Full Review: For a number of years now, Fenom Kimonos has been a prime mover in encouraging women's involvement in BJJ: seminars with top female black belts (e.g, Fenom Kimonos customers got to train with Hannette Staack for free on the 24th August, with others paying a reasonable fee), women only tournaments and of course gis designed for women. Hence why I have supported Fenom for several years too, having so far bought a t-shirt, patches, rashguard, gi trousers and a backpack, along with a gi that will be waiting for me on my third USA trip next year. Triin, the owner of the company, very kindly gave me a lift to and from Dallas airport during my 2012 Texas trip. She also gave me a Fenom gi (a plain white factory sample), which proved most useful for my US training. Not only that, but she's an excellent training partner too, if you're ever on the mats at RCJ Machado Dallas. ;)
I've been wearing my purple Fenom rashguard in conjunction with the Pony Club Grappling Gear 'Jessica' spats (reviewed a couple of weeks ago). As with the 'Jessica' grappling tights, I'm going to take the excuse to investigate the history of rashguards (if you want to skip all that, click here).
An article on the Australian Fitness Network suggests that compression wear was first used in a medical setting, "over 60 years ago" (the article isn't dated, but one of the sources is from 2011, so that probably means the '50s). The application was for the treatment of 'venous disorders' (such as deep vein thrombosis), which would fit with what I found in my previous research into compression tights.
Following links from trusty old Wikipedia, this site claims that the rash guard was invented in Australia, where at some point compression garments must have moved out of the hospitals and onto the beach:
Ironically, surfing rash guards were invented by accident in Australia during the late 1970s. The original rash guards were simply lycra turtleneck shirts worn underneath a surfer's wetsuit with the exclusive purpose of preventing chafing caused by the wetsuit. As the water warmed in the spring and summer months, these Aussie surfers began to be seen in the waves wearing rash guard shirts with their board shorts without any wetsuit. Surfers found that a wetsuit rash guard was also very effective at protecting their skin from irritation caused by contact with their surfboard as well as preventing sunburns. Hence, a new surfing product was born!
I'm not sure what source the author had for that, but it sounds plausible. For surfing and other water sports, the rash guard is normally used to - as its name suggests - prevent rashes from either the swimsuit or the surfboard, depending on if you're just wearing a rash guard and shorts. It also provides protection from the hot sun, a particularly important issue in ozone-layer deprived Australia.
FashionIncubator.com. For those of us unfamiliar with terms like "2 or 3 needle bobbin-less top stitching", the basic difference appears to be that a 'cover' stitch sticks up with a thicker seam, whereas a 'flatlock' stitch means the fabric stays flat (as the name suggests). To quote FashionIncubator.com:
Flatlocking is used primarily for performance goods, it has fewer layers to chafe. It depends on what you want to do. If you’re running a marathon, you definitely want tights with a flatlock. An overlocked coverstitched seam, while it won’t pull apart, will chafe along your legs and cause bleeding.
Continuing with the surfing theme, there's another set of descriptions from the Lomo Watersports website, in connection to its wetsuits:
Overlock stitching is the LEAST EXPENSIVE and least effective form of wetsuit stitching. The two edges of neoprene are rolled together with stitching lightly around them. This forms a ridge inside the wet suit that is both uncomfortable and it also allows water to penetrate the seam. [...]
Flatlock stitching is achieved by lapping the neoprene together, this creates a FLAT, COMFORTABLE SEAM but it also allows water to penetrate slightly. [...] Flatlock is identified by a band of interlocked thread on both sides of the suit, sometimes in contrasting thread colour for visual effect.
Another potential source is more recent. It may be that it wasn't surfing, but the growing popularity of compression wear companies like Under Armour: unlike surfing rashguards, Under Armour shirts generally do not have a turtle neck, which is also the case with most grappling rashguards. Under Armour was founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank, an American Football player at university (or college football, as you'd say in the US). A Forbes profile relates the genesis of Plank's company:
It was on the football field that he came up with his greatest idea. Plank noticed that, after a practice or a game, the cotton T-shirt that he and the other players wore under their pads would be heavy, soaked with sweat. He believed the extra weight hampered performance. He came up with an idea for a lightweight, sweat-wicking synthetic T-shirt, which he originally made from fabric found in women’s undergarments.
I'm not certain of the oldest website selling BJJ merchandise, but the first one that sprang to mind was OnTheMat. Looking at previous versions of their page, the earliest example dates back to April 2002, when they sold HCK rash guards (listed under 'Valley Tudo Gear', which must be an intentional typo). There is no mention of 'rash guard': it is simply called 'vale tudo short sleeve' and 'vale tudo top long sleeve'. That would indicate that it was in MMA that rash guards first made an appearance.
