“Courtesy Of” is a series on This Fits in which I write about products that have been gifted to me for review. While I strive to be objective, I think it’s fairer to you, the readers, if I disclose when I’ve received merchandise for free.
I don’t jump at every request for a product review, even when a brand graciously offers to send a free sample. My sartorial interests lie firmly in classic men’s style, and I try to focus on fair reviews of items that showcase a brand’s greatest strengths while representing a good value to this site’s readers. If I don’t think a review can do that, I will decline the offer, and even go so far as to return samples that are sent my way.
So when Albert Ming first approached me about reviewing their Arctic Shirt in navy, I was inclined to politely turn down the request. Based in Berkeley, Albert Ming specializes in clothes for what they call a “tech-crazy, hyper-busy" lifestyle, fusing fashion with function for tailored garments that have the high-tech performance characteristics of athletic clothes. This means waterproof suits, or in the case of the sample they offered, a cotton shirt with hundreds of 1/16-inch holes for more comfort on hot days.
While I’m all for companies seeking to rehabilitate high-tech’s reputation for terrible sartorial taste, the premise of these specialty garments seems at worst like solving problems that no one has—when do you ever really need a waterproof suit?—and at best a bit gimmicky and of questionable taste. Much of the audience of This Fits is men just learning the basics of dressing well, and I know many of my early, expensive regrets revolved around mistaking garish showiness for sartorial maturity. I believe great style for most men downplays the clothing and highlights the man—pretty much the opposite of gimmicks—and the idea of a perforated mesh shirt is far removed from what I consider to be good taste.
So I sat on Albert Ming’s request for about five days before a peculiar thought crossed my mind: Why not?
Classic tailored menswear isn’t the whole story when it comes to great style, and while Albert Ming’s products may not inspire the awe of really great high fashion, they do offer a unique perspective. So I agreed to the request, while being up front about my reservations, saying “To be honest, I’m a bit skeptical of the concept. However, I’m open to being surprised.”
And I was surprised.
When the sample shirt arrived, I opened the package, took a long look at it in all of its holey-ness, and then put it away. I procrastinated for a while on ever trying it on; the thought of wearing a shirt like this just seemed silly and an invitation to public ridicule. Over the course of a few weeks, I’d eye it suspiciously every time I opened my closet, as if it were an awkward creature living on top of my shoe boxes.
Eventually, we hit the first truly hot days of summer, and I started to warm to the idea of trying out the shirt. I found the size Small fit too snugly through the torso (for the record, my chest is just shy of 38” and I’m about 10lbs. overweight). Albert Ming kindly allowed me to exchange it for a Medium. The fit is a bit fuller than what I usually wear, but not bad overall. I’d say the shirt is a legitimately slim fit if you go true-to-size.
The collar is too small to really wear with a tie—but then, I’d almost never wear a dark dress shirt with a tie. The Arctic Shirt works better with the top two buttons unfastened, and with the sleeves rolled up if you’re not wearing it under a jacket.
I like my shirting to have a bit of character—hearty oxford cloth, slubby linens, or maybe dressier fabrics with a slight sheen. The Arctic Shirt’s 100% non-iron cotton fabric was none of these—I found it dull, flat, and lifeless. It feels crisp and a bit coarse, rather than soft and almost springy, like the high-quality cottons I’ve worn. It’s what you’d expect from the worst of non-iron fabric, and I say this as a guy who owns and likes a few non-iron shirts (Shock! Horror! Where do I relinquish my #Menswear Illuminati membership card?)
I’m not a great expert at these things, but I’d say the construction is comparable to an entry-level dress shirt. I count roughly 14 stitches per inch, with double-needle stitching on the side seams. The yoke consists of two panels, though your guess is as good as mine as to whether that counts as a split-back yoke, conferring the (debatable) fit benefits of that particular feature. The buttons are plastic but decent, reassuringly thick with painted white backs. The sleeve cuff buttonholes feature red contrast threading, something I’m not normally a fan of, but here it’s relatively discreet (I’m glad they didn’t go with contrast threading for the front placket buttonholes). There’s also red contrast piping on the inside collar—again, somewhat gimmicky, but I find I kinda like it.
The last few paragraphs are kind of moot, though, because what you’re all really wondering is if anyone notices all the holes, and if it actually performs well on hot days. Well, to test it, I wore it out one night to run errands, and twice to my fairly casual workplace, including one day when I rode my bicycle to and from the office in roughly 90-degree heat.
I found that the holes are pretty discreet. Looking in the mirror, they’re barely noticeable at about a three-foot distance. The flash of skin behind the holes adds a somewhat shimmery effect that gives the shirt subtle visual interest—it compensates a bit for the otherwise ho-hum appearance of the fabric. I interacted closely with a handful of people while wearing the Arctic Shirt—including an all-hands meeting at work—and nobody commented on it. I’m fairly certain no one caught on that it was punctured by hundreds of holes. In fact, I think the only way it’s really discernible is if the wearer has the top button undone and you happen to be looking at him diagonally, at which point you might notice that you can see through the shirt to whatever’s over the wearer’s shoulder.
Regarding performance, the Arctic Shirt does make hot days more comfortable. It certainly performs better than plain cotton, linen, and cotton-linen blends. While I didn’t find that I sweat any less while wearing it, I did cool off much faster after riding my bike—makes sense, with all of those holes releasing excess heat rather than locking it in. And the way air passes through the shirt and around your skin while riding feels rather thrilling.
The shirt did have one unexpected downside—all those holes sometimes made me feel cold inside my air-conditioned office, where my desk is positioned right under the vent.
I’m a bit surprised to say this, but I could see myself wearing the shirt again this summer. Maybe not at the office, but casually around town on exceptionally hot days. Navy shirts are a stylish choice for summer; I’ve worn the Arctic Shirt with off-white linen trousers and brown suede chukkas and thought the outfit looked great.
I also really like navy shirts with golden tan chinos as worn by the gentleman below, shot by Scott Schuman. I think that would look great with white canvas sneakers.
I won’t pretend that the Arctic Shirt is an essential garment for your wardrobe—nothing could be further from the truth. And speaking purely from a construction standpoint, I can’t say it’s a particularly great value at the full retail price of $95—there are a number of better-made shirts available at that price point.
But it’s obvious that what you’re paying for isn’t so much a well-made garment, but rather a premium for a shirt that looks and performs unlike any other out there. And surprisingly, the Arctic Shirt accomplishes this while staying relatively tasteful.
If you’d like to try it for yourself, Albert Ming is offering the Arctic Shirt to This Fits readers for $49 through July 31, 2013. Simply use promo code ARCTICFITS.