1.27.2017

Lifestyle Apparel – Part One


The Concept

It used to be that you bought brands like Patagonia, Rab and Mammut for active outdoor pursuits. Ski bums and mountain athletes, reluctant to spend money on everyday clothing and other consumer goods, would shell out the cash for these technical and often expensive products. For in-town wear, mountain enthusiasts were known to don whatever was at hand, the cheaper the better. An old college sweatshirt, a t-shirt from the local public radio station, jeans from the thrift store, and so forth served as the in-town uniform.

Over the years, something changed and outdoor brands started to expand their product lines to bring us comfy t-shirts, skirts and dresses, non-technical pants and more. In addition, they also began marketing the versatility of their clothing. That softshell jacket you use for a base layer at the ski area can also be used as a jacket during your walk to the yoga studio in the fall. As for your hiking shoes, they’re not only comfortable and sturdy, they’re also stylish enough to wear to brewpub.

While the clothing offerings have proliferated, the concept and promotion of lifestyle has as well. The idea is simple, wear these clothes to show you’re active and practice a healthy outdoor lifestyle.  You ski, you bike, you climb so why not dress the part while you’re out and about in town? Whether you desire a climbing jacket you can also wear to the coffee shop or a sundress with the same brand name as your technical ski pants, outdoor gear manufactures have now got you covered.  The sarcastic side of me can imagine the day when an outdoor company adopts the slogan “Be an outdoor athlete or just look like one.”

I first noticed this trend while living in Jackson Hole in the early 2000s. A friend was working at one of the gear shops and encouraged me to come in. “We’ve got a lot of cute clothes,” he said.  And now that he had pointed it out, I realized I had been noticing gear shops were devoting more retail space to apparel not intended for active outdoor pursuits. With this insight I chuckled, as it was funny to think that selling skirts, sundresses, ordinary t-shirts and other non-outdoor oriented clothing was becoming a significant part of a gear shop’s business.

Rab’s Kodiak fleece jacket is a great example of lifestyle gear and the marketing used to promote it. Its advertising copy introduces the concept of “techni-casual” and reminds shoppers, “Your fall days can start at your local coffee shop, evolve into midday climbing sessions at the crag, and finish off around a campfire as the sun sets, and Rab's Kodiak Women's Fleece Jacket will be there every step of the way…. The adjustable hood can be relaxed to keep your head warm downtown or cinched up to fit under a climbing helmet.”  

Even before lifestyle was marketed so heavily it was common to see mountain town dwellers decked out in gear that hinted at their outdoorsy nature. Many are outdoorsy for sure, but others are perhaps more armchair mountain athletes, content with a short hike from time to time and an occasional trip to the climbing gym. A friend of mine during my Jackson Hole days always pondered where all the women were; those cute gals he’d run into at the bagel shop in perky Swix ski beanies and colorful softshell Coudveil jackets. The ones he thought looked as if they were about to head out on a long ski tour, but he never saw out in the mountains. The women would don the uniform and look the part, but he always questioned how much they really got after it. Poseurs perhaps?

While I poke fun at the concept of lifestyle apparel, I must confess that I’m the owner of a fair bit of it; a Patagonia skirt I wear to work and a Marmot sundress I wear out on the town during the summer; a Mammut fleece top that is great for lounging around the house and a lightweight hoody by Mountain Hardware serves as a go-to layer year round. These are a go-to part of my wardrobe and are just a few pieces of lifestyle apparel that hang in my closet.

It shouldn’t be surprising I own this type of clothing given the shopping realities in Bozeman. Despite the town’s rising popularity and trendiness, it hasn’t yet become a shopping mecca. With decent clothing stores scarce, outdoor stores become a viable option for all sorts of shopping. In addition to the availability, lifestyle apparel is appealing to me because it actually fits. For a petite muscular woman such as myself shopping for clothing isn’t always easy. Skiing and mountain biking have given me muscular thighs, and a propensity for cross-training on the rowing machine and a newfound obsession with pull-ups finds me with broad shoulders. These muscles protrude proudly from my elfin frame and serve me well, but many clothing manufactures don’t accommodate this small yet powerful body type. In pants, the size required to fit over my thighs leaves a wide gap at the waist and I find many tops are snug across my upper back and shoulders. Lifestyle apparel just works better for me as it’s designed for powerful thighs, small waists, and broad shoulders. Lifestyle apparel fits my body and suits my lifestyle.

