This Week's Wow: Forget the Smartwatch—Ralph Lauren Introduces the Smartshirt
In this weekly feature, InStyle’s Fashion News Director Eric Wilson shares his favorite fashion moment of the week, and explains how it could shape styles to come.
The Moment: While tech geeks are anxiously awaiting the latest product news from Apple on Sept. 9 (possibly the iPhone 6 or a smartwatch), and sneakerheads had their moment this week when Roger Federer showed off his new RF-logo version of Air Jordans for tennis, fashion fanatics, as usual, were paying more attention to what was happening on the sidelines of the U.S. Open.
Ralph Lauren, who has been outfitting on-court officials and ball kids since 2005, used the tournament to unveil its new version of wearable technology called the Polo Tech Shirt. The sleek black compression T features a prominent, oversize tennis ball yellow polo player logo, but the real magic is a few inches below that, a small device, about the size of an electronic car key, that fits snug against the rib cage. Connected to a network of silver-coated thread woven throughout the shirt, it monitors the wearer’s heart rate, breathing and stress levels, transmitting that data in real time to a computer or phone app.
It’s a smartshirt.
Videos promoting the product have shown athletes running, rowing, biking and generally exerting themselves while their phones tell them to slow down or speed it up. And while us civilians won’t have access to the Polo Tech shirts until next year, they certainly looked tempting when modeled in practice sessions by Marcos Giron (pictured, above and below).
Why It’s a Wow: Normally, I’m skeptical of wearable technology, especially when accompanied by words like “biosensing.” When Polo unveiled the new shirt, which was developed in partnership with OMsignal, a Canadian company that is developing new ways to integrate technology in fashion, the first thing I wondered was if some poor ball boy or girl, encased in silver threads, would end up being struck by lightning.
It turns out they’ve been hard to spot on the court this week, since Polo also produced a more traditional poly-blend shirt ($125), this year in navy with pops of primary color accents. But you can see real potential in a smartshirt, for athletes who want to track their performance, but also for people with health concerns who may benefit from a shirt that could potentially look out for them. This one promises to watch for heart-rate variability, breathing alerts, steps taken, inactivity and calories burned.
Also, if any company can make wearable tech that will actually look like desirable fashion, it’s Ralph Lauren, where other connected products, like dress shirts, are also being developed for 2015.
Learn More: Explore the technology behind the Polo Tech shirt, which has not yet been priced, at ralphlauren.com. Or see the versions created by the Montreal-based OMsignal at omsignal.com, where that company is taking advance orders for shirts that are expected to be available this fall. An up-and-running kit, including a compression shirt, a data module and a USB cable, currently costs $199 (in advance of the planned price of $240).
For real-time insider insights, make sure to follow Eric Wilson on Twitter (@EricWilsonSays) and check out our roundup of the hottest male tennis players at the U.S. Open this year.