Since when has fleece been cool? Like many of the current trends permeating fashion (ugly trainers spring to mind), you probably wouldn’t have been seen dead wearing fleece just a few years ago. Now, it’s everywhere. Once reserved for hikers, bird watchers and teachers on school trips, fleece is today just as likely to be seen on streetwear kids as it is in the après-ski lodge. Naturally, it’s incredibly warm and works as a layering piece come winter. Oh, and it’s possible for it to look good too.
What Is Fleece?
The greatest appeal of fleece has always been its warmth, despite being incredibly light in weight. An entirely man-made fabric, it’s derived from plastic – polyester fibres are woven tightly together and then brushed to create a pile-like surface. Not only does this give it a soft, textured feel, it also helps with fleece’s heat-retention and moisture-resistance – air pockets are trapped between the fibres meaning the heat generated by your body stays put. This is why fleece has always been popular in the great outdoors. In fact, that trusty American wilderness brand that everyone’s now wearing, Patagonia, was behind the creation of fleece back in the 80s. The idea was to improve on wool – nature’s best, sure, but often itchy and incredibly heavy when wet. Patagonia’s fleece, dubbed Synchilla, was an immediate hit and would become sustainable in 1993, when the brand started producing it out of plastic bottles. (It’s worth noting that not all fleece is made from recycled materials though – some require the use of raw petroleum and arguably all release micro-plastics when washed, which can ultimately end up in the world’s oceans.)
How To Wear Fleece
Fleece has seen a sharp incline in popularity, but why are people flocking to it? Much of its current appeal can be attributed to the nineties revival and the general feeling of nostalgia surrounding it. Light-wash jeans, chunky trainers, colour-blocked anoraks and fleece – they’ve all had big years and they all stem from that decade. It’s fleece’s compatibility with a wide range of outfits that appeals most today though. Yes, it was born on the walking trail, but it’s also at home on the street. Olie Arnold, Mr Porter style director hints at its versatility: “Fleece jackets are perfectly suited to the current outerwear trend and are easily incorporated into a streetwear look alongside tapered cargo trousers and hiking boots. Alternatively, layer your fleece over a winter-weight shirt with your favourite pair of slim-fit jeans or chinos for a relaxed weekend look.”
To understand just how far fleece has come, head to Savile Row. Brands such as Gieves & Hawkes, tailors famous for their bespoke suits, are now proprietors of the furry style, too. “The idea came from the commuters on my train really,” says Gieves brand creative director John Harrison. “The fleece was worn with a formal trouser and shirt, but no jacket. I thought a GH fleece would be a great intermediate item. It can be dressed up a bit but mainly it is a warm layer, on its own or under a lighter coat.”
A fleece jacket is a great way of injecting a playful dash of colour into a look. There are many pattered examples available but our favourites adopt a ski-inspired look with colour blocking. Look for fleece panels in contrasting shades – blue and red is a good shout – and pair with neutral chinos or pale jeans and Converse for an easy off-duty look.
Oversized silhouettes are dominating outerwear offerings at the moment, and fleece jackets are no exception. Look for something collared – an overshirt, perhaps – and layer over a hoodie. You’ll get all the warmth of a larger coat yet no bulk – perfect for transitional weather. For ultimate comfort go for tapered joggers and a pair of runners down below.
As A Vest
When a full jacket is too much a fleece vest is a good option. You’ll get all the fibre’s warmth on your mid-section but with added freedom of movement in the arms – think of it as a more playful take on the down gilet, which can make you look like an off-duty hedge funder.
One of the easiest ways of wearing fleece is as part of a minimal look. Pick a jacket in an inoffensive colour jacket and give it room to breathe by pairing it with simple pieces such as a white tee and navy chinos. Go for a classic zip-up pullover and let the fleece fabric work its magic in the cold.
With its voluminous proportions and tactile finish, fleece is arguably at its best when it’s a statement piece. The fabric is naturally a little showy, reminiscent as it is of sheepskin or fur, so embrace it. Go down the chunky route with a thick or slightly padded fleece jacket and say goodbye to the cold forever. Wear with equally robust staples such as corduroy trousers, a roll neck and white trainers and you’ll be onto a winner.
The Key Brands For Fleece
This is the grandaddy of all fleece jacket brands, and is perhaps the only one you need to invest in. Patagonia’s been dominating the game since its Snap-T pullover which dropped in 1985 and was made of the firm’s fabled Synchilla (synthetic chinchilla) fabric – it was the go-to choice for explorers of the era. Today the brand’s heritage translates to street appeal and all the details are still apparent in its latest creations – a buttoned chest pocket is perfect for storing a mobile phone.
An ideal entry point into fleece, Uniqlo is perfect if you want to sample the style yet don’t fancy spending big. Made from an incredibly soft polyester, the Japanese brand’s fleece jackets look great worn open over a graphic T-shirt and black jeans.
Pilgrim Surf + Supply
Pilgrim Surf + Supply is known for its quirky takes on menswear classics – expect a surprise pocket or unusual print here and there. The New York brand has applied this perspective on this fleece jacket, which is perhaps the ideal layering piece. Featuring a boxy fit and with two large patch pockets up front, think of it as a sort of waistcoat for casual dress. Wear under an overcoat or chore jacket and over a long sleeve T-shirt.
Engineered garments is one of those brands that does what it says on the tin. Its designers are obsessed with the technical details that go into clothing and much of its archive is based on functional workwear and military clothing.
So the fact that it does fleece should reassure you that the fabric is worth investing in in the first place. This fleece hoodie features a drawstring hood and the deep charcoal colour will go with anything.
It’s owned by ASICS these days but this Swedish brand has more than 100 years of Scandinavian heritage. Specialists in outdoor clothing (have you been to Sweden in the winter?), its gear is functional but a little more minimal and urban than a lot of mountaineering brands.
Better yet, one of the brand’s principles is to create durable clothes that don’t cost the earth.
The North Face
The North Face, like Patagonia, is one of the outdoors brands to have been adopted by city-dwelling hipsters more likely to be climbing the subway stairs than a mountain.
That means its designs combine elements-battling fabrics (including a recycled waterproof overlay on this fleece) with block colour designs that work just as well on a ramble to the farmer’s market.
If you’re after well-made wardrobe staples that’ll last for years, Mr Porter’s own brand Mr P is the place to go. Sourcing the world’s best fabrics and with top quality construction methods to boot, its clothes tend to be modern updates on the most wearable garments around. This take on the classic zip up fleece works for both weekend pursuits and streetwear styling and is of a higher build than most.
Polo Ralph Lauren
Whatever your personal style looks like, Ralph Lauren has probably got you covered. Its Polo line is best known for its preppy garments – think Oxford shirts, chinos, polos and in this case, fleece jackets. Hardly inconspicuous, this version is a celebration of America (of sorts) – wear it and look like you’ve just walked off an Ivy League university campus.
The beauty of fleece is that it can be utilised on a multitude of garment styles – from sportswear to workwear. Universal Works specialise in the latter, so it’s only right that its fleece jackets – such as this one – will pair with selvedge denim and corduroy. Wear it as you would a chore jacket – it’s just as practical and far more comfortable.
Billionaire Boys Club
An example of how colour blocking can work, Billionaire Boys Club often makes use of vibrant shades in its garments. As always with colour, it’s best to keep the rest of the outfit as muted as possible. As such, wear this fleece jacket with black jeans and Vans for a stylish take on weekend apparel.