Fashion is survival armour, or so they say. This season on the high street features hiking boots, trainers, camping backpacks, and the pièce de résistance – the cagoule. Without the warm insides of pubs and cafes, we must now dress for all weathers if we go out and socialise. Many opt to avoid public transport, so walking distances in cities have increased. As the BBC’s James FitzGerald said, ‘we’re in a perpetual state of urban camping.’
For city dwellers, new stamina is required for whole weekends spent outside without sit-downs in cafés. We’re used to dashing about, but not urban hiking. The elements can be cruel. During lockdown, I saw a group outside an ice cream parlour in North London in full waterproofs with walking poles. I mistook them for tourists, but no, they’d simply tramped the ten kilometres from one city village to the next. In peacetime the tube journey is a doddle, now you must cross the vale. It feels epic, Tolkeinesque even.
Friends in the country may laugh, but they do tend to have the advantage of cars. And the absence of open pubs is being felt for those in the countryside too. A walk or car journey to a friend’s house for an open-air chat is fun until the clouds threaten. Then, it’s back in the car or huddle under a porch while trying to keep the distance.
To some degree, rural socialising has always involved wellies and waterproofs– the standard walking wardrobe when you only have trees to shelter under. What’s interesting is observing these trends bloom in the city. In the 80s, Barbours and Dubarry boots bled into west London, blurring country and town. Their practicality is undeniable, their elegance less so. Mostly though, city people dress for the office and take a brolly in case. But a brolly is a temporary measure, lasting only until the next open door, be that pub, museum or shop. Without their shelter a proper cagoule is a must.
On the plus side, furloughed friends have reported a boost in step-count as they’ve had time to explore their areas more. Many still working have taken up cycling to avoid public transport. In March, going out for a walk felt a bit Soviet – restricted, but good for public health. Now covering long distances by foot or bike is the norm.
The fashion world is scoping out whether people will continue wearing inactive activewear after lockdown. Merging fashion with sportswear is nothing new of course. Comfy, practical clothes have seen a boom in sales, but what about the really outdoorsy stuff? Put keywords hiking or cagoule into fashion search engine Tagwalk and you’ll get few results. Strange, because some of the most iconic pieces have been waterproof: Paddington bear’s mackintosh, Jeremy Fisher’s galoshes, your anorak-clad geography teacher measuring footpath erosion.
I asked former Dazed stylist, Met Kilinc, if he could see hiking-chic integrated or if it will remain in specialist sports and camping shops. We spoke about the many collaborations designers do with utilitarian brands, such as Martine Rose’s menswear jackets for North Face. Camping-chic has likewise been brought to life by Glastonbury withdrawal symptoms – designer Bradley Sharpe recently made a whole range of tent dresses. A few years ago, everyone was wearing the Napapijri Skidoo anorak, with the iconic Norwegian flag pasted on the front. Even Prada has gone for gabardine. The appeal lies in the unisex of waterproof: the need to stay dry is unanimous.
But as he said, ‘whether we will see more of this mountaineering wear appearing on catwalks is unlikely.’ Gorpcore, a phrase coined in 2017 to describe New Yorkers’ penchant for wearing Patagonia fleeces and ponchos, has had its big moment. ‘Instead, there is a lot of extravagant design around because when this is over, people will want to wear crazy stuff again.’
There’s certainly an argument for this. A parent facetimed me last week in a state of excitement: he was donning a suit for the first time in months, to conduct an interview with a VE veteran for the Parish mag. The rest of his time is spent in gardening gear and a fleece. I too long to wear ‘the crazy stuff’ again.
City and countryside alike do feel more hostile when you’re limited to the outdoors. If you’ve been camping, you’ll recognise this feeling and know that small comforts become more important. Best of all after a hike is a pub with hot water and an indoor meal. The same goes for lockdown – a takeaway coffee commands such pomp and ceremony now, a takeaway pint even more so. Pubs are now open, giving us access once more to their warm recesses and lively atmosphere. It’s these little things we will appreciate the most. That, and not carrying our cagoules everywhere.