CULT ITEM: FLEECE
By Kasia Hastings, 7 December 2016
Perhaps the ultimate example of dadcore, the fleece has been the cosiest way to keep warm since the early 80s. It’s graced the shoulders of middle-aged men and streetwear aficionados alike, and fashion’s current 90s obsession has brought it right back into mode. Here’s how the fleece became a cult item.
A more practical alternative to traditional pile (essentially raised clumps of Alpaca or sheep’s wool), synthetic fleece was first invented in 1981 in a Massachusetts company called Malden Mills. Man-made fabrics like Nylon and Spandex had been infiltrating the manufacturing industry since the end of WWII but wool remained unrivalled in terms of everyday insulation. Enter Malden’s first fleece prototype, Polar Fleece, developed in partnership with mountaineering outfitter Patagonia.
First-class functionality (including water-resistance and a non-pill texture) made the fleece an instant hit with the amateur outdoors types and the sportswear world, with early incarnations picked up by top athletes all over the world. By the late 80s labels like Polo Sport, Helly Hansen and Tommy Hilfiger had created brightly coloured, oversized, logo-emblazoned cuts that quickly became a key part of the hip-hop aesthetic. During the 90s, fleeces hit mainstream America with sartorial stalwarts Old Navy and The Gap cladding college kids in comfy casual styles.
Fast-forward to 2016 and, while its popularity has wavered over the years, the fleece’s enduring practicality has earned it a loyal band of followers (including Barack Obama). They're now being joined by a new generation of streetwear fans tapping techy brands like The North Face and Nautica for a fleecy dose of dadcore. Fresh faces like Rocco Ritchie wear theirs with steezy skate pieces and big players like Kanye, Drake and Shia Labeouf have all been spotted repping rare vintage styles – like the 1985 Snap-T from the Patagonia archive.
More recent reincarnations from industry authorities Supreme, Stussy and Carhartt have helped cement the fleece’s cult item status among street-style insiders. And collabs like Lil Yachty and 90s favourite Nautica’s capsule collection, demonstrate its enduring cross-over appeal. Whether you wear it for its style cachet, or simply to keep warm, the fleece is a winter staple that's here to stay.