Feeling fleecy

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The switch from wool to fleece marks a new stage in my sartorial journey.

Squall jacketI have been having a bit of a splurge recently – probably my last for a while.

The reason is that over the past year, I have fast become a convert to outdoor and high-tech clothing, and so I decided to make an investment in a new capsule wardrobe.

It marks, in a way, a new stage of my life, I feel. It’s not that I have given up on style, but I do rather feel that fashion has largely given up on me, and I am now resolved to focus my budget on clothing that is more suited to my life. You know – the one I actually have rather than the one I’d like to have.

My everyday life contains few opportunities – or requirements – to dress up. Most people here live in jeans, wellies and fleece. I don’t need to be formal, as I once did, nor to impress anyone at work. I mostly spend my days doing housework, gardening, and writing cross-legged in a big old wing chair with my Macbook in my lap: this is not conducive to towering heels and pencil skirts: besides, most town clothing simply doesn’t stand up to country life.

I have an extensive collection of beautiful vintage clothing for the odd posh dinner or gallery opening I go to, but the rest of my time only requires that my garments be comfortable and practical not beautiful or sexy. And with December nearly upon us, warmth is once again my highest priority: it was three degrees at noon today, as I drove through the fog to my friend K’s.

Brought up, as I was, a complete snob about natural fabrics, for years I’ve eschewed acrylic, nylon and polyester in favour of wool, silk and cotton. But after many years of struggling to keep warm in winter with traditional merino and silk, the discovery last year of modern ski base layers in fleece and Climate Control wicking polyester fabrics was a