Hiking: 2018's peak fashion trend
How hiking has scaled the fashion pyramid
Words— Marc Richardson
Photography— Catherine Beauchamp and François-Xavier Tétreault
Fashion is, by definition, predicated on trends and an appropriation of various aesthetics that are associated with lifestyles, places, or even people. Take, for example, skateboarding which is — along with camouflage — the perpetual trend. It never really goes out of style, is constantly evolving and fashion labels continue to find new ways to riff on the looks popularized by brands with direct ties to the scene. But, inevitably, even skateboarding’s popularity and influence as a trend ebbs and flows. As some of the more recent trends have waned — skateboarding’s ubiquity, graphics-driven streetwear, techwear, hashtag-menswear — a new aesthetic has begun spreading within the industry: hiking.
As with most trends, hiking’s emergence has to do not only with the associated aesthetic’s inherent stylistic appeal but also with what came before it. In this case, the last few years have been defined by an increasingly democratized fashion landscape that saw streetwear emerge as a veritable force over the last two to three years. From there, a niche subculture known as normcore came to the fore. Normcore was, in a sense, fashionable anti-fashion; acolytes appropriated brands and pieces that were commonplace or even mocked and turned them into ironic statement pieces. New Balance’s 990 silhouette was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the movement’s early days.
The overall aesthetic is essentially a hybrid between normcore and techwear, two of the more dominant stylistic subcultures in recent years.
But, as normcore moved from a niche aesthetic to a more saturated and mainstream style, niche movements within normcore emerged — think dad core. It was within that context that brands like Patagonia and The North Face, foundational labels within the wardrobes of “normal” people, emerged as fashion stalwarts circa 2016. The common refrain when TNF puffers and Patagonia fleece started appearing in magazine spreads, at fashion shows, and on the backs of the cool kids was something along the lines of “Oh ha ha, that’s so funny/nostalgic/ironic!” People started rummaging through their old clothes and through their parents' closets and, if they couldn’t find something fit for the great outdoors, they went out to buy a new Patagonia pullover instead. Slowly but surely, the two iconic outerwear brands —TNF and Patagonia — started popping up everywhere.
Throughout 2016 it seemed like their rise was another niche trend that was set to percolate just beneath the mainstream until it inevitably faded from our collective memory. But, then, sneakers started taking on a decidedly outdoorsy look and it was more than just the two mountaineering brands that were trending. Brands like Salomon were suddenly being tapped by the likes of Boris Bidjan Saberi, a dark fashion label, and The Broken Arm, an über directional retailer in Paris, for collaborations. Rather curiously at the time, they weren’t asking Salomon to diverge from the brand’s utilitarian-driven outdoor DNA; rather, that was the cachet that they wanted Salomon to bring to the table.
By the time 2017 rolled around, adidas, too, was playing its hiking cards. It had brought back outdoor-ready silhouettes from the ‘90s like the SeeULater and was teasing new hiking shoes designed for everyday wear, like the F22 ATRIC. Even the brand’s collaboration with Pharrell Williams, which is always sure to generate hype and capable of sparking a trend on its own, veered towards the outdoors and mountaineering for Fall-Winter 2017. Words like “CLOUDS” and “BREATHE” were emblazoned on sneakers and the clothing collection consisted of hiking-ready pants, shorts, jackets, and T-shirts. It was a big co-sign.
But, somehow, Nike has managed to give the trend an even bigger endorsement in 2018. The Swoosh shuttered the current iteration of its All Conditions Gear — ACG for the cool kids — line. Under the stewardship of designer Errolson Hugh, ACG had been supremely profitable, offering customers relatively affordable urban techwear. Despite the success, though, Nike has chosen to steer ACG towards its original DNA, which was inspired by, and designed for, mountaineering, a life outdoors, hiking and trail running. The first hint of change came in October 2017, when Nike released a collaboration with Supreme centred on the Air Humara, a ‘90s hiking sneaker. While that was telling, the change in ACG’s direction has left little doubt that the brand sees the hiking aesthetic growing in the future.
It is really in 2018 that the hiking trend has morphed into a bona fide industry-wide movement. Acne, the Swedish label, has released sneakers for Fall-Winter 2018 that are heavily — if not directly — based on adidas hiking sneakers from the 1990s. Gucci, too, has infused its latest footwear with mountaineering details. The brand du jour, 1017 ALYX 9SM, and its designer, Matthew M. Williams, has even managed to infuse a certain amount of hiking-inspired utilitarianism into his urban techwear. The brand’s accessories, like the chest rig, and the most recognizable details, like buckles and straps, have their roots in mountaineering. Even KITH, arguably the most mainstream brand in streetwear — it is, after all, much more attainable than Supreme — released an entire collection of hiking-inspired gear, ranging from Oakley sunglasses to Columbia outerwear, with adidas Terrex hiking shoes sprinkled in for good measure. Love or hate the New York imprint, they are among the best at tapping into the fashion zeitgeist.
It isn’t just the pieces themselves that are drawn from hiking, but the colour palettes, as well; hues of purple, orange, yellow and green contrast earthy neutrals with increasing regularity. Layering, too, an integral part of the hiking look given its practicality, is popular again after taking a few seasons off when T-shirts and graphics-driven fashion was at its strongest.
The actual mountaineering brands that the high-end designer look too — Patagonia, Columbia, Oakley, The North Face and, to a lesser extent, Nike and adidas — are authentic brands that make an effort to preserve the spaces where their clothing and gear is used. They are environmentally-friendly brands that appealing to an increasingly conscious consumers grappling with global warming and the general deterioration of the outdoors. For millennial customers, the appeal lies there: they associate hiking and mountaineering with a wholesome approach to life and the world, where the unspoken motto — however cliché it is — is carpe diem. That’s where the aesthetic’s cachet is rooted, in the intangible aura that reverberates from layered hiking gear and aggressively soled sneakers, rather than the actual look itself.
Fashion has always fetishized aesthetics that are linked to a healthy lifestyle. The “goth ninja” tech wear wave that was at its strongest in recent years was inextricably linked to wellness, with acolytes looking at Rick Owens as a mentor both in style and in body. In that sense, it should come as little surprise that individuals and brands are turning to the outdoors for inspiration. The overall aesthetic is essentially a hybrid between normcore and techwear, two of the more dominant stylistic subcultures in recent years. It’s a more wholesome, pragmatic, and authentic take on the two movements; in other words: this was the next step.
Pairing a pair of hiking shorts with designer garb is the new norm, as is wearing a sneaker that is almost outlandishly over-equipped for everyday wear. And, if you’re still not sure that your wardrobe should be lined with pieces that you’d typically take on a camping trip, consider that Monocle’s fashion feature for June 2018 was on the “hottest Norwegian hikers” and their effortlessly cool hiking shorts that fit in on mountain ranges and Scandinavian streets alike.
Like it or not, hiking has climbed the fashion pyramid and looks set to reign supreme… at least until the next activity and/or era comes along to knock it off its perch.
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