Recently my good friend Martin Marks‘ article “Can Men of Sport Also Be Men of Style?” was posted on Esquire Magazine’s blog. The article discusses sportswear through the ages, and the evolution of materials and construction of the clothing and equipment that athletes use.
One interesting point that is pointed out is the trend in sportsware going from using traditional “elemental” materials – “cotton, wool, leather, metal”, to high tech fabrics engineered using cutting edge science – “Neoprene, acrylic, and polyester…spandex, and Coolmax”. This trend toward cutting edge, synthetic fabric has definietely enhanced the utility of sportsware, and as Martin points out, given rise to many more options in the fashion realm.
However, one additional aspect of the evolution of modern sportsware, which Martin also points out, is the recent re-popularity of using natural fibers – namely merino wool, in technical sports clothing. In the past couple of years, various makers have come to market with hip, trendy, high performance gear made of one pure merino wool, of the oldest and most versatile fibers out there. Through recent advances in fabric weaving technologies, stitching, and quality control, makers such as Ibex, Smartwool and Icebreaker are able to make all sorts of clothing out of wool that feel great and perform at an extremely high level. In my own experience, more often than not I’m more comfortable running in a pure wool tshirt than I would be in a comparable synthetic “cool max” tshirt. Wool performs in a large range of use cases, including adjusting to different temperatures, retaining its performance characteristics when wet, drying quickly, and resisting odors for days. I’ve worn wool pieces while sailing in the pacific for days, and at the end came out much less stinky than comparable cotton or synthetic pieces would.
Anyway, I’m glad to see that wool is making a comeback, and with mainstream designers getting into the athletic clothing design biz – Martin mentions Messrs. Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen – hopefully we’ll continue to get cooler and cooler sportsware, both synthetic and natural.