Road Test: Ministry of Supply’s High-Tech Shirts Hold Up In the Heat

Road Test: Ministry of Supply’s High-Tech Shirts Hold Up In the Heat

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Unlike the T-shirt, which is primarily cotton, the Apollo shirt is 100 percent polyester. The fabric is also infused with something called a “phase-change material,” a NASA-developed additive that absorbs heat rather than immediately reflecting it back to the body. (This technology works both ways, too—if the air conditioning at work is too chilly, the phase-change materials release the heat back to the body.)

For this test, I put on the Atmos undershirt, rolled the sleeves of the Apollo dress shirt all the way up to the elbow, and grabbed my backpack for another trip to work.

The results were, as I told my wife later, borderline life-changing. When I got into the office building after another sweltering trip through the T, I shrugged off my backpack and felt with my hand to check out the moisture-wicking performance. It had definitely worked once again, but I was apprehensive about having a big, nasty sweat mark on my back.

Once I checked it out in the men’s room mirror, I was shocked. The fabric betrayed no hint of the greenhouse effect I’d heaped on it by lugging a heavy backpack across town—not one mark, shadow, or droplet. Once in the paradise of office A/C, the shirt was dry and fresh looking in no time. It also didn’t wrinkle, and looked great at the end of the day, even after the return trip.

“You’re the exact picture of what the shirt is built for. You’re not going to get to work and take a shower,” Advani says. “But you still show up and you look fresh.”

At this point, I was kind of dreading the next too-hot day when I’d have to dodge around some cotton shirt. Then I got an e-mail from the store advertising a July 4 weekend sale, which sealed the deal. I headed back to get another shirt, this time opting for the more expensive, somewhat dressier-looking Archive button-down. It would get the same hardcore heat test and also perform well, although for my purposes I probably will prefer the Apollo for the hottest days.

MONDAY, JULY 7
Temperature: 79 degrees
Humidity: 64 percent
Skies: Mostly cloudy
Wind: 14 mph

The purchase this time was quick, since I knew which size and model I wanted. I picked a white and blue striped Archive shirt, which is woven rather than knitted, giving it a smoother texture that contributes to its more dressed-up appearance. It’s also more expensive, retailing for $108.

The Archive shirt is made of 98 percent polyester and 2 percent elastane (another name for spandex), which adds some stretchiness. It doesn’t have the heat-distributing phase-change materials that the Apollo shirt uses, relying instead on the moisture-wicking properties of the synthetic fabric. It also has very small laser-cut perforations in the underarm, which Ministry of Supply calls “nearly invisible,” for better ventilation. Overall, the shirt looks really nice—this is not the shiny, cheap-looking synthetic material of the past.

This one got the same unscientific overheated commute test, and also performed quite well on the mile-plus walk and T ride. Unlike the Apollo, I noticed a definite outline on the back of the shirt after dropping my backpack and checking my reflection once I got into the building.

It was nowhere near the level of what you’d find with a regular shirt—I kind of had to look twice—but it also wasn’t the nearly magical invisibility of the first dress shirt. In any case, it dried out within 15 minutes or so and the shirt looked great the rest of the day and through a dinner that same evening, with no wrinkles or anything.

Advani says the difference in moisture showing on the shirts is to be expected with their different construction, especially under the pretty serious conditions I was subjecting them to.

“The Apollo is more proactive in that way,” he says. “That one’s a system that’s kind of attacking a problem as soon as it sees it—let’s not even let you overheat to start sweating. Let’s stop that before it starts. The Archive is a bit more reactive.”

After all of this road-testing, I was getting pretty eager to try out a Ministry of Supply shirt that didn’t require rolling up the sleeves. Advani had some good news on that front: the startup is experimenting with two different styles of polo shirts, and thinks it’ll have some test versions available in a few weeks. If the response from customers is good, the company would plan a full manufacturing run for next spring.

If this heat doesn’t kill me first, I’ll probably grab for a couple myself.

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The Author

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com

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  • Bobbie Lefeuvre

    ? Women’s clothing? Maternity?