The Latest Trend in Your Work Wardrobe Stinks - Kanebridge News
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The Latest Trend in Your Work Wardrobe Stinks

Performance fabrics move from workout gear to business attire—with some odorous downsides

Thu, Oct 5, 2023 10:21amGrey Clock 4 min

Performance fabrics are moving out of the gym and into everyday clothes. Some men say that stinks.

The fabrics, usually a blend of polyester, spandex and other man-made fibres, have been a mainstay in workout gear for their sweat-wicking properties. Now apparel makers are using them for polo shirts, button-ups and suits. But a work day or wedding lasts a lot longer than a workout, giving the materials time to trap odours, cause breakouts and make you sweatier.

Tim Connon, a life insurance agent in Palmer, Tenn., got tired of adding a cup of baking soda to the wash to remove the mildew smell from his polyester-blend polo shirts, and eventually tossed them out. “It was ridiculous to have to take that extra step when the shirts shouldn’t smell in the first place,” he said.

Connon now wears only 100% cotton shirts, but said they are hard to find and more expensive. They also have to be ironed. “The performance shirts don’t wrinkle, but I couldn’t stand the smell and the itchiness of those fabrics,” the 31-year-old said.

Synthetic fibres repel water, which helps sweat evaporate but allows oil secretions from our bodies to build up on the fabric and trap odors, according to Renae Fossum, a senior director and research fellow at Procter & Gamble.

P&G has upgraded its detergents and introduced new products like Downy Rinse & Refresh, a fabric enhancer that works in the rinse cycle to strip away odours and residue that builds up on synthetic clothes. “We are trying to help consumers understand these issues are not in their head,” said Sammy Wang, a P&G senior scientist who specialises in fabric care.

Polyester is no stranger to friction. The fibre got its start in the 1930s lab of DuPont chemist Wallace Carothers. After Carothers got sidetracked by the discovery of nylon, British scientists picked up the thread and developed the first polyester fibre during World War II. DuPont bought the U.S. rights in 1946.

In the following decades, the fabric elbowed aside natural fibres like cotton, silk, linen and wool, thanks to its lower costs and easy care—you could throw it in the washing machine and let it drip-dry.

It was also suffocating, at least in its earlier forms. Wearing a 1970s polyester leisure suit was like “walking around in a Hefty bag,” said Alan Spielvogel, director of technical services at the National Cleaners Association, a dry cleaners trade group.

Clothing makers eventually added breathability, stretch, waterproofing and stain resistance. As athleisure took hold, polyester took off. Polyester surpassed cotton in 2002 and now outsells all other fibres, according to consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

Covid further fuelled polyester’s growth as people got used to wearing more comfortable clothes while stuck at home.

Although women have adopted performance fabrics for dressier attire, men have been the primary driver of demand because they tend to put a higher value on features like stain and wrinkle resistance, said Kristen Classi-Zummo, an apparel analyst at market research firm Circana.

Dermatologists say that with the popularity of these fabrics, they are seeing a jump in “sweat acne,” which is caused by a yeast that lives on our skin that invades our pores when we perspire.

Erum Ilyas, a dermatologist in King of Prussia, Pa., said sweat acne is more prevalent with performance fabrics in casual or work attire than workout clothes. “When you work out, you usually rinse off afterward,” she said. “If you are wearing a shirt for 8 to 12 hours, you are stuck in that fabric for longer stretches of time.”

She tells patients to try using Head & Shoulders shampoo as a body wash to degrease the skin.

Tyler Cenname, the co-founder of a furniture company, purposely chose a dress shirt made of performance fabric to wear to a Las Vegas wedding in August because he thought it would keep him cooler.

“I actually sweated more than if I was wearing a cotton shirt,” the 24-year-old said. “And I broke out in a rash.”

Zach Klempf, the founder of an automotive software company, bought a moisture-wicking suit to keep him dry when presenting to clients and working trade show booths. He hadn’t counted on the suit absorbing cigar smoke during industry cocktail hours.

“I can’t wear it anymore, because the smell is so off-putting,” said the 32-year-old San Francisco resident. He’s gone back to wool suits.

Some performance-fabric fans say the odours are a small price to pay for the added comfort and absence of armpit stains. To combat the stink factor, some brands treat the fabrics with antimicrobial finishes.

That coating can wear off, according to Tony Anzovino, chief sourcing and merchandising officer at Haggar Clothing, which uses performance fabrics in 70% of its products. Instead, Haggar uses a type of polyester fiber that is spun into a longer yarn called a filament that makes it harder for microbes to attach.

Jonathan Poston, a 48-year-old consultant, who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., wonders if we’re asking too much of our clothes. “In the tech world we call it feature creep,” he said. “The same thing is happening with clothes. They have to tick all these boxes.” He only wears 100% cotton shirts.

“As someone who has to wear a shirt for 14 hours a day, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask my clothes to do a lot,” said Ben Perkins, the co-founder of &Collar, a men’s clothing brand that uses performance fabrics. Nevertheless, Perkins plans to introduce a cotton-blend shirt after customers said they wanted one.

“You need to serve the synthetic majority and the cotton minority,” he said.


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Savvy travellers who plan their trips around dining at their destination’s most in-demand restaurants know that securing a reservation at a top Paris eatery isn’t an easy proposition on any given day.

Come the Olympics in July, when the city is flooded with tourists, one would expect the jockey sport to snag a table to be that much more intense. But that’s not necessarily shaping up to be the case. As of mid-May, Parisian insiders such as hotel managers, restaurant owners, and local luxury concierges reported that inquiries at sought-after spots were no higher than usual, foretelling a potential opportunity for visitors looking for a fine-dining experience during the games.

The time to book falls over the next few weeks given that many top spots don’t take reservations until one month before the dining date.

The Michelin-starred Jean Imbert Au Plaza Athenee and Le Relais Plaza, both at Hotel Plaza Athenee and helmed by the renowned French chef Jean Imbert, are two examples.

Francois Delahaye, the COO of the Dorchester Collection, a hospitality company that includes the Plaza Athenee and a second Paris property, Le Meurice, says that his regular guests who are visiting for the games and Parisians who frequent the restaurants know not to call too far in advance of when they want to dine.

Further, he doesn’t foresee reservations being a challenge at either venue or at Le Meurice’s two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse.

“Booking for the restaurants won’t be an issue because people are planning meals at the last minute,” Delahaye says. “Also, the people who are in Paris specifically for the Olympics are here for the games, not to eat at restaurants. They’re not the big-spending clientele that we usually get.”

Delahaye doesn’t expect the kinds of peak crowds that descend on fine dining during Fashion Week each spring and autumn, for example, when trying to land a seat at the three eateries is nearly impossible. “People are fighting to get in,” he says. “You need to book through your hotel’s concierge, have an inside source, or be a hotel or restaurant regular.”

Several Paris luxury concierge companies echoed Delahaye’s perspective

Manuel de Croutte, the founder of Exclusive & Private, says that Paris regulars probably aren’t planning a trip when the Olympics transpire—from July 26 to Aug. 11—because they want to avoid the tourist rush. “We’ve gotten some reservation requests from people who’ve heard about us but not nearly as many as we usually get when the very wealthy travellers are here,” he says.

During peak periods like the French Open or Fashion Week, de Croutte says that his job entails making bookings for travellers who don’t have any other way to get into buzzy or Michelin-starred establishments.

“You’re unlikely to get a table at a see-and-be-seen place without knowing someone,” de Croutte says. “No one picks up the phone or answers email.” He says his team has established relationships with managers and owners of many of the hot spots in Paris and often visits them in person to land tables.

Exclusive & Private’s Black Book of Paris restaurant recommendations for Olympic visitors span a broad range, from casual bistros to fine-dining.

Michelin eateries include the three-star Le Gabriel at La Reserve, the two-star Le Clarence near the Champs-Elysee, and the two-star Le Taillevent.

Spots without a Michelin star but equally notable are also on de Croutte’s list: L’ Ami Jean offers traditional and flavourful southwestern French cuisine, Allard is a brasserie from Alain Ducasse, and Laurent serves French food to a fashionable set.

“My favourite neighbourhood for restaurants is Saint Germain de Pres,” de Croutte says. “You’ll find unassuming but chic names with excellent food and a great vibe. You can book with these places directly if you’re here for the Olympics, but don’t wait until the last minute because they will get filled.”

He also cautions that some Paris eateries are asking for nonrefundable prepayments for reservations during the Olympics.

“Be sure you want to go before committing and ask about the refund policy if you are charged,” he says.

Stephanie Boutet-Fajol, the founder of Sacrebleu Paris, says her bespoke travel company charges a lump sum of about US$750 to make all the restaurant bookings for the Olympic period, though the price varies depending on the dates and the number of restaurants that a client requests. “Reservations around the closing ceremony are harder to come by because that’s when more elite travelers are coming to Paris and want the chic restaurants that are always difficult to get a table at,” she says.

Meanwhile, chefs at some Michelin-starred restaurants share that they have tables available during the Olympics and welcome travellers to their establishments.

Thibaut Spiwack, for one, behind the Michelin-starred Anona, serving modern French cuisine, and the culinary consultant for the popular Netflix series Emily in Paris , says that he is open for reservations.

“My team and I look forward to sharing a culinary experience with new clientele that I hope will remain in their memory,” he says.

Spiwack suggests that travellers check out other worthwhile restaurants where he himself dines. For terrific wine, there’s Lava, and for Italian, he likes Epoca where the pastas are “divine.” Janine is the best bistro in town, and Prima wins for a pizza fix, he says.

“You have a lot of restaurants in Paris to pick from,” Spiwack says. “You just need to determine where you want to go, and book as soon as you can.”