The Transformation of Technical Materials for Protection and Performance
Technical materials have transformed the performance of outerwear in the sports world, and now these materials have been giving everyday fashion staples a big upgrade in comfort, fit, and weather protection. Materials from brands such as Gore-Tex and Schoeller have found their way into everything from caps to everyday outerwear and even shoes.
When it comes to outerwear, there are tons of choices and material options that will cover all the typical requirements of a traditional technical outerwear piece but in an everyday silhouette. If you’re not familiar with the basics when it comes to technical fabrics, it all comes down to construction. Shells are classified in 2L (two-layer) to 3L (three-layer) categories with 2L being what you find most technical garments while 3L shells offer the most protection and performance.
When you open a technical jacket, you’ll immediately notice the seams keep the stitching to a minimum or they use welding to eliminate the use of stitching entirely. Taped seams cover up these areas where rain could potentially seep through and add another layer of water resistance to keep you dry in a shower or a downpour. DWR is a term you’ll hear quite frequently and that stands for “Durable WaterRepellent.” This chemical coating is a first line of defense, creating a protective layer that keeps any liquid from penetrating the fabric so when liquid or rain comes into contact with your jacket it simply just beads off.
Breathability is a key component as well, especially in changing conditions. Some of the more advanced fabrics dynamically adapt to temperature changes to keep you comfortable without feeling like you’re cooking in an oven. A jacket that can trap warmth is great when it starts to get extremely cold, but that can get incredibly uncomfortable when overheating occurs. These temperature-regulating fabrics have been a big feature with materials that can tighten and open up based on weather conditions, also helping evaporate sweat if it starts to get a little too warm inside your jacket.
The best part is that this level of outerwear performance is available in sleek pieces that do away with the traditional outdoor aesthetic. Brands such as Arc’teryx have lifestyle-specific pieces, and there are even full collections that take a more sophisticated approach with styles such as blazers and parkas that not only feature high-performance fabrics but also pay plenty attention to the cut and fit.
“Merino has become a favorite of brands as it is a soft, natural performance fiber with odor-resistance and breathability …”
Even with down jackets, you won’t find anything that’s too puffy or oversize. The advance of synthetic insulation has made this type of jacket much, much slimmer with a tailored look that you can pull off every day without the awkward bulk of a traditional puffy.
It’s even allowed brands to create stylish coats that integrate insulation in a seamless way so you don’t have to obsess over the right number of layers to stay warm in freezing conditions.
One of the biggest game-changing features in recent years has been four-way stretch. This feature gives jackets a spandex-like quality, liberating the wearer from feeling restricted, allowing for full range of motion and a new level of comfort. While it’s a great feature for jackets, it’s an even better feature for pants. Having the freedom of four-way stretch is a life upgrade that you won’t want to ever be without. From long haul flights to the office or even commuting on your bike, the freedom of movement you have with four-way stretch just might be one of the best things to happen to pants since the zipper. You’ll never go back to a regular pair of pants.
Beyond the jackets and pants, everything from tees to underwear have also enjoyed the benefits of the technical fabric renaissance. Merino has become a favorite of brands as it is a soft, natural performance fiber with odor-resistance and breathability. It’s an ideal material for things like basic tees and socks and with the frequency of their usage, it also makes for an incredibly versatile material as it can stay clean and be worn a number of times without ever being washed.
You’ve also got 37.5, an emerging temperature-regulating technology that’s embedded into the fabric to keep the conditions around your skin at a perfect 37.5 degrees C, helping to keep the sweat away to keep your clothing nice and dry. These materials have also made their way into the office, with a number of companies offering button-downs and work-friendly pants. You’ll find features such as stain resistance, two- to four-way stretch, and lightweight construction, everything you need to get through the workday.
Much of this technology is available in socks but it’s what’s going on with shoes where it gets really interesting. Gore-Tex has been partnering with a number of footwear companies to bring its technical materials know-how to their most popular styles. You’ll find brands such as Clarks updating classic styles like the Desert Boot or the Wallabee with upgraded leathers and suedes that you won’t be scared of taking into the rain. Sneakers such as the Chuck Taylor have also received the Gore-Tex treatment that can withstand harsh weather days so you can avoid a soggy pair of Chucks the next time a storm rolls through.
So where do you begin if you want to start investing in everyday technical pieces for your wardrobe? A versatile shell that you can wear with anything is a key piece you’ll want to have in the rotation. Whether or not you live in rainy weather, a water-resistant shell can be a lifesaver when it starts raining, and many of the options out there are lightweight and packable so you can always keep it rolled up in your bag (or luggage) for when it gets wet or windy.
If your city’s weather is a bit less temperamental, invest in a couple pairs of technical pants. They will be the most versatile outerwear pieces in your wardrobe and they’ll come in handy in just about every scenario. As for pricing, it can get a bit expensive but you are getting a lot of value for your money and many of these features are trickling down to many of the mainstream brands that are offering similar performance at a much more affordable price point.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2019 print issue of EDC Magazine.