What a difference a couple of years makes. That's all it's been since men's golfwear went from being dominated by oversized shirts in traditional cloths to being swept away by more stylish and fitted gear in high-performance fabrics.

It's just the latest in a category that's seen its fair share of reincarnations. It went from being the stuff that jokes were made of - think "Caddyshack": loud plaids and even louder colorations - to subdued corporate-style, pleated khaki trousers and boxy polos. "High performance" was best left to the irons and woods.

These days, though, it's about texture and sophisticated sportswear patterns paired with stretch for a more comfortable swing, and moisture-drawing fabric for a higher-performing game. And, no pleats.

At the Paramus, New Jersey location of Golf Galaxy, which has 65 stores in 24 states, men are trending toward flat-front pants, mock necks and fitted shirts. And in a state where summer's humidity can be oppressive, moisture-wicking apparel is gaining ground.

"A lot of folks prefer traditional cotton, though more players are starting to recognize the benefits of a fabric's wickability as they become exposed to the newer technology," says Adam Bender, operations manager. "Going forward, fabrics with wicking technology will be something more players seek out."

Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ finds that 63 percent of men feel moisture management is "very or somewhat important" when shopping for athletic apparel. This was followed by water repellency (39 percent), wind resistance (35 percent) and stretch (34 percent).

While plenty of customers at Enterprise Golf & Sportswear, a full-service golfing retailer in Secaucus, N.J., still seek 100 percent cotton and mercerized cotton, the great trend is toward performance fabrics, according to owner Joe Finizio.

"With every company now, you're finding fabrics that have a cotton hand with wicking properties," Finizio says. "There's a wide assortment of fabrics, and they're becoming more popular, especially with the younger customer. And the younger customers generally lead the way."

While performance apparel may cost a bit more, manufacturers and retailers can rest easy: the Monitor finds that 64 percent of men who look for moisture management in their athletic apparel are willing to pay more for it.Both Golf Galaxy and Enterprise Golf say the Greg Norman Collection is one of their top-selling brands. Eddie Fadel, Greg Norman's head of product development and sourcing, says the line's success lies in its approach to "functional luxury."

"We look at sportswear first and then technology," he says. "For example: a slightly more fitted shirt. The new fabrics shrink less, so we can offer a more tailored fit. But we're still concerned about a golf-friendly fit, just not the oversized shoulder, which is actually a negative for golf. It's a very subtle sportswear element that's more refined."

The Greg Norman Collection features PlayDry technology, which offers an array of wicking fabrics. A new hybrid material is "Ultimate Cotton," which is designed to keep the player cooler, yet provide easy care. Says Fadel, "New compacting procedures and additives that stabilize fabrics allow the customer to buy cotton without worrying about shrinkage or fading."

The Monitor finds that the majority of men, 45 percent, prefer to wear cotton in their athletic apparel.

Importance of Feature When Shopping for Athletic Apparel
Moisture Management63%
Water Repellant39%
Wind Resistant35%
Stretch34%
UV or Ultraviolet Protector27%
Anti-microbial23%

And 35 percent choose cotton because they feel it breathes. Another 32 percent choose it for its comfort.At Ashworth, Sally Pearson, vice-president of design, says 100 percent cotton and cotton blended product not only comprises the majority of the line, but outsells the 100 percent polyester items.

"It's about a 60/40 split," Pearson says. "We have customers who are true cotton consumers. With them buying the EZ-Tech product, we have created a repeat customer because EZTech does not disappoint when it comes to cotton performance."

Introduced in 2003 with one knit shirt, EZ-Tech has grown to include wovens, pants, shorts and layering pieces. Next up is EZTech Pimas, which combine wickability with a super-soft feel.

Ashworth has also adopted closer fits. "It is important to have technical products fit closer to the body so they have maximum performance. We have adjusted most of the points on a shirt to do just that, but we have maintained the traditional Ashworth length so the golfer can swing and not have the shirts pull out from the waistband."

Another trend is in bolder colors and stripes, says Malcolm Robinson, president of the PVH Sportswear Group, of which Izod is a brand.

"There was a time when the look was very subdued," he says. "Now it's very youthful, fun and outgoing. The functional aspect reintroduced those looks because the performance fabrications lent themselves to color and striping more than office-looking jacquards did."

Izod Golf's performance fabrics include a cotton-based program called Cool FX Swingflex, which brings both stretch and wicking features to the apparel. Izod also has bottoms that have a second pocket for gloves, hidden cargo pockets, and mesh-lined stretch waistbands for breathability.

"It makes a huge difference in terms of comfort level when a player is dealing with the heat on a searing fairway," Robinson says.

Of course, no discussion of modern golfwear would be complete without mentioning the astounding influence of Tiger Woods.

"Tiger, because of his long term partnership with Nike Golf, has absolutely been vital in terms of setting new trends," confirms Nike Golf's Doug Reed, director of apparel. "Tiger has been instrumental in breaking away from tradition and classic, to launch new silhouettes like the short-sleeve mock. He is constantly pushing us to find new ways to innovate and create apparel that helps solve problems encountered on the course." This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing monthly in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American men's wear consumer and his attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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