Like purchasing all specialised garments - suits for a wedding, space suits or even running shoes - choosing a rowing suit has a range of questions you should ask to ensure that you are happy with your new purchase. A well made rowing suit should last between two and five years. Just like the different factors that contribute to success in a race, there are a number of factors that determine the number of training sessions and regattas that a rower could expect from a suit.
Rowing apparel and in particular rowing suits have come a long way since they were made from knitted wool and poly cotton fabrics. Sports garments are increasingly specialised and rowing suits are no different. Rowing suits aren’t triathlon suits nor are they wetsuits. Each uses different fabrics that help with the particular sport and the specific athlete movements.
Today, rowers have a wide choice of fabrics. Polycotton Lycra was the dominant choice until the end of the 20th century. However, fabrics containing cotton are not the best for garments involved in water oriented sports. Rowers tend to get wet whilst rowing and fabrics that stay wet will feel uncomfortable and heavy due to the absorption of water.
Properties have been added to fabric that help keep the rower comfortable by drawing away sweat from the body whilst keeping as much water out as possible - this is known as wicking or the more commonly branded ‘dri fit’.
The most important factor when choosing a fabric for a rowing suit will be the quality and composition of the Lycra. Although there are many generic substitutes in the market, choosing a fabric containing genuine Lycra yarn is the ‘’essential ingredient’. This could be the difference between a rowing suit that lasts 200 or 20 washes!
When considering a fabric for a rowing suit, I start with a fabric that has wicking properties. The latest technical fabrics have this and are also able to moderate body temperature and release heat. This is particularly important given rowers tend to build up body heat rapidly.
Various other fabric considerations are:
- Density of the yarn will determine the degree of stretch and ‘oomph’ Lycra quality and how it is knitted will affect its ability to compress and retain its memory (the ability to hold its shape without sagging or bagging).
- The shine and handle of the fabric; its best not to be too shiny or slippery, too thin, too thick, thin in some areas and thick in others (to give those glutes extra padding)
- The weight of the fabric, also known as GSM (gram per square meter). I like to choose a fabric between 240 & 260 gsm for cooler climates, and between 220 & 240 gsm where it is hotter.
- Standards apply to all fabrics and garments that are Made in Australia. Quality fabrics have a high degree of colour fastness (the die in the fabric won't bleed or run into each other) and this should be clarified when purchasing a rowing suit.
A good fitting suit will be firm on the wearer but not too tight. It won't impede circulation or rub or pull. A bit of compression is a good thing as it feels great and is flattering to most people! A good rowing suit through its design will avoid discomfort and low-grade injuries (chafing, blistering).
Seam placement is critical to good design. Thick, bulky seams and stitching in the wrong places can cause irritation. For rowers this might be directly under the arms, the seam separating the upper and lower parts of the garment, or stitching that runs between the legs.
It is important when trying on a suit to note where the leg (seam) finishes. Ideally the suit should finish midway up the thigh so that it neither rides up, nor drags under the slide. This changes with the trends in the fashion world!
We recommend making the small investment where a suit has the option of a double-seat (more fabric sewn into the rear of the garment) as it makes for more comfortable rowing. When choosing a performance suit, the lighter and more comfortable the better !
Mens and Womens suits differ in shape. The key differences are for men, the cut in the armholes are a lot deeper, and for women, the hips are more shapely and have more room.
General garment construction quality
A good way to test the quality of a rowing suit is to pull it apart to check its elasticity. This will provide some insight into both the fabric and sewing quality. In our own quality assurance processes, we check how the sewing has been done under the arms and around the neck. Generally if a suit is going to come apart, this is where the stitching will fail.
A better garment will have rubber/elastic sewn into both the neck and arms to give it more elasticity which ensures you can get into into the suit from the neckline. This requires strong seams and elastic finish - without it, the suit will stretch out of shape.
There are several ways to finish off the rowing suit around the neck and armholes with the design and personal preference determining this. I often make a recommendation based on the design of the suit.
The ‘little’ factors in garment construction to consider include the quality of the thread, whether the same thread is used for necklines, armholes and hems, and the type of stitching used. Well made rowing suit will have all the small bits of cotton neatly trimmed off and although that doesn't help directly with rowing, it is a sign of the quality that was put into the garment - everything done well.
From our experiences, the best made suits in the world won't last unless they are well cared for. Three rules universally apply for rowing suit care:
1. Read and follow the instructions on the label
2. To wash, rinse in cold water
3. Hang it on a clothesline; never put a rowing suit in the dryer
I always tell my customers that a good rowing suit should be cared for in a similar manner to a high quality swimsuit - rinse immediately after wear under cold running water and line dry in the shade.
A well made rowing suit looks and feels great. Our view at Rowbust is that the benefits other sports have enjoyed in advances in garment technology, particularly swimming, can transfer to rowing.
A suit may look good, have a great design, and come well packaged, but if these factors are not considered it may not live up to your expectations. The key to choosing a great rowing suit is buying well and looking after it - a quality rowing suit should help you row comfortably in the wet, hot, dry or cold and last at least 200 washes!
For more information on rowing suits, please get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.