I’m a 100 percent cotton kinda guy, but I’m always willing to give something else a try. Mizzen + Main, one of a handful of companies attempting to change the rubric that dress shirts should be made of cotton, designs nice-looking shirts from “performance fabric,” i.e., man-made materials like nylon, lycra, and polyester — the same stuff a lot of exercise clothes are made from. They’re advertised as being able to wick away moisture while being breathable, having a lot of stretch, and requiring no ironing or dry cleaning.
I'll admit, I was skeptical.
I chose one of the better sellers from their Leeward Collection, the long-sleeved Hampton in a light blue check with a trim fit ($125). When I put the shirt on, it looked great — you’d be hard-pressed to tell that it isn’t made of cotton until you touch it. It felt cool on my skin, sort of silky; it took a little time to get used to the feel of the material because it is so different than a cotton shirt.
I’m not an overly sweaty guy or anything, but given the right conditions — say, home in New Orleans in August or sprinting through NYC late to an appointment — I can soak through a cotton shirt with the best of them. When I tested out the Mizzen + Main shirt I was neither home in New Orleans (sadly) or rushing to meet anyone. But I did wear it while running errands outdoors on a brutally hot and sticky early-summer day with the sun beating down on me. I was working up a sweat, but the shirt still felt cool on my skin and there were no visible sweat marks on the fabric. So far, so good.
That evening we went to a garden dinner party in the country. A couple of guests commented that they liked my shirt — always a bonus. It was still a tad warm while we ate, and I could feel sweat popping out on my forehead, but again, the shirt stood up to the temperature and humidity (and spicy seafood stew) and wicked the moisture away as advertised. The next day, another scorcher, I wore it once more on a brisk walk, just to give it a last test drive. While I was definitely heating up, the shirt still felt cool and airy against my skin.
Impressed, yes. But still skeptical. How would it stand up after a wash?
M+M recommends a cold wash and hang dry, so after giving it a run through the gentle cycle, I threw it on a hanger. And while I did note some wrinkles straight out of the washer, they were gone by the time the shirt dried. It came out looking pretty darned sharp. Still impressed and no longer skeptical, I proudly put the Hampton in the closet.
Now, I don’t have any plans to throw out all my cotton dress shirts and replace them with performance-fabric versions, but Mizzen + Main has earned a spot in my closet, and their shirt will be on rotation, especially for these hot summer days when I want to look and feel as cool as possible.
A little skepticism is healthy — but you can’t let that stop you from trying new things. Even a synthetic shirt.
Mizzen + Main have a ton of style options as well. We really like their Blue Label Collection of dress shirts, which feature the same fabric as the Leeward but with business-style flourishes like longer collar points and convertible cuffs. For more casual affairs, check out the comfortable, high-stretch fabrics in the Spinnaker Collection and their solid, light-colored Ginghams (like the James, below; $125). But they’ve also got an impressive selection of polos, henleys, chinos, and shorts, too. Check them out here.