It is the nightmare of style icons, fashionistas and cultural guardians: the outdoor wave that is sweeping the city centres. Ten years ago, people were sure it was one of those silly crazes that would be laughed off in 10 years’ time. But far from it, it still remains and shows no signs of fading. It’s even expanded into new areas and has long catered to those yearning of hunting, dog sledding and motorcycling adventures.
Even the fashion pages have become resigned to it. Strong criticisms can only be found in older articles. More recently, articles in outdoor blogs and fashion magazines have been favouring the trend. Let’s take a look at the critics and advocates and examine their common ground. As we do so, I’ll add my own two cents into the mix.
But before that, let us turn to an important, but difficult to classify controversial issue: sustainability.
The Controversy of Sustainability
Let’s get straight to the point: yes, it’s true that a multifunctional jacket uses more resources and “toxins” than grandpa’s good old wool coat.
But is “outdoor stuff” with its evil chemicals really so much worse than the “normal stuff” in the department stores and online shops? It is by no means the case that before the “outdoor boom” people only wore sustainable natural clothing. On the contrary, the percentage of “Made under bad conditions and with undeclared chemicals“ is quite high in on-technical everyday clothing.
What is more sustainable: if I wear an expensive, technical winter jacket from brand XY for ten winters, or if I wear several “simpler” and “cheaper” quilted jackets from H&M, New Yorker etc.?
There is also criticism because of controversial “ingredients” in outdoor clothing such as down, leather and fur. But these things are also used in “non-outdoor products” and the outdoor industry also offers a growing range of alternative materials. There is also a growing segment called “Urban Outdoor”. These products are less “highly engineered”, do without membranes and chemicals, are not “polarized” and are not brightly coloured. They are more functional than conventional everyday clothing, as well as highly attractive.
Even so, it is a waste to buy technical-functional outdoor clothing for the evening dog walk. In the same way, you have to question when people wear it for show.
Annoyed by the outdoor wave: the features section
The harshest outdoor critics are most likely found in the culture pages. A good summary of classical style criticism is provided by the Tagesspiegel article, which is probably the most frequently read and quoted on this topic:
„There seems to be an unspoken agreement on this point: there are some clothes and situations that don’t go together. However, this intuitive sense of style regularly seems to fail thousands of people in this country when it comes to outdoor clothing.:
This taste is debatable in many cases. This is followed by two unfinished sentences, which seem to be about the fact that the clothes are made for the most adverse conditions and the buyers know exactly how nonsensical their behaviour is.
Outdoor hype in pedestrian zones
True, but only in part: by no means are all products seen in the pedestrian zones “suitable for polar regions” or “suitable for the Himalayas”, nor are they all brightly coloured. Such frequently read exaggerations suggest that the authors are rather less than outdoor enthusiasts. And their unfamiliarity with the subject matter becomes even more clear when they try to imitate technical outdoor jargon. Sometimes this doesn’t fit, as here in the FR, where there excessive exaggeration results in unintended humour. Want an example? Here:
„Presumably, the wild colours (of outdoor clothing) can even scare away bears. And make campfires.:
Ha ha. Well, if only you knew, dear FR writer, how many bear attacks the Active-Bearprotect Shield of my GORE-TEX has averted at the last minute. And how many times I’ve been saved from frozen fingers by the integrated InstantFire Jet Technology…
Want another example? Here you go:
„No one needs storage for carabiners, oil lamps or a three-day supply of jerky while they’re walking around the pedestrian zone.:
Yes, they do! I need oil lamp storage (fire retardant) in my climbing harness, which is always attached. And my jerky rations (tofu jerky, of course) have saved me from many a rumbling stomach in the CBD.
And one more to finish? No problem:
“But that really doesn’t excuse walking boots in the drugstore. The thick treads are great for having a firm footing when descending alpine pastures. Between toilet paper and lipsticks they just look silly.”
It might be true that we, the summiteers, do not always have the firmest foothold when it comes to the downhill run. But this is often because of the others walking around the fields after summiting. We still need a good grip when we’re picking up toilet paper in Boots.
What belongs where?
