It’s a fine line, I’m realizing, between dressing a little too gorpcore, and in some cases not gorpcore enough.
This realization came to me as my wife and I try in vain to find her a new winter jacket. With e-commerce as out only option, the coats keep coming and we keep sending them back.
The problem, I’ve since realized, is that the question of function vs. fashion has never been as difficult to resolve as it is now.
If you’ve never heard of gorpcore, the term was coined in a 2017 article published by The Cut, and refers to the kind of clothes you’d wear while eating “good ol’ raisins and peanuts” while on a hiking trail somewhere. Musicians such as A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean may be its poster boys, but there are now plenty others ready to join them.
As a story in the Wall Street Journal pointed out, gorpcore has been propelled in part by the fact more people are spending time outdoors as a way of coping with the pandemic.
There’s also the influx of high-end windbreakers, parkas and hiking boots from brands you wouldn’t normally associate with the outdoors now jostling for attention with stalwarts such as The North Face, Patagonia and Canada Goose.
“Gorpcore is not about designer labels cynically co-opting the outdoor look, creating fragile mountaineering boots that look the part but would falter on the trail,” the WSJ argued. “Gorp fans worship practicality, but they also cherish the hints of high design that brands lace into their outdoor gear.”
Maybe, but based on what came down the runway at the recent Milan Men’s Fashion Week, there’s every indication that a lot of labels are more interested in capitalizing on a trend than offering technical innovations. The CBC offered a great roundup of cases in point in its coverage of the shows:
The likes of Dior, Loewe and Y/Project (all included) gorp-y references in their clothing. Kim Jones, a frequent Nike collaborator, has always had a penchant for sportswear, and Dior’s Fall 2021 collection is no exception, with sports and outdoorsy elements worked in: a sombre but sophisticated take on woodland camouflage, cargo pants and insulated hiking boots. At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson presented two collections, with the sustainability-driven Eye/Loewe/Nature offering squarely in the gorpcore camp, from the way the models were positioned to the chunky hiking boots, Fair Isle knits, technical jackets and branded backpacks.
This marks quite an evolution from when gorpcore entered the fashion lexicon. Four years ago, a Vogue writer emphasized the performative aspect of choosing fleece jackets and utility vests as a sort of colossal in-joke.
“Wearers of gorpcore are likely to be seen eating a blue algae health bowl rather than rigging a tent in the Blue Mountains — the crux of the look requires both the wearer and their audience to ‘get it’,’” the article said. “It being the un-ironic, yet oh-so-tongue-in-cheek nature of an outfit akin to a gaggle of middle-aged tourists rather than a budding fashion designer-turned-activist.”
I think this is less true now. Walk past the Arc’teryx store on Toronto’s Queen St. West today and you see clothes that are more aspirational than ironic. In Britain, the Guardian profiled a store called Snow Peak whose mission seemed to be making customers feel comfortable with choosing an aesthetic over athleticism.
“(It’s) the natural destination for the urbanite who likes to wear a look that suggests they will be asking their nearest and dearest to sponsor a Himalayan hike very, very soon (but almost certainly not doing one),” the article said.
Canadians, of course, have long been associated with wearing parkas fit for braving through a hearty winter, even if you like in a major urban centre like I do. Gorpcore offers both an opportunity to elevate those kinds of wardrobe choices and a challenge to anyone who makes purchases based on the utility of the clothes alone.
As my wife tried on winter coats in front of me, for example, I kept looking at the fit and wondering if the waist should be cinched in a little more to show off her figure. She wanted pockets near the top, but I was more interested in the magnetic flaps on the lower pockets. We fretted over the length, the shoulders, everything.
And this is only a coat. Who knows how challenging this would be if we were shopping for me, and including boots and a hat as well.
Here’s the thing: going on a trek isn’t possible for most of us right now. Even though scaling a cliff is one way to stay socially distant from other people, the travel required for those kinds of adventures will have to wait until more of the world has been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, though, what we put on in winter has never carried more significance from a style perspective.
Your winter coat, hat, boots and even pants and gloves will be what most of the world sees you in for the next few months.
It’s the only way to draw attention away from your mask.
When you put it on, it might represent the biggest effort you make to get dressed that day or even that week.
And even though the trend has a name, there aren’t any real hard-and-fast rules of gorcpcore. I’ll offer the following “guardrails” instead:
1. After The Coat, Everything Is An Accessory
There’s a reason companies like Moncler have focused on ski jackets that can cost $1,000 or more. Not only does the coat cover the largest areas of your body, but the areas that are most noticeable from a block away.
Depending on your taste and what you’ve got to spend, I would go for a strong colour here, or even a bold pattern if you think it will be versatile enough with the rest of your outfit choices. Checks might seem boring but designers are being pretty inventive in how far apart the lines are, the thickness and the underlying tones behind them.
Unless you seriously think you’re going to be conquering harsh conditions or trying to reach the top of a snow-capped mountain, think about how many layers you typically wear under a jacket. For me it’s usually three or even four: a T-shirt, cardigan or sometimes even a vest. The more you layer, the looser you’ll want your coat to fit so you don’t feel constricted.
2. Your Boots Are, In Fact, Made For Walking
It’s great that designers are finally trying to make hiking boots that aren’t inherently ugly, but I imagine most guys will balk at overspending on them unless they feel they’ve get some return on investment.
This is where I would be more eager to geek out on the specifics, whether it’s the leather, midsoles, internal support or thermal protection. This is footwear you might put on well past winter, and maybe even at a time when it’s possible to roam more freely through challenging terrain.
That said, I’d probably stick with black over the more traditional brown if you want to have a better opportunity to match the more fashion-forward items in your gorpcore ensemble.
3. Have Some Backup Beanies
Even if your regular travels now take you no farther than the boundaries of your neighbourhood, you are going to lose your hat.
Even if you never set foot in a grocery store or any other indoor space other than your own home, you are going to lose your hat.
This makes spending money on a toque or beanie feel like a bigger risk, but I also think you don’t necessary have to buy high-end to get a good choice of colour, pattern or fit.
Save The Logos For What You Take With You
The only way anyone will know you’re wearing the haute couture version of hiking clothes or outdoor wear is to have the brand prominent somewhere on the front or back. A good test of how committed you are to this trend is whether that matters to you.
I think it’s entirely possible to find clothes that would be considered gorpcore that come a more reasonable price point, and where the logo wouldn’t necessarily be anything to brag about.
In this video, which I thought did a pretty great job or walking through this trend, the host suggests you could also focus on bags and other accessories that show a high-end logo instead. I second that idea, and wonder whether it would be better just to ensure you’re buying into an aesthetic, rather than using a brand to convey it.
Will Gorpcore Go Away?
I am writing this while Toronto, and Canada generally, is still in the second wave of COVID-19. That means some of the context may not be as relevant in a few months.
In fact, an article on Sourcing Journal suggested gorpcore, and trends like it, may be quickly forgotten should the pandemic be contained.
“While casual fashion and outerwear are having their moment . . . much like the 1920s, a shift toward occasion dressing is bound to emerge. Once vaccines are more widely distributed and restrictions lift, it’s believed that consumers will want to celebrate their freedom and dress the part, whether the occasion is a twice-rescheduled wedding or just a dinner out with friends.”
That’s possible, but there’s no reason that the hiking clothes or outdoor clothes you buy shouldn’t be the best you can buy, even if that just means the best for your particular style and needs.
If anyone tell you otherwise, tell them to go take a hike.