The line between practical outdoor clothing and fashion has been blurred, muddied and disregarded. No, you can’t have both. You’re either climbing Mount Everest or you’re not. Strutting along a trendy pedestrianised city centre street, holding a cappuccino in one hand and tweeting a selfie with the other, is not an occasion when you need to dress like Sir Ernest Shackleton.
I will admit that I don’t understand the world of fashion, stylists or what’s ‘in’ or ‘out’ for any given season. However, I know that wearing tornado-proof insulated plateau boots and a snow-repellent moose hair windcheater for a simple trip to the local shop to buy the paper is completely unnecessary. It’s just showing off: ‘Hey look at me, I’m decked out and trussed up like a Himalayan goat herder, because you never know when I might need to break into a sprint and climb a peak or two.’ No, I doubt you ever will. The only ascent you’ll make is up into your SUV for the one minute drive back to your house from the newsagent.
There are a bewildering number of outdoor wear brands and they all suggest ruggedness, healthy lifestyles and fresh air: The North Face, Jack Wolfskin, Regatta, Lowe Alpine, and so on. The descriptions of their gear are even nuttier than the terms I made up earlier. One website has a jacket for sale (a measly 360 euro) that boasts ‘pit-zip vents, a technical powder skirt, and a wrist goggle cloth pocket, all in a retro-styled baffled design’. It is certainly baffling, that’s for sure. I’m baffled as to what any of it means. This is classic marketing word jumble: just mix around a few appropriate nouns and adjectives and you’re in business. I’m currently developing a windcheater which has a fleece-lined cyclone compressor, anti-discombobulating straps and a solar vector pancake.
But just because you wear the clothing doesn’t mean people will automatically think you’ve trekked to the Arctic with only one husky for a guide and a tin of sardines for nourishment. This sartorial delusion is becoming more and more widespread. A particularly fond habitat for the species is the local playground. Here, amid the swings and roundabouts, a creature known as the Superdad roams. He’s a father whose impressive displays of parenthood act as a warning to other fathers: this is my territory; I am the most super of Dads. While most fathers sit glumly on a tiny bench, contemplating the last time they had a decent night’s sleep and wondering if they’ll get home in time for the match, Superdad is in his element.
He’s leaping and bounding about, hollering and whooping and enjoying the playground more than the children themselves. He has a suspicious amount of energy, compared to the other beleaguered parents. One minute he’s on the climbing frame like a chimp on steroids, the next minute he’s flying along the zipline with a petrified child on his lap, clinging on for dear life. Annoyingly he’s shadowing his kids everywhere, loudly demonstrating just how super he is at solving disputes. ‘Okay now Fiachna, let this little girl have a go of the swing. That’s enough Florentine, this little wants to go on the slide.’ Okay, we get the message, you’re Kofi Annan of playground Dads, but maybe just let the kids sort themselves out and stop hovering?
And what is Superdad wearing? Outdoor gear of course. Just to rub it in. Just to make you feel completely inadequate he’s got the entire garb on: a lurid orange mesh-lined breathable jacket, some manner of waterproof pants, and high-traction pigskin trail boots. He could easily scale Croagh Patrick blindfolded, but the most altitude he’ll experience will be the summit of the four-foot high pirate ship in the toddler section. Meanwhile our pilgrimage to the playground is spoiled by his buffoonery.
I call it ‘ulterior motive fashion’: the wearer secretly wants you to think they’re a bit special because of the clothes they choose to wear. What’ll be the next trend in Ulterior Motive Fashion, dressing like a farmer because you want to give the impression you’re a man of the soil? Wearing a fireman’s outfit for a trip to the cinema? Dressing like a cowboy for your child’s parent-teacher meeting?
You wouldn’t wear a tuxedo unless you’re off to a black tie event or, like me, going to the local bottle bank, so why would you dress like an explorer if you’re only exploring the frozen food aisle in the nearby supermarket?