Can athletic gear solve a nonathletic problem?
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NEW YORK Pulling on the track jacket when the newscaster on the radio just said it was 7 a.m. and already 83 degrees felt a little weird. Maybe even crazy.
I did it anyway.
I had read and heard so much about the technology-infused breathable wicking fabrics being used in the sports market to regulate body temperatures that I wanted to put them to the test in a decidedly nonathletic environment. If these innovations kept triathletes and mountain climbers feeling not too cold and not too hot, couldn't it work for a commuter facing an East Coast heat wave and an arctic office?
You have probably been there, too: You go back and forth from the sidewalk to the inside cafe, Main Street to the movie theater, even the central-air house to the patio or deck. At least at the office, if you're like me, you have the office sweater, but I certainly couldn't wear my black wool wrap outside on these near-100 degree days, not even to fetch an iced tea.
So, I wore an Adidas Terrex Swift Cocona Hoodie Jacket, partially chosen because of its waffle-weave appearance; it wasn't shiny or clingy, which might be my own outdated vision of what a high-tech fabric would be like. It matched well enough my work clothes one day when I paired it with a years-old, leaf-print wrap jersey dress, but otherwise the bright green with touches of brighter neon green that looks so normal in the gym or when you're out for a run stood out like a sore thumb with my mostly neutral workplace wardrobe.
But this was an exercise in comfort, and, for the most part, comfort it gave me.
Sometimes, sitting at my desk, I could be like Goldilocks, always looking for something just right. The black wool sweater that typically hangs on my chair goes on after the first hour at work, off at lunchtime, back on midday and off again in the hour or so before I leave. As far as I know, the thermostat in the office remains unchanged; it's my body temperature that's fluctuating.
Greg Thomsen, managing director of Adidas Outdoor, blames my clothing or, more specifically the fabric. A fabric that holds moisture, including wool and cotton, can start to feel damp with just a bit of sweat. The air conditioning makes the dampened fabric feel cold after a while, but I'm putting on a top layer of wool, which holds the dampness in, he says.
This jacket helped limit the extremes.
Wicking fabrics, which have all sorts of cool names (ClimaCool, Coolmax, EnduraCool, for example), are "high-moisture transmission fabrics," Thomson explains. They are breathable, pulling from either sweaty skin or dampened fabric to the inside layer of a wicking garment, and then releasing that wetness on the outside.
In theory, I should be able to wear my hoodie inside at the office, outside on a summer morning run and under my breathable waterproof shell while skiing in the winter.
"If I had six-pack abs, and it was really hot out, I'd like to say I'd wear as little as possible," says Ryan Drew, chief marketing officer of fiber maker CoolCore, which makes a cooling towel with Mission AthleteCare. "But that might not be best."
It would take longer for sweat to evaporate from the skin than be wicked away by fabric, he says. The proprietary formula takes it a step further: When wet, it circulates water molecules to create a prolonged cooling effect. Apparel is in the works.
These fabrics also have the added bonus of sun protection, which is a particularly popular request from consumers in the South, Drew says. Too-fast evaporation also risks dehydration in severe conditions.
More changes are ahead in this market: More women's clothes will be "mapped" with different materials in different spots than men's. That's because men and women typically sweat in different spots, Thomsen says.
Men need more wicking power around the lower torso, women underneath the bustline, he explains. A woman's sweet spot for maximum evaporation is right under her collarbone, a man's zone extends over his shoulders. Women also tend to get colder faster, so they likely need more insulation from outside elements.
I definitely wasn't worried about getting cold when I went with a photographer to our Manhattan rooftop in the late morning to shoot photos of the jacket. I can't say the jacket kept me cool, but I don't think it made me feel warmer, either. There did seem to be some relief having my skin covered and not exposed directly to the heat, humidity and sun.
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