However, it must be said that not all criticism is so easily refuted. Here’s the Tagesspiegel again:
„In my circle of friends, there’s one crazy one who regularly goes on snowshoe holidays through Greenland or Lapland. I understand that he needs a Polar jacket. But when he returns home to civilisation, it returns to the cupboard where it belongs. He goes to work in a woollen coat. He understands: Everything has a time and a place. (…) The thermal coat belongs on the pack nice, not in the city centre.:
Very impressive. But is there really such thing, this law of nature for where things belong? Or is it not just someone’s opinion that has been elevated to a general standard? What if I’ve already spent quite a bit on my ‘mountain skins’ and so spending more on a ‘suitable’ woollen coat seems unnecessary? What if I wear a GORE-TEX jacket when it’s pouring down in the city just because I don’t have another waterproof jacket lying around?
Yes, I’m exposing myself here as one of those “overlapping users”, who actually does go into the mountains and the “wilderness’ in their outdoor clothing.
Also annoyed: ‘real mountaineers’ who ‘actually use this stuff’
As us “overlapping users” are so underappreciated, we are of course upset about the invasion of fake adventurers. For it is only us that should have the right to bear the signs of being an outdoor enthusiast.
So, dear outdoor clothing critics, please don’t always lump us hard nuts together with these fancy dress impersonators! We brave really icy wind and terrible weather. And when we put on a GORE-TEX jacket, softshell, fleece or synthetic trousers in everyday life, the unsuspecting confuse us with these wannabes. If only people could tell the difference, they would finally give us that slightly intimidated admiration that we well deserve!
I therefore propose that we introduce a permit for outdoor clothing: GORE-TEX and Windstopper would only be able to be worn upon evidence of undertaking a tour. In order to avoid any confusion, we should also attach labels or stickers to our clothes:
”Hey, I’m actually going above 4,000 metres in this!”
”This jacket has been to Greenland and Nepal!”
Elated rather than annoyed: the advocates
Is the advocacy for outdoor clothing well-founded and convincing at least? Are there good, strong ‘pros’ for Outdoor in the City?
Hm, not really – I only found a little and it’s hard to follow, like the following from Brigitte magazine for example:
„Today, with the right clothing, you can demonstrate your love of outdoor sports, trekking, danger and adventure without ever having seen a mountain, a forest or a lake in person. This is certainly very fashionable, even though it may not always make sense to wrap ourselves up in clothes that have functions we don’t even need”.:
I find a person never seeing a mountain, forest or lake in person sad rather than fashionable. But perhaps you don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t know more than a picture. Maybe that would explain the following thought as well:
„So-called ‘Sensation Seeking’ has become very popular. Our clothes should at least remind us of the wilderness. If danger (or a hailstorm) should befall us in the urban jungle, we are prepared – and can feel a bit like McGyver’s wild daughter in our Jack Wolfskin jacket.:
Oh, yeah. Except that, as the only male Brigitte reader on the planet, I’d rather be McGyver himself than his wild daughter. For me it’s much more important not to ‘imagine’ being in the ‘wilderness’ through clothing, but to actually travel to such environments.
So, to sum up, neither side are really rational or sensible. It’s about taste and personal preference.
Love of nature, vanity and fear of disaster: explanation attempts
Because there’s so little rationality, most attempts at explaining the phenomena ultimately fail. Let’s try anyway. We’ll go back to the Tagesspiegel to start:
„Some people say its a love of woods and meadows, which makes it happen. (…) However, even a brief look at the products shows that this so-called closeness to nature is nonsense. After all, you can hardly get more artificial than an outdoor jacket. The lining is made of polyester fleece or polyamide and sealed on top with a layer of polyurethane or polytetrafluoroethylene. Does that sound something that would grow on any tree in the world?:
It’s rare that Teflon, PU and fleece would all be used in one item, but not inconceivable, and more and more companies are making progress in replacing artificial with natural components.
If love of nature is not the sole motive behind the outdoor wave, we must look elsewhere. One of the less positive motives would be vanity, which the Tagespiegel will illuminate here:
„If you wear something you don’t need, you want to represent something. (…) In this sense, wearing outdoor clothing is no longer about preparing for extreme situations, but about simulating them – or better: claiming proficiency in them. Look, I would be prepared to brave wind and weather, arctic temperature drops and steep scree slopes – if I were to put myself in danger.”
Yes, you heard me right. This is addresses a sore point. But a sore point of what? Vanity is a driver for many types of clothing. And also for many human actions in general. So it is just as unspecific to our beautiful, colourful outdoor world as the compensatory instinct (also mentioned in the article).
Now, we’re just missing the entertaining motivation theories. One would be a fear of catastrophe, but that’s going too far in the psychological fog in my opinion…
What conclusion can be drawn from this? Well, if you’re out in the city in outdoor clothing, you can always hope for some attention.