Poles apart yet together

Poles apart yet together

Poles apart yet together.

As far as clothing is concerned it is difficult to imagine two opposite styles that sit together. I am referring to fashion suited to trendy malls, coffee shops and high street restaurants and outdoor gear. Outdoor gear is all about form, function, durability and practicality whereas fashion is pretty much opposed.

Yet they sit side by side and have travelled from the mountains and bush to the local malls and it seems as if the new trend will endure. When I started my outdoor journey there were very few specialist shops and khaki was the norm. Peak caps were for sport and bush hats prevailed.

Move forward a few decades and we have a plethora of specialist outdoor chains taking up space in the big malls as well as the strip malls where they operate as anchor tenants, it seems as if “outdoor” is the new normal in clothing.

In addition to the new chain stores that have proliferated, we also have a wide variety of well known high-tech brands offering exceptional performance as well as house brands. The brands cover the full price spectrum from affordable to the top end brands that originate overseas. And they have become the new fashion trend overnight, you are just as likely to meet someone sporting an item of technical outdoor clothing at a mall or deep in the remote Northern Cape – think Gore-Tex meets Sandton City. Your wardrobe will change drastically and casual Friday no longer means jeans, takkies and a t-shirt.

Yet it is here that the functionality comes to play, the outdoor kit works, it keeps you warm, dry and the shoes are comfortable. The more technical materials and styling have resulted in clothing that is no longer”clumpy” and inelegant. The offering is now highly functional and with fresh modern colours now highly fashionable. Cargo pants which owe their origin to military gear are now de rigueur in the bush or at a trendy coffee shop. Whilst suited to roughing it in the bush the trend is towards items that denote adventure more stylishly.

This has added to the outdoor lexicon, we have various items that meet certain functions, think a combination of garments from a jacket down to a thermal t-shirt and the following terms can be applied;

  • Layering
  • Wicking
  • Insulation
  • Waterproofing
  • Breathability
  • UV resistance

Then one looks at the materials, from synthetics through to cotton and wool and more recently merino wool which is growing in popularity. Your fibre fills were traditionally down but many manufacturers are going the synthetic route as they are animal friendly as well as being easier to clean. 

When we look at the items of clothing from a tech perspective we add some new terminology to the lexicon as a jacket is no longer a jacket, it can be either a hard or soft “shell” dependant on the technical capabilities. A good polar fleece is very popular and can be worn solo on a cool day or under a shell as part of a layer. Down jackets can be either full-sleeved or sleeveless, they can also fit under a shell if of a lighter weight, yet a heavier down jacket ( a.k.a. as a Puffer ) can be worn as a stand-alone jacket on a cold day. Track shoes as we know them are now referred to as approach shoes or trail runners and benefit from materials such as Vibram (soles) and Gore-tex (uppers) these may be fairly waterproof and dry easily if wet. Traditional leather boots are still around although they have benefitted from a design makeover and now sit comfortably alongside their synthetic counterparts.

The new generation of hiking footwear moves from the bush to the mall with ease. As does the new generation of outdoor clothing.

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