You Don’t Need “High Performance” Clothing

Sometimes I feel like I am being overly contrarian about things. Like, relax man and let people buy what they want. I get that. I don’t want this to turn into an “Old Man Yells At Cloud” post.

I feel ya, Abe.

But as a dad I feel obligated to share my thoughts so that I can not only save you some money but put your mind at ease a bit so you can either better enjoy what you have or make more informed purchasing decisions. Those skills will trickle down to your kids.

Today, I am going to discuss the prevalence of “high performance” or “tactical” clothing and why you DO NOT need it.

Let me start by talking about Huckberry. Now, I love Huckberry but I feel the need to take the piss out of them a little bit for the next few minutes. Huckberry has very astute marketing. They cater to the crunchy-Instagrammy-“weekend warrior”-“I’m really serious about my coffee” types. Or the people who want to be like them.

One sure fire way to get dudes to buy clothes is to label it “high performance”, or its creepy, prepper little brother, “tactical”. Guys like to pretend we are way more badass than we are and that we NEED stuff like this for PEAK PERFORMANCE, BRO!

What exactly are we doing? Commuting. Working out. Maybe camping once in a while. Roughhousing with the kids. Playing on our phones. I am quite certain we don’t need our clothes to be performing any higher than they are currently.

Today Huckberry sent an email with a discount on what they call their “Adventure Pants”.

Pictured: Not a joke.

Seriously. “Adventure Pants”.

Can you imagine your wife asking about the new pants you’re wearing and you saying “Oh, these are my new adventure pants.”

The pants are about $100 and they appear to be pretty run-of-the-mill cotton/stretch blend twill pants. The stretch is lycra and something called Sorbtek which they claim wicks away moisture and is “ultra-durable”. Oh, and there’s also a crotch gusset for extra mobility.

Finally! A crotch gusset! Too long have I been unable to rehearse with the rest of the Rockettes due to my gusset-less crotch-ed trousers!

Dollars to doughnuts my $50 jeans from Eddie Bauer or my $24 casual chinos from Lands’ End will perform equally well as these “Adventure Pants”. And I’ll still have about $50 bucks left in my pocket for a steak and some beers.

There is a scene in Mad Men where Don comes up with a tagline for cigarettes based on how they’re made. The client pushes back initially since that’s how all cigarettes are made. It’s the same issue with a lot of this HP stuff. Yes, I bet those Adventure Pants really are durable. But so too are every other cotton twill pant since the beginning of time.

When I was working in marketing for a large menswear company, we always touted how “breathable” our cotton shirts were. We decided to leave off “just like every other shirt you own”.

If you really need something “ultra-durable” that “performs” then go to Carhartt or Dickies. That’s where the people who actually need that kind of stuff shop.  

Buying pants marketed as “Adventure Pants” is pretty much cosplay. It’s like a kid wearing red sneakers because he thinks they make him run faster.

You know who probably needs “high performance” gear? Alex Honnold.

This guy.

You know who doesn’t? Literally, everyone else.

No, you don’t need the ultrahighperformancemoisturewickinguvprotectingtactical polo shirt to go shoot 120 and sit in a golf cart drinking overpriced beer brought to you by an uncomfortably flirty 20-something girl. My dad would torch 18 holes in dungarees, a tweed cap, and cotton polo my mom bought him in the 70s.

Ernest Shackleton led all his men to safety in a wool sweater. George Mallory climbed Mount Everest in a sport coat for God’s sake. Granted, Mallory didn’t make it back, but I doubt it was because his pants lacked a crotch gusset.

Top row, second from left: Mallory’s crotch in all its brazen, gusset-less glory.

“But, Richard, you don’t know me! I lead a rugged life and actually DO need all that high performance, tactical badassery!”

To wit: My wife and I were married for about a year and we were planning on attending a New Year’s Eve gala at a local museum. I was excited to wear the tuxedo I wore the night of our wedding rehearsal dinner. Unfortunately, I had been lifting and eating a ton that year and my belly was too fat to fit comfortably in my tux pants. I decided I was going to literally trim the fat, but I only had two months in which to do it.

Our neighborhood had ample sidewalks so I decided I was going to start doing hill sprints. Due to my work schedule I could only do them at night. We lived in upstate New York at the time which meant considerable snow fall and frequent below-zero temperatures.

Did I search high and low for the perfect “high performance” nonsense? Hardly. I wore a pair of old basketball shorts, a long sleeve t-shirt under a hoodie, a watch hat I bought from Gander Mountain for about $10, and mittens that my wife’s grandmother had knit for me.

Three or four times a week for two months I trudged out into the snow and ice to torture myself. Was I uncomfortable? Yes, at first. But I sucked it up for the first few minutes and then it was fine. I was too focused on other things to worry about the minute advantages in comfort I may or may not have gained from opting for “high performance” attire. I just got out there and got my stuff done. Oh, and come gala time the tux fit beautifully.

The other day I saw Huckberry promote their “windproof shorts”. Yes, you read that correctly. Who knew that shorts needed to be (or COULD be) windproof? You’re wearing shorts! I bet you’ll pay a premium for that extra “windproofing”, though. Can’t possibly just wear your old basketball shorts when you have the option of the Cadillac of shorts, now can you?

Also, don’t be fooled by the clothes that are marketed to “go anywhere / do anything”. Again, not to rag on Huckberry but they are guilty of this pretty frequently, but you’ll sometimes see a blazer or pair of pants advertised as being able to take you from one extreme activity to the next. Usually it’s the well-worn phrase “from work to happy hour” but I have seen the limits stretched a bit to include things like camping to weddings, or bike rides to evening drinks, or something equally ridiculous. It may be tempting to snap up a blazer that can be worn fly fishing but then dressed up for the Met Gala later that evening, but has there ever been an instance in which you were unable to change between functions? Maybe I just don’t hang out with the right people.

I get that there is a little bit of “playing pretend” whenever we get dressed. Do I think I am James Bond when I put on a tux? A little. Do I recall my fond memories of Ireland when I wear my Aran sweater? Of course. As I have said many times before, it’s important that we retain that sense of whimsy and joy when we get dressed. It’s fun to let your imagination out for a run sometimes.

But we need to stop short of thinking we need things that we don’t. Because that leads to wasting money, which is the cardinal sin of fatherhood.

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