Im not sure when the clothes I prefer to wear became known as lifestyle apparel. How did clothes best suited for hiking, backpacking, paddling and sitting by a campfire come to define a lifestyle?
Over time my wardrobe has evolved from distinct and separate clothes for a professional career and leisure time, to a collection that can no longer be so easily categorized.
I spent the first part of my professional life working in advertising. In the early 90s, the professional uniform in that industry was Hugo Boss double-breasted suits, crisply starched dress shirts and colorful ties. My own personal fashion touch included braces (suspenders for the non-GQ reader). I enjoyed my job but hated the wardrobe. Barely an hour into my working day, the knot of the tie was pulled down, the top button loosened and shirtsleeves rolled up.
When designing advertising campaigns spilled over to the weekend, comfort trumped fashion every time. Starched shirts were replaced with a Patagonia Synchilla fleece. Pleated and cuffed dress pants and wing tips were replaced by time-faded Levis and Vasque hiking boots.
As the 90s came to a close, the concept of “Casual Friday” found its way into the business world. The suits stayed in the closet the last day of the work week and people started coming to work in their weekend hiking apparel.
Once established, it became increasingly difficult for many managers to hold the line on just one casual day a week. When corporate executives realized that productivity wasnt necessarily tied to workforce attire, the era of the suit came to an abrupt end. Personal budgets allocated for pinstripes quickly shifted to base layers, technical vests and pants with enough pockets to carry every possible accessory.
Outdoor brands that once focused solely on technical apparel leaped at the opportunity to provide their customers with base layers, shirts, pants and light shells to wear on the way to their outdoor endeavors. Outdoor enthusiasts started wearing this well-designed, feature-rich and comfortable apparel every day, not just on Saturday adventures.
Outdoor specialty retailers-who can recite the performance features of technical fabrics such as Gore-Tex, eVent or Thinsulate in their sleep-now find themselves learning how to predict fashion trends, dress manikins and experiment with ways to present clothes to their customers. The skills required to profitably sell apparel now include staying current with competitors like The Gap, Banana Republic and Anthropologie, and understanding the importance of displaying garments in consumer-friendly ways, rather than cramming chrome racks with as many pieces as possible.
Although some research points to falling participation rates for select outdoor activities, the opportunity to outfit people with outdoor “lifestyle” products has never been greater. One retailer who has successfully expanded apparel sales notes that, instead of visiting infrequently to purchase a tent or sleeping bag, his customers now come in several times a month to add a new piece of clothing to their wardrobe. Vendors continue to address that need with apparel that combines technical fabrics with fashion aesthetics.
Today, outdoor lifestyle apparel gives specialty retailers another way to attract customers, build loyalty and develop a long-term revenue stream. Once established as the retailer-of-choice for apparel, where is that consumer going to look when purchasing a tent, canoe or camp stove?
Personally, Im glad my preferred clothes have reached the status of lifestyle apparel. The outdoor industry has created a new uniform for the working world. Once we get people to wear the clothes, getting them outside to camp, hike, paddle and climb cant be far behind.