Marolt: Is Lycra really for fashion or performance? |

Marolt: Is Lycra really for fashion or performance?

Roger Marolt

The first rule of fashion for me is: Remember, you know nothing about fashion. If it’s true that clothes make the man, I am a Martian. The things I pull out of my closet and combine on my body evoke responses that range from repressed grins to out-and-out guffaws from the people who love me most. I am thankful I first see them around the morning breakfast table and not out on the street after it is too late to be led by the hand back to my wardrobe to come up with something that goes together a little better.

I am not colorblind, but I admit to being color-myopic. I see patterns and shades just fine up close. I don’t have the ability to imagine them together from a distance roughly equal to across the street. There are frequently times I look in the mirror after dressing and feel really cool about how I look only to come downstairs and find that my family is convinced I’m trying to pull off a joke.

The result of this is that I focus on hygiene. If I happen to slip out of the house without anyone having a look at me, at least I’m going to smell like sea spray and have minty-fresh breath, and my nose hairs will be neat as a hedge in front of the courthouse. As to how I look, function is of paramount importance.

This brings me to today’s debate: cotton versus high-tech moisture-wicking miracle fabric (aka polyester). If you will recall, the miracle fabric made its debut in the 1970s on the backs of Bacardi-fueled dancers on the floors of discotheques worldwide. It allowed partyers to sweat like banshees while keeping their black polka-dot shirts and white, skin-tight pants relatively wrinkle-free. Although it left you smelling like a green-chili enchilada plate, the fabric offered the extra bonus of being quick to dry. Laundering was simple, although the cumin-like odor never came out.

The smell is what most likely doomed it from normal social uses, if you ask me, and polyester quickly fell out of fashion for a couple of decades until somebody figured out that athletes don’t mind smelling awful, and everyone wants to emulate athletes. A new market was discovered. The added bonus was that a polyester shirt without a collar could be manufactured for about 15 cents and sold for a price north of 50 bucks simply by changing the name of the fabric to something catchy like “Under Armour.”

On this topic, my question is a stupid one: Is it OK to wear cotton when you play sports? I will be the first to admit that I wear polyester Under Armour when I ski. It is warm and keeps me dry. But it also makes me feel sticky and yucky. I don’t sit around drinking hot toddies in it next to a fire in the lodge. Once in the house after a day on the slopes, I strip that stuff off like it’s on fire. I can’t stand the feel of it. But that’s just me and my ultra-sensitive skin.

In the summer, I much prefer wearing a good ol’ cotton shirt when I recreate. The only problem is that I don’t feel high-tech when I do that, and I think it hurts my performance. If you don’t feel like Usain Bolt, you won’t play tennis like he does, either. And, yes, I understand that he is a sprinter, but he probably would be good at tennis, too. And I probably would be better at the things I do if I wore miracle fabric.

If you are going to be out on the bike for 12 hours or running a marathon or getting paid a million bucks to wear plastic clothes, I get that. But if I go out for an hour or two, cotton feels good. When it gets wet, it cools me off. It doesn’t stink forever. I don’t debate whether I should rub calamine lotion or Vaseline over my skin before stretching it on. Why, then, has cotton fallen so out of fashion for sports, recreation and grocery shopping?

I am sure there are studies out there proving that I could go higher, faster and farther wearing Under Armour, much like Superman, but I’d rather be comfortable. If I don’t wear miracle fabric, chances are slimmer that I won’t qualify for this year’s Tour de France. It’s a small price to pay.

Roger Marolt wonders if a tight cotton shirt would work in a bike race. Contact him at

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