“Have you seen all these suits that have washable, comfy, tech-y fabrics? Do you think that’s what’s coming next?”
Emery works in San Francisco as an Internet “community builder”, which means she probably knows what you want before you do. A couple of days ago I was enjoying Sunday brunch with a group of about 20 when she asked me this question. I shouldn’t have been surprised – later that morning our group was involved in an impromptu Instagram mannequin challenge, but still. Washable suits? Wasn’t this tried, like, over 50 years ago? By none other than Brooks Brothers?
Of course, she doesn’t know that. Most people wouldn’t, because most people are interested in progress, and a washable suit does sound like a swell idea, just like it did so many years ago. I can almost hear my grandpa exclaiming, “You mean I can dump my suit in the same load as my chonies?” And yet, while tempting, and even being lauded as “the suit of the future”, it never really caught on then, nor will it happen now, at least anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong – moving forward is a good thing, generally speaking. We upgrade our cell phones, transfer to paperless billing, and communicate digitally. One would think that this line of thinking should spread to other areas of our life, or at least to the area that covers our bodies. By and large, clothes, especially in menswear, haven’t changed all that much in the past 100 years. And why? Comfort? Style? Social restraints?
Some of the minutiae may vary, but I’d bet on one thing: for objects they really care about, humans like real, tangible, natural stuff. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind covering every crevice of your Honda Element in ersatz rubber, but let’s be honest: who do you know that, if given the choice, would chose to upholster his favorite lounge chair in spill-proof, lasagna-repelling, liquid-tight, state-of-the-art, space-age material, instead of, say, real Corinthian leather? The answer is obvious. And so it is with clothes.
Around the house, utilitarian clothes will readily embrace the latest stretchy, comfort-astic, wear-and-wash fabric with glee. We congratulate ourselves when we conserve the precious gossypium and buy those poly-fleece sweatpants, walking the dog to pick up the Sunday New York Times in post-consumer-recycled plastic Crocs, tacitly proclaiming to the world how progressive we are on the weekend. But for work, for things that matter, it’s all-natural, from the cotton duck canvas overalls and denim shirt of the construction worker to the merino wool suit and French calfskin shoes of the executive. Both and neither are more or less comfortable; It’s all about the cut, not the material. Witness the recent (and hopefully dying) trend of “tight pants” and jackets that “hug the shoulders”. Despite not being able to hail a cab or reach into t-bar ceiling without ripping a seam or cutting off circulation, the material of choice has doggedly remained the same, even though synthetic options have been available for decades, and even now look and perform relatively decently.
Will this be the year that synth-wear breaks out? Doubtful. Still, I’m all about comfort, which is a trend I actually do see coming. More on that later. Until then, feel free to wear athleisure around people you don’t care about. At the very least, it’s better than seeing (most of) you naked.
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