Sometimes, the idea of a formal shirt strikes me as weird or surreal. Why attach finicky collars that flip up around the neck? Why have buttoned cuffs? Societally, we’ve surpassed any functional need for these decorations. Maybe this sensation has the same root cause as semantic satiation, when a word loses all of its meaning in the process of repetition. In its omnipresence, the classic Oxford becomes pointless.
Or does it? A million dudes wearing J. Crew gingham shirts to work and then out to bars in Murray Hill hasn’t stopped them from being popular. There are few alternatives to looking formal for men, aside from perhaps an elaborately structured cardigan or a no-collar shirt, but neither are acceptable on Wall Street. So the shirt is necessary as a symbol of seriousness, despite the vestigial neck-flaps.
But then there’s the Apollo, a technical wear collared shirt from Ministry of Supply (the brand makes highly functional menswear and just opened a store resembling a high school science lab in New York’s Soho). It’s all the symbolism of a traditional shirt, but with everything else updated: the cloth, the construction process, and the fundamental purpose of the garment.
It also happens to be extremely comfortable.
The name comes from the fabric, a jersey-like hybrid that’s embedded with “phase change materials” originally developed for NASA space suits. Theoretically, the shirt will store heat from your body when hot and emit it when cool, perfectly suited for the oppressive conditions of heavily air-conditioned offices. Wearing the shirt out during a sweaty summer day in New York, this proposition seemed to be true, but the shirt itself was also much more breathable than its gingham counterparts.
The shirt is equipped with laser-cut button holes that make it ever so slightly easier to put it on as well as laser-cut perforations under the arms, the better to allow airflow for sweaty days. The collar and cuffs are made from pieces of fabric that have been fused together rather than stitched, making them thin and light (though initially stiff).
I work in a coworking space and thus don’t have to dress up for anyone, but I wore the Apollo there for a test run. Amidst a group of my colleagues dressed in decaying T-shirts, voluminous scarves over tank tops, and loose linen, I felt somewhat overdressed. But in other respects, the shirt was remarkably comfortable, especially in withstanding direct blasts from an industrial air conditioner.
From a distance, the Apollo’s advantages are invisible. Apart from its slight sheen and the unusual ways the fabric falls (as in, no folds at all—the shirt also never needs to be ironed), it’s difficult to differentiate it from other dress shirts. But it also rests somewhere in the uncanny valley of men’s clothing. Closer to, the pores in the jersey are clear and the unusual collar and cuffs give it away as something slightly alien. People will notice.
From the wearer’s perspective, that alien quality is more pronounced. The shirt clings in ways that shoppers at Brooks Brothers likely aren’t familiar with outside of the gym. The fabric is slippery rather than matte. Whether its eccentricities are worth the advantages depends on the climate of your office and how often you go straight from the gym to work. The brand’s creators advertise that the shirts can be worn for days straight without washing; I have not yet tested this out but I don’t doubt it.
The Apollo is still a shirt, but it’s more easily defined as kind of gear fulfilling multiple purposes, like a lighter that’s also a bottle opener. This departure is very refreshing, since it’s difficult to balance the desire for physically useful clothing with clothes that actually still look good. Decoration, after all, serves a very important purpose. In that context, the Apollo is a success because it works as a form of camouflage, hiding in plain sight. To return to semantic satiation, it changes the meaning of a piece of clothing we all thought we knew inside and out.