Did I just say that? Good God, I’m falling into the marketing trap. While I am sometimes quick to point out phonies and poseurs, and wearers of lifestyle apparel are an easy target, I don it too so what does that say about me? Feel free to form your own opinions. Lifestyle apparel is huge and doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.

If you want to find out more about lifestyle apparel, here are a few things I discovered on the internet. Commentary included….

Expensive is the new simple
Patagonia sells a basic t-shirt that reminds us to Live Simply. Outdoor brands have long sold every day t-shirts, many emblazoned with their name on them, but what was once a basic cotton affair is now crafted in a “50/50 blend of recycled cotton/postconsumer recycled polyester fabric.”

If the $35 price point seems like a lot for a mere t-shirt, don’t fret.  The product description reminds you this shirt “makes the idea of simplifying easier to swallow.” 

Outdoor brands – the new status symbol?
Marmot sells this down vest (In white no less) at Bloomingdales. Fashionistas tell me that Ivanka and Melania, and just about everyone really, have one.

Soft white? A bad idea!
Speaking of White Jackets…
Like a 90-day wonder freshly arrived in Big Sky, Haglöfs Women's Sector II Q Fleece, is “warm, versatile, and ready for anything.”

 

While it sure does look warm and cozy, ”designed and built to be perfect for everything from cool-weather hiking to ice climbing to sitting in the stands at a football game," I’m wondering about the color choice. You can find it on the Backcountry website, but they only have it in white, soft white to be exact A further web search didn’t reveal any other colors were available and I’m wondering if it possible that it’s only available in white. How could anyone think white, especially a soft white, is a good color for an active jacket?

 

Jackets become trendy & dresses become sporty

Not wanting to be left out of the action, dresses became versatile just as jackets and shoes had. Patagonia’sMorning Glory Dress is for the “post-Victorian gal.” I’m not sure what a post-Victorian gal is but apparently she can deliver top-notch athletic performances while rocking a sundress.

“Sometimes a limbo line forms at a wedding, a game of soccer breaks out at the barbecue, or an evening around the campfire turns into a dance party,” Patagonia declares. “That's when you're glad you have the Patagonia Women's Morning Glory Dress, which can look fabulous and deliver an athletic performance in a pinch.”

 

You could but why would you want to?

Hiking shoes at the pub after a long day in the mountains? No thank you. For true post-activity comfort, I’ll wear my sandals and my feet will thank me. The Rab jacket mentioned above claims it's useful for climbing, strolling around town and looking good at the bonfire. Maybe so but I can’t fathom wearing a smoke scented jacket to the coffee shop after a night at a bonfire. Ick!

Ski, Bike, Climb, Lifestyle
Gear companies, in some ways, are now one-stop shopping options for all of your apparel needs, a place to find items for your outdoor adventures as well as your everyday life. SCARPA, for instance, now has a lifestyle section so the brand can put itself “…at the center of your active life. Designed with the same passion that inspires the best in mountain footwear, SCARPA lifestyle footwear allows you to tackle everyday expeditions with confidence.”

Outdoor Research has an “après adventure” category and it is one of the most popular categories in women’s apparel - 116 items compared with 102 for climbing. The only category more popular is hiking and backpacking. Hmmm..

If you want a complete look at this year’s après gear, Outside magazine has the beta on what all the cool outdoorsy kids are wearing.

Remember, one doesn’t merely walk to farmer’s market, go grocery shopping or go to a football game, we partake in everyday expeditions. Similarly, après ski, once a fun and social outing experience, is now an adventure.

When it becomes trendy, make fun of it
You know the trend has really taken off when brands begin poking fun at the concept. Here’s some catalog copy my friend Dave wrote for Oboz:

“Too many catalogs describe products that ‘can summit a peak in the morning and shine at the brew pub in the afternoon.’ Forget the brewpub; you'll be lucky to get back to the trailhead before dark. For days like these, stash a few cold 12oz. snacks in your pack and take along the Switchback's deep-lugged traction, foot-hugging upper, and ultra-supportive TPU Chassis.” 

Nice work Dave!

Spot any good lifestyle apparel recently? Share your photos and commentary in the comments section of this post.