High performance work clothing? Does such a thing exist? And I don’t mean flame retardant electrician’s pants or stretchy business-bombshell blazers.
Answer: Levi’s 511 Corduroys.
Although wool is my new favorite fabric for activewear, there are two applications for which synthetics still rule: rain gear and winter work/weekend attire. I’ve already written a post on rain gear. As far as business casual goes, Levi’s 511 Cords are a surprising fabric that can double for winter cycling.
Especially good for winter bicycle commuting, their 66%/33% blend of cotton/elastane creates surprisingly efficient wicking of perspiration. Then, when the moisture is drawn up into the corduroy, the corded channels evaporate it to the outside air. Think radiator fins on an air-conditioning unit — the greater surface area vents moisture fast. That makes these pants high-performance street clothes. (Just FYI, the tag says “polyester.” But I verified it to be elastane.)
[UPDATE 10/23/2016: See bottom for the bad news about more recent specimens of these cords.]
Jeans used to be my mainstay winter-biking pants. It’s only denim, so I didn’t stress out when the cuffs got crusted with salt or blackened with road slush. But getting sweaty in jeans meant the denim staying damp for hours, afterward, a.k.a., cold and clammy. By contrast, Levis cords dry out in minutes.
My ideal setup is to wear a wool base layer beneath the Levis cords. The wool breathes really well, too, moving perspiration to the corduroy, which then evaporates the moisture quickly. The wool also acts as a barrier to odor causing bacteria, allowing me to wear the same pair of cords for three-plus days between washings. How’s that for high performance?
[Image credit: Wikimedia]
[UPDATE 10/23/2016: Sadly, I’ve just bought a new pair of these cords. Levi’s has changed the fabric, reducing the elastane content to a mere 2%. That’s 98% cotton and 2% elastane. I don’t know how long ago they changed up. Too bad. I predict this new pair won’t vent anywhere near as well as my three old, now threadbare pairs bought back in 2012. Curse you, Levi’s!]