Paul McLauchlan's menswear: Why outdoor clothes are here to stay

Beyond the outdoorsy appeal of the clothes, they tellingly portray the pervasive anxiety of our times.
Paul McLauchlan's menswear: Why outdoor clothes are here to stay

A park ranger like any other took to the runway at Paris Fashion Week in January. He wore a paper-thin biscuit-coloured shirt with ranger badges on the sleeves, and matching corduroy trousers, with a distressed green belt, a woolly beard and classic catwalk solemnity defining his face. Of course, this wasn’t a park ranger like any other. It was Phipps International’s autumn/winter 2020 men’s fashion show.

It’s been called ‘high-fashion hiking.’ It’s been called ‘camping chic.’ It’s been called ‘gorpcore.’ It’s fashion that expresses itself through windbreakers, zip fleeces, puffer jackets, and fanny packs: outdoor apparel with a high-performance bent. From Patagonia fleeces to Birkenstock sandals and Colmar ski jackets. It’s traditionally reserved for hiking, camping, and hunting, or other elemental activities, but brands like Balenciaga, Martine Rose, Giorgio Armani, Y/Project have put their spin on the humble trend.

In a 2017 The Cut article, Jason Chen wrote that gorpcore ‘tags its wearer as seriously outdoorsy.’ After months indoors, camping chic is pitching its tent in men’s fashion. The outbreak of Covid-19, harbinger of social distancing and isolation, is inexplicably linked with heightened mental health concerns. The pandemic accentuated negative opinions about urbanisation and our reliance on digital technologies.

Not only will we look to nature for community-strengthening but for the endless possibilities and health benefits it offers. With outdoor pursuits as a focal point in the next stage in our lives, it is no wonder that the autumn/winter 2020 menswear collections, albeit presciently, created wardrobes for this venture.

It’s everyday wear, all purpose. It makes you feel like you’re ready for anything mother nature will throw at you, even if it’s a walk to the shops, whether you’re wearing a Phipps fleece or an Arc’teryx jacket

- said Joe Brunner, Junior Buyer on New Gen and Active at London store and e-commerce platform Browns.

“When that time does arrive for you to scale a small hill or a damp woodland (thinking positive, it will come), you’ve got it covered. These pieces are very much staples in people's wardrobes rather than simply trend items, so that’s really the beauty of it, and it will forever be present in each season in some capacity now.”

For Spencer Phipps, the American designer behind Phipps International, it was about “the mystic energy and rejuvenating ecological properties of trees, the collection celebrates the brotherhood of their worldly guardians.” In addition to the park ranger uniform, his collection was replete with ponchos and anoraks, casual tees and polo necks with didactic and satirical graphic designs, from motivational climbing slogans to a chronological calendar of Earth’s tectonic movements, educational prints and patches come from US wildfire cartoon Smokey Bear, and tactical gear that resembled the wardrobe of a stylish rock-climber or hiker.

Todd Snyder, another American, based in New York City proposed a preppy yet streetwear inflected take on outdoor apparel with buffalo cardigans tucked into check trousers, hunter camo, and duck camo. He partnered with 108-year-old American heritage brand L.L. Bean, purveyor of clothing and outdoor recreation equipment, on the design of the collection. The great outdoors is serious business. And it’s in fashion.

For his autumn/winter 2020 show, the 21-year-old Los Angeles-based designer Reese Cooper fashioned a forest within a Parisian contemporary art gallery. He mixed utilitarian outerwear with tailoring and streetwear, complete with an organic, homespun feel. The kind of clothes best enjoyed with a gulp of fresh air.

Models paraded across the sylvan setting attired in utilitarian anoraks, cargo pants with multiple utility pockets, plaid shirts with a veritable lumberjack air, and fleece jackets with emerald nylon patches. If outdoor pursuits had received a high-fashion yet urbane cool makeover, this was it.

But this is not gorpcore’s first moment in fashion. It was christened as a new trend back in 2017 when the likes of Kanye West, Drake, and A$AP Rocky were decked out in luxe, high-end nods to Mother Nature. Its humble beginnings go further back, decades even: The North Face was founded in 1968, Patagonia in 1973, and C.P. Company in 1974. Brands that saw potential in outdoor apparel who have now been co-opted by a generation of people whose primary consumption of the great outdoors is through Instagram.

"Celebrities like Shia LaBeouf and Kanye West really spearheaded the vibe – and still do today – the ‘daddy cool’ look has extended itself into various facets, from sports to outdoor apparel alongside high fashion," said Brunner.

Beyond the outdoorsy appeal of the clothes, they tellingly portray the pervasive anxiety of our times. The world is gripped with a surreal new world order, from social distancing to complex experiences of grief, and these clothes, with their utilitarian edge, can feel like the closest thing to practicality and sense we have left. Moreover, crafted for outdoor use, they inch the wearer closer to the natural environment.

As ever, there will be naysayers. Those eagerly anticipating the return of the suit. Those who have pledged allegiance to the church of minimalist fashion. Those who never intend to swap loungewear for a pair of slacks ever again.

But the spirit of gorpcore is enduring. "Being cooped up indoors for months on end can only increase the desire to explore," said Brunner. It can - in most cases - physically weather a storm. In the age of humans versus the elements, this new iteration of outdoor apparel is the stylish equivalent to heavy-duty protective gear. You might just be going to the supermarket or for a coffee with a friend but the smallest taste for the great outdoors might find its way into your wardrobe.

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