Why sport the tight tee?

Skin-tight sportswear has led to men looking fitter and being more confident in their own skin


Two friends of mine recently posted pictures of their weekend morning walk along the Southern Ridges on Facebook.

Posing at the usual strategically-located scenic spots, the photos did not look much different from the dozens of selfies I see in my Facebook news feed every day.

Except that I noted it rained midway through their walk, which must have been a bummer.

Oh, and they were wearing skin-tight Under Armour T-shirts.

It was not that they looked bad in their attire. On the contrary, these two friends are the sort who will go to the gym and lift heavy weights in order to bulk up, and it shows.

But they are also not slim. Some would even call them chubby.

As a result, their not-unsubstantial tummies also ended up being on show.

I thought immediately of them when news broke this week that the first Under Armour store in Singapore had opened in Orchard Road. Obviously enough people here wear the brand to justify its presence.

Under Armour is an American company that supplies what some people are starting to call "performance wear".

Sometimes, that's a catch-all phrase to describe sportswear that is made from some sort of space-age fabric. It keeps the heat in, or the cold out. It has millions of tiny holes to help your skin breathe, yet it's 100 per cent waterproof. You get the picture.

But mostly it's become shorthand for athletic apparel that's just uncompromisingly tight.

I wondered what exactly it was that I would be buying as I tried on the Under Armour HeatGear Sonic Compression Short Sleeve shirt, an iconic design and bestseller.

The "locked-in feel that keeps your muscles fresh & your recovery time fast"? The "signature Moisture Transport System that wicks sweat away from the body"?

Or was it the cunningly-designed visible seams running from the neck to the armpits, making the shoulders look bigger than they actually are?

In the end, I decided that most of these features are available in normal sportswear. And that any satisfaction gained from buying this shirt would mostly be out of a tremendous sense of pride that the wearer was able to carry it off in public.

Looking at the horrific bright yellow monster that stared back at me in the changing room mirror, I decided I obviously couldn't, and walked out.

Later, though, I wondered if it was just all in the mind.

After all, it has become quite common now for men of all sorts of shapes and sizes to routinely parade themselves in skin-tight cycling shirts and shorts in public every week.

Go to any branch of Starbucks and McDonald's located near favourite cycling routes like East Coast Parkway on a weekend morning and I guarantee that you'll see these men - and a lot more of them than you bargain for.

Just yesterday, another friend sent me a picture that someone snapped on the MRT - of a young man clad from head to thigh in skin-tight "performance wear". I guess you do have to make yourself more aerodynamic these days to squeeze into a train.

"I've seen people like that walk around Raffles Place before... but I don't recall anyone as prominent," he quipped, sending a close-up of a revealing bulge. "Someone could get hurt if the train was crowded!"

How on earth did we get into this sticky situation?

I partly blame Hollywood, which has for some reason decided to put out a string of comic-book superhero movies in recent years. Every other blockbuster in cinemas these days is yet another instalment or remake of Spiderman, Superman and Captain America in all their spandex splendour.

Sooner or later, life is going to imitate art. And true to form, you can actually buy "Alter Ego X-Men" Compression tee shirts at Under Armour today should you feel like stepping out of a Comfort cab as Wolverine, Beast, Magneto or Colossus.

The other culprit is the emergence of extreme physical activity as everything from a corporate networking and team-building tool to a primordial mating call among the sexes.

Forget golf and soccer. As Ironman races, 20km bike rides and pro-athlete, high-intensity, cross-fit training creep into the fabric of everyday experience, so too will the clothes, the lingo and the crazy diets associated with them.

Of course this is not at all a bad thing.

Men are looking fitter, stronger and generally better than they ever have in decades. If they want to show it off, then more power to them.

What is more encouraging, however, is the mental change that has happened.

Men seem to have picked up the confidence to be happy in their own skin. Or second skin, as the case may now be.

This applies to the best physically- sculpted specimens among us. Studies have proved that a low waist-to-chest or waist-to-shoulder ratio is a key determinant of the sexual attractiveness of a man.

Whether it is V-shaped torsos, washboard abs or "merman" lines, it is great that male beauty is finally being openly celebrated on the same level as female beauty has traditionally been through history.

But this newfound confidence applies just as much to the ordinary Joe who thinks nothing these days of donning that tight cycling jersey over a less-than-perfect body in Bishan Park.

It is a "who cares what people think, I'm happy" attitude that I suspect more of us should probably be cultivating in our own personal lives.

Yet something is holding me back from going over to my two friends' Facebook pages to give them the thumbs up for daring to appear in Under Armour in public.

Much as I love the two of them, I still haven't quite figured out whether to be alarmed or relaxed by the surge of skin-tight sportswear. My heart says yes but the eyes say no.

And right now, at least, I think the eyes have it.

The eyes have it.


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