Analysis: Canada Goose, North Face, Arc'teryx and other brands are reaping the benefits of our fondness for high-end outdoor coats and jackets

By Michael O'Connor and Dee DuffyTU Dublin

Picture a young, upwardly mobile professional making an urban pilgrimage back to their studio apartment, oat milk flat white coffee in-hand. They are wearing an inordinately expensive piece of outerwear better suited to contending with treacherous, sub-zero Antarctic conditions than navigating one's way home from their neighbourhood coffee shop.

This scene is no longer particularly noteworthy in 2021, as city dwellers from all socio-economic backgrounds embrace the Gorpcore craze. A growing utilitarian, functional clothing trend, the name originates from the colloquial term for trail mix (Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts) and is a style that revolves around outdoors-inspired clothing. Whether it’s the North Face Nuptse puffer jacket (2020’s hottest fashion item), a camping-chic Patagonia fleece or the Instagram-ubiquitous Arc'teryx jacket, it’s clear that outdoor-specific clothing, designed to brave the elements, has been adopted by more than just hikers. 

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Life during a global pandemic, devoid of regular social scheduling and nightlife, doesn’t lend itself to frivolous trend-oriented fashion purchases. The market for loungewear, the new indoor uniform, has experienced considerable lockdown-induced growth. Yoga pants and sweatsuits have become default Zoom call attire. Without the need for "going out clothes," where else should consumers focus their attention?

Enter outerwear. The perfect replacement to add to your online shopping cart, garments that can still be flaunted during one’s daily 5km radius walk or coffee run. This reinterpretation of the term "going out" and how we consume clothing repositions a statement functional parka as the new Little Black Dress.

Perhaps Irish shoppers have finally accepted that we live in a temperate Oceanic climate prone to changeable weather and abundant rainfall and are beginning to dress accordingly? One would hope that the all-too-familiar sight of a mangled, disposable umbrella, abandoned in public is an image of times past.

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If there were any doubts about the popularity of the outerwear trend, Canada Goose's new flagship store on Grafton Street serves as a tangible representation of Gorpcore’s prevalence right now. At a time when other high street brands are closing or clinging on by a thread, Canada Goose is having a moment. The brand’s success, despite its inaccessible price point, is remarkable and further reiterates the current appetite for expensive specialised outerwear rather than cheap, on-trend high street equivalents without the functionality.

Advanced, technical outerwear often contains a plethora of protective features from rainproof Gore-Tex exteriors to windproof shells and inbuilt tech such as face masks. This notion of clothing as armour has led to the term War-core being coined, an idea which feels particularly pertinent at this moment. The desire for protective clothing amid current global uncertainty could be linked to people’s innate instinct to protect themselves.

For many, protective outerwear could be interpreted as a sartorial combatant for these unprecedented times, an everyday full-body PPE of sorts. In addition to this, and in a more literal sense, a more functional approach to dressing could be viewed as a direct response to our rapidly changing climate characterised globally by bush fires, melting ice caps and an increased frequency of flooding. For some, though, this move towards technical outerwear is likely an ode to conspicuous consumption. It enhances one’s perceived social status through obtaining luxury goods and becoming a walking status symbol by draping oneself in a name-brand designer jacket.

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The trend is evident across all ages and infiltrates different demographics through varying cultural points of contact. The provenance of technical outerwear amongst Gen-Z and millennials at present might be attributed to the popularity of grime music, and its associated aesthetic. This is an inverse example of Veblen’s trickle-down theory, the phenomenon whereby fashion worn by the upper class or seen on the runway is imitated by the general public.

In this instance, grime’s uniform, rooted in streetwear, "trickle’s up" and is celebrated by the mainstream. Luxury brands are queuing up to collaborate with outdoor clothing behemoths in order to capitalise on the Gorpcore craze - see Gucci’s recent wildly popular collaboration with The North Face or the Moncler Genius Project.

Gorpcore signals a newfound common-sense approach to dressing, one that's more sustainable and conducive to the new normal

Lyst’s Index for 2020’s fourth-quarter "hottest fashion items" definitively demonstrates the emergence of the trend with a staggering six out of 10 entries on the menswear list falling into the technical outerwear category. Despite its associated prohibitive price point, Gorpcore prioritises substance over style, which is rare in fashion. Gorpcore promotes investing in key functional pieces of clothing over endless frivolous fashion purchases.

All things considered, Gorpcore signals a newfound common-sense approach to dressing, one that’s more sustainable and conducive to the new normal. Gorpcore advocates for a utopian future, one (hopefully) bereft of discarded €2 umbrellas strewn across Grafton Street on a wet afternoon.

Michael O'Connor is a fashion buying and management graduate from TU Dublin. He works as a freelance fashion stylist and runs Fun Guys Run ClubDr Dee Duffy lectures in consumer and society studies at TU Dublin. She is Programme Chair on the Masters in Fashion Buying & Management at TU Dublin's School of Retail and Services Management.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