Call of the wild: hot new fleeces make the outdoors cool

The sight of celebrities wearing clothes usually associated with comfort during lockdown is pushing sales through the roof

More usually associated with walking the dog or a hike in the hills, the humble fleece is discovering its sex appeal. Vogue declared the “sexy fleece” trend one to note last week, while the entertainment website Refinery29 claimed the fleece has gone “from campsite to cool”.

Their enthusiasm for an item of clothing more normally linked with comfort rather than the catwalk has been prompted by selfies from the models Hailey Baldwin and Bella Hadid in the same cropped North Face design, while celebrities including the actors Timothée Chalamet and Donald Glover have recently been pictured wearing fleeces.

They have appeared in the collections of influential brands including Balenciaga, Eckhaus Latta, Aries and Marine Serre, while the New York designer Sandy Liang has made fleeces her trademark, putting them on the catwalk. Earlier this year, the US luxury resale site the Real Real reported a 400% rise in searches for “fleece” compared with 2019.

Timothée Chalamet at Paris fashion week in February.
Timothée Chalamet at Paris fashion week in February. Photograph: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

More established fleece brands are enjoying an unaccustomed fashion moment too. The British sustainable surf brand Finisterre says its bestseller, the £110 Budock Smock fleece, sold out within a fortnight this season. North Face – until recently the preserve of climbers and campers – is now working with Gucci in one of the most anticipated collaborations of the year. Columbia, Patagonia and Berghaus are also on the fashion radar.

The rise of the fleece is part of a wider trend, partly due to the pandemic’s effect on lifestyles. Women’s Wear Daily has reported a desire for what it calls “outdoorable” fashion – clothing that has the weather resistance that lends itself to outdoor activities – with 20% of US consumers spending more time outdoors this year. This tallies with other countries including the UK, where lockdown rules mean that socialising is currently limited to outdoors.

“Getting outdoors represents perhaps the only exercise or screen break and leisure time for the majority of us right now,” says Debbie Luffman, product director at Finisterre. “I think it’s positive that more of us are embracing the outdoors, but I also feel the outdoors as a look is definitely having a moment in fashion terms, moving on from sportswear and athleisure into a more outdoor aesthetic.” The pandemic has boosted the growth of an already growing sector – the outdoor clothing market in the UK grew by 22% between 2013 and 2017.

And, as Luffman says, not all of the focus on outdoor staples like the fleece is down to lifestyle changes – fashion insiders have taken to the look of camping gear even if it doesn’t come with any actual camping. “Gorpcore”, a term invented in 2017 by the Cut, New York magazine’s fashion website, described a new look, with outdoors clothing worn by an unlikely demographic. “The cool kids … all want to dress like they can tie a Yosemite bowline,” it claimed.

There are downsides, though, to the fleece’s growing popularity. A 2016 study showed that, on average, a fleece jacket releases 1.7 grams of microfibres every time it is washed, with 40% of those microfibres finding their way to rivers, lakes and oceans, potentially consumed by fish and other wildlife. While recycled materials – as used by Finisterre and Patagonia – minimise this, it is now recommended that consumers wash fleeces only when absolutely necessary, and inside a “guppy bag” that acts as a filter.


Lauren Cochrane

The GuardianTramp

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