance review.