According to the Wayback Machine, Howard Liu's site dates all the way back to at least December 1998 (the same year as the first ADCC, which has become the most prestigious no-gi grappling competition), selling four types of gi. By February 1999, Howard Combat Kimonos was proclaiming "New! HCK Vale Tudo Top and Shorts!" Although the link to those new products is unfortunately not in the Wayback Machine archive, I expect they were the same or similar as those sold through OnTheMat in 2002.
It's also quite possible compression tops had been used in Brazil before that, but looking at some of the older BJJ manufacturers (like Atama, MKimonos, Krugans), their websites do not appear to go back beyond 2000. Having said that, the classic vale tudo sartorial style, especially in a hot country like Brazil, was to fight in speedos, before progressing to vale tudo shorts (which are similarly tight).
My own first rashguard was from the now defunct XF Gear, bought back in 2007 in preparation for my no-gi debut at the Roger Gracie Academy. As I have never done a lot of no-gi (though I've been more regular recently), that rash guard is still in good shape, apart from the lettering on the front. Six years (but less than 40 no-gi lessons) down the line, the lettering has cracked and steadily flaked off. In the years since, sublimating has become the standard, which avoids that issue of all the lettering slowly wearing away.
According to Wikipedia, the definition of sublimation is a "printing process that uses heat to transfer dye onto medium materials." John McDaniel has a brief history over on this site, which originally appeared in P&I News, June 2000:
Sublimation has been with us for quite some time. In the early computer years, circa 1970s, special ribbons impregnated with sublimation particles were used with dot matrix impact printers to create monochrome transfers. The first computer output sublimation system was developed in the mid ‘70s by Wes Hoekstra as an application of his image processing work with the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. Wes has been credited with being the “father” of the computer image sublimation industry.
When electrostatic printing became affordable in copying machines and laser printers, it wasn’t long before toner cartridges containing sublimation solids appeared on the market. This equipment is normally used to create single color or limited color transfers. Recent innovations in color copiers and laser printers, have permitted the creation of full color transfers using this method.
The relevance to rashguards is that it permits more colourful and detailed designs, with the further advantage that sublimation is meant to prevent cracking, fading or peeling. Thus far, that has been the case with my Fenom rashguard after multiple washes. Its sublimated logo across the chest remains just as defined as when I unwrapped the packaging. That logo is the central embellishment, with a purple 'F'. There is no design on the back, so this rashguard should appeal to those who like an understated look.
Once my Pony Club spats arrived, I tested further configurations, wearing the rash guard over and under the tight leggings. Again, I found the Fenom rash guard never wriggled up my back or front, despite my constant expectation that it would. Presumably the reason for the wider lower part of the rash guard is because it is designed for the additional curves of a female body shape, but if you're a fairy slender man (like me), it appears to be a decent fit based on my testing.
There has been no shrinkage, given that this is not cotton so is less prone to that problem. On Triin's advice I bought a Large, measuring 67cm from cuff to cuff (without stretching). Shoulder to hem is 62cm, with a sleeve width of 13cm and the waist comes to 41cm, if the rash guard is just lying flat on the floor. I normally wear 30" waist trousers and there is some give to this, so I would have thought you would still be ok if your waist is larger than that.
However, it is tight across the chest and arms (as you would expect from a rash guard), so as ever, be careful when choosing your size. It is worth emailing Triin to ask what would fit you best, providing your measurements. For reference, my frame is 5'7" and 145lbs, with a chest about 35" (as this rashguard is aimed at women, I'm sure it can accommodate a lot more in that area) and my biceps are roughly 12", so I'm no beefcake. If you're similar, then a Large should fit you too. If you're much bigger, then that may be a problem: if you're smaller, you could go for a Medium or a Small.
When I cycled in my Pony Club spats on a hot day a while back, I wore the Fenom rashguard on my upper body. It was equally comfortable as the tights, so seems effective at keeping you cool and dry. It was less cool underneath a gi, but that's affected by my general discomfort wearing a rashguard under the gi: they always make me like I'm overheating. Hopefully there will be a long-sleeve option from Fenom in the future, either in this design or something entirely new, to prevent any rubbing on the elbows.
here, in black with contrasting sleeves and side panels (white, blue or purple). You can also select 'black', which is presumably solid black. Brown does not appear to be available at present (though that could mean they're just currently sold out). The rashguards are currently on sale at $29, so your size and colour may sell out. I'm guessing they will be restocked, but then Fenom t-shirts are not, so it's possible this is a one-time design which will change for the next batch.