You’ve probably been hearing all about performance menswear, but how’s that different from what you’re already wearing?
How exactly can a shirt “perform?”
Trust me, I had these same questions a few years ago. But when all the cool-looking clothes I wanted kept mentioning they were made with performance fabrics, I figured I had to learn more about exactly what made the look and feel of these clothes so special.
In this article, I’ll break down what performance fabric is, why it’s a great choice for more than just the gym, and the top five brands giving performance fabric a good name.
What Is Performance Fabric?
Let’s start by answering a couple of questions. What do you wear to the office? And what do you wear to the gym?
Chances are, cotton is the dominant fabric in most of your clothes.
Maybe you wear something similar to me—chinos and an oxford shirt to the office, jersey shorts and a t-shirt to the gym.
Standard chinos and oxford shirts are made with cotton—so is my gym tee.
So if cotton is king, what’s with all these companies cropping up offering great, modern looking clothes touting their “performance fabrics?”
Performance Fabric vs Cotton
Performance fabrics are synthetic fibers that offer a few more perks than cotton for everyday wear.
Cotton is comfortable, but there are three main issues that keep it from being the best fabric for work and the gym:
1. Cotton Absorbs Moisture
If you’re wearing a cotton shirt and you sweat heavily, it’ll be clear. Cotton is a great absorber, but that means the moisture will be boldly displayed under your arms.
Performance fabrics wick moisture away from your skin just like cotton, but it releases the moisture rather than absorbing it. So you don’t have to worry as much about sweat stains as you go about your day.
And if you’re hitting the gym, a cotton shirt can soak up every bit of sweat and have you looking like a mess. Now, there’s a benefit to cotton’s absorbency, and that’s its cooling effect. So for summer days when you want a little extra help keeping the heat away, a soaked cotton shirt works wonders.
But for regular days at the office or in the gym, wearing a pre-soaked cotton shirt isn’t really an option.
2. Synthetic Fabrics Have More Stretch
Cotton has a decent amount of stretch, but it doesn’t come close to matching synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon.
It’s common to see cotton blends with Spandex and elastane for that extra bit of mobility. But even still, most performance menswear brands blend a super-stretch material like spandex into their synthetic fabrics, and the result is hard to beat.
Even though it’s less flexible, cotton was still the fabric of choice just because of its comfort. Synthetic fabrics have come a long way in the past twenty years, and now can match the softness of cotton.
3. Performance Fabric is More Colorfast
Cotton fades with every wash. Even high-quality fabric has a limited time where it holds on to that fresh, new look.
With synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon, pigment sticks with the fabric for much longer. That means that awesome “new clothes” look extends far beyond what you’d get with cotton.
Also, the fabrics you’ll find in performance menswear don’t lose their shape and they don’t shrink. So if it fits well in the store of when you first try it on, it’ll fit well throughout its lifetime.
The 5 Best Performance Menswear Brands in 2020
TRUWEAR is an up-and-coming performance workwear company. Their clothes have a modern look perfect for the office but breathable and flexible enough for anything an active life might throw at you.
Our Top Pick: The Phenom Performance Dress Shirt
The Phenom is one of the most flattering dress shirts we’ve ever tried. It’s slim through the chest and arms, and with the flexible material, it makes you look like you’ve been doing pushups all morning.
Also Great: Peak Lifestyle Joggers
We’re big fans of TRUWEAR’s Peak Lifestyle Joggers. The dual zipped pockets at the back make them perfect for not losing track of stuff at the gym, and they’re stylish enough to look great running Saturday afternoon errands.
What Other Reviewers Say
While they’re a new company, it looks like TRUWEAR tore up and threw away the learning curve because initial reviews are positive. Some reviewers mentioned that they can wear these several days straight without noticing because they’re wrinkle and odor resistant.
For comfortable, long-lasting office staples, TRUWEAR is a must. Their modern cuts and durable fabrics make them an easy choice for your performance menswear needs.
TRUWEAR launched their first line of performance menswear designed for the office just last year. Even as a new brand, their focus on the details results in comfortable, flexible menswear that keeps up no matter how active your lifestyle.
2. Public Rec
Increasingly the masters of performance casual wear, Public Rec have outfitted thousands of guys with comfort-to-the-max clothes. Their unique take on performance fabrics give them a look and feel of their own.
We’ve tried Public Rec for ourselves and we dig them. Here are our favorite items:
Our Top Pick: The All Day Every Day Jogger
Compared to TRUWEAR’s jogger, this one has a little less security. The only zipper is in a side pocket, so if you’re carrying around a wallet, steer more toward TRUWEAR.
But the ADED joggers have a sleek, slim look that’s one of a kind. They use the same fabric as they do in their Crosstown Bomber. It’s rich and textured, while still offering all the breathability and flexibility.
Also Great: The Politan Hoodie
With its stretchy collar and ever-so-subtle v-neck collar, Public Rec’s Politan Hoodie won us over with its perfect fit (at least for our model in a medium) and softness.
If you’re in the market for a high quality performance hoodie that looks as good as it feels, you’ll struggle to find better at this price point.
What Other Reviewers Say
Public Rec has over 10,000 four and five-star reviews on their site.
