Never Let Them See You Sweat
EVER WONDER WHAT the talk about performance wear was all about? They are on TV all the time: Poised, professional golfers in loose-fitting polo shirts tucked neatly into khakis. There is never evidence of the unsightly underarm sweat ring or the icky shirt-stuck-to-back-and-belly disease often plaguing the rest of the population. Save for an occasional swipe of the brow, these golfers appear dry and comfortable all the time, even in the 90-degree Floridian sun. It is precisely for those reasons that there is so much talk about performance wear, and why it so important to know what is being said. With all the new technological features now available in golf apparel, the garments literally help wearers maintain their cool in the heat of the game.
It is important to note that not all performance technologies are created equal, so said Dan Guthrie, inside sales manager at Peoria, Arizona-based Antigua Sportswear. “There are a lot of people using the term ‘performance’ as a blanket description without knowing what the specific properties can include,” he noted. For example, Guthrie said an anti-bacterial fabric falls under the category of performance, but it has nothing to do with moisture-wicking. “[Shirts with anti-bacterial treatment] would be ideal for a customer that is wanting the benefits of using a synthetic fabric, but is concerned with the odor problems that are associated with these fabrics,” he explained.
To get distributors up to par on the topic, defining the various performance features found in golf apparel is in order, no pun intended. According to Sean Gregg, director of product development at Antigua, the most common technologies available in shirts include: moisture wicking, UV protection, anti-bacterial and stretch fabrics. For outerwear, the most popular features are water resistant and breathable fabrics, as well as waterproof and seam-sealed technologies.
1. Moisture wicking involves a constructional or chemical treatment to spread the moisture out along the fabric as it’s being absorbed for the purpose of expedient evaporation. It is important to understand that any after-market fabric softeners, such as liquid fabric softeners or dryer sheets, diminish the effects of wicking and therefore should not be used on these garments. The purpose of a softener is to coat the fabric for a soft hand, but in the case of wicking fabrics, this treatment will clog the ‘pores’ of the fabric that are there to affect wicking and not allow the moisture to be absorbed.
2. UV protection involves a constructional or chemical treatment that embellishes a garment’s natural sun protection ability by increasing the protection factor to equal high levels of sunblock.
3. Anti-bacterial involves a constructional or chemical treatment that, by nature of the chemical or yarn used, will kill off live bacteria as it grows, helping to eliminate odor caused by the presence of bacteria. However, since bacteria continues to grow similarly to the rate it is destroyed, at present it is impossible to completely eliminate odor, only control and minimize it.
4. Stretch fabrics—simply adding Lycra or spandex to both knit and woven fabrics to achieve additional give is a benefit to any golfer attempting to obtain full torque for a distance shot.
Water-resistant, waterproof and breathable fabrics, as well as seam-sealed technologies are widely known performance features in outerwear. However, what might not be so pervasive is the fact that “at present, some of the same technologies that are used on golf polo shirts, such as wicking, UV protection and stretch, are also now being incorporated into outerwear [along with outerwear’s] weather resistant properties for enhanced function and value,” explained Gregg.
When it comes to choosing the best performance fabrics for an extended day on the course, synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are without question the best. But, that’s not to say natural fibers, such as cotton, don’t hold their own. “There are still some golf apparel companies that choose cotton over polyester or poly blends for their performance lines,” noted Gregg. However, he cautioned that cotton may not be the best choice for a performance line that caters to golfers. “It is key to have cotton in a mercerized line, but not necessarily in performance because even though cotton can be treated to absorb moisture as quickly as polyester, it is not possible for cotton to dry anywhere near as quickly as synthetics,” he said. “For performance products, drying speed is the crucial part of fabric wicking.”
There is a happy medium between the two. “Some companies will plate their performance fabrics with poly on the inside and cotton on the face, which will still sufficiently allow the moisture to be absorbed rapidly,” explained Gregg. However, when the moisture “is brought to the cotton surface, it will still slow the evaporation experience and also tends to make for a heavier piece of fabric.” So, until technology changes for non-synthetic materials, Gregg said the majority of Antigua’s performance fabrics will remain synthetic.
Gregg said performance fabrics are relatively inexpensive when compared with non-performance ones. “Since performance garments truly perform their advertised functions, it seems to make sense that anyone playing [sports] would benefit from these enhancements,” he said.
No need to convince Major Leage Baseball. In February, the organization announced it will finally doff its traditional wool cap—the first major overhaul since 1954—“in favor of a new polyester blend model designed to wick away sweat before it can stream down a player’s face” (Associated Press, ESPN.com).
As the technology works its way into the mainstream and becomes a staple across the board, one thing becomes clear: performance matters.