Just quickly skimming through those comments, we noticed several people mentioned owning five, six, eight, twelve products from the brand. Some reviewers said they exclusively wear Public Rec clothes throughout the week. That’s some high praise.
For performance menswear that takes casual dressing to new, uber-comfortable levels, Public Rec is a must.
We tried many of their staples, even beyond their joggers and hoodie, and we couldn’t find too many faults.
For true athleisure wear that’s functional in the gym and comfortable and stylish on the subway, Public Rec is a solid choice.
3. Mizzen + Main
Mizzen + Main got their start with performance fabric dress shirts. They’ve gradually expanded and now they offer other comfortable staples like chinos, vests, and pullovers that fit perfectly into a business-casual wardrobe.
Here are our favorite pieces:
Our Top Pick: Leeward Dress Shirt
The Leeward is 100% polyester. But it isn’t the same stuff your grandma wore back in the 60s. It’s hard to tell the difference between this stuff and cotton. The Leeward is so soft and flexible, it’s hard to believe it’s made with performance fabric.
The only way you can tell is with time—this shirt still looks brand new after several months and multiple washes.
Also Great: Rockwell Vest
We’ve been working hard to spread the word about vests.
And in the Rockwell, Mizzen + Main offers one of the best vests we’ve ever tried. It’s the perfect middle layer in winter, and a great way to fight the minor chill in spring. Plus, if you’ve got a bit of a belly, this vest has an excellent slimming effect.
What Other Reviewers Say
Mizzen + Main has racked up a 4.3-star average across over 9,000 reviews. One of our favorite reviews says this: “This shirt is awesome! I bought it for when I proposed and even though I was sweating like crazy, the shirt looked completely normal.”
Because their clothes aren’t cotton, you don’t have to worry about them absorbing moisture. They’re a great choice if you’re tired of pit-stains.
For everyday business-casual clothes, Mizzen + Main is a one-stop-shop. They’ve got (almost) everything you need to look modern, dressy, and relaxed.
Golf giant, Phil Mickelson, gets plenty of use from the brand’s shirts and pants, both on and off the course. It’s hard to see how performance-wear can get any better than that.
Rhone’s mission is to change the way guys dress in the gym. With fitted performance shorts and shirts, they’ve created a line of clothes that work as hard as you do when you’re getting your sweat on.
Our Top Pick: Mako Short
The Mako is an excellent all-around training short. You can pick it up lined or unlined—choose unlined if you prefer to wear compression shorts when working out. Rhone offers a 7”, 8”, and 9” version depending on how much leg you like to show.
Rhone also offers running and yoga shorts, too.
Also Great: Courtside Quarter Zip
The Courtside is the perfect lightweight top to throw on when heading out for exercise. Whether you’re a runner, or you’re on your way to the gym, having something simple and breathable is crucial.
The fitted cut adds style points, and in a pinch, this quarter zip could step into a business-casual wardrobe.
What Other Reviewers Say
Rhone has amassed over 1,000 five-star reviews. Their shorts keep with the trend for guys going shorter and shorter (not Richard Simmons short, but the 7” falls just below mid-thigh). Some reviewers were expecting something that hit the knee, but that’s not really what Rhone does.
If you’re looking for high-end workout gear that also looks great, Rhone is one of our top go-tos. If you’re on a limited budget, we recommend spending your performance wear dollars on nice dress-shirts and pants.
But if you have more spending room, getting fitted workout apparel can lead to a confidence boost in the gym.
Bluffworks specializes in business-casual clothes built for the modern-day jetsetter. They capitalize on the wrinkle and odor resistant nature of performance fabrics to deliver stylish and professional clothes that can fold and unpack looking like they just returned from the dry cleaner.
Our Top Picks: Gramercy Pants and Blazer
Paired together, you have a phenomenal travel suit that rarely needs cleaning, doesn’t wrinkle, and is light and breathable.
Even better, it’s entirely made with performance fabric so you let those dance moves really fly at the next wedding you go to.
What Other Reviewers Say
Many reviewers mentioned the blazer being the best “off-the-rack” fit they’ve ever had.
And the pants? Some say the details go above and beyond what travellers need day-to-day. With three secret zippered pockets and breathable, moisture-wicking fabric, many reviewers said they were buying more so they could go Bluffworks exclusively on their travels.
If you travel often for work, or if you’ve always wanted to bring a suit with you abroad but just can’t justify carrying a whole separate bag—well you’ve found your answer.
The Bluffworks Gramercy blazer and pants combo is the perfect travel suit. The modern cut and use of durable, wrinkle-resistant performance fabrics make for an affordable and versatile piece.
How Do You Perform?
Whether you’re looking for high-performance clothing for your morning commute, your workday, your workout, or your Sunday stroll, these brands have put their unique spins on the classics.
TRUWEAR redefines how comfortable your white-collar uniform can be. Other brands like Public Rec, Mizzen + Main, and Bluffworks all offer trim modern masterpieces that don’t follow strict divisions like work and play. Rhone just helps you look as good as possible in the gym.
With how far performance menswear has come, there’s hardly any reason to go back to cotton—not when these five brands are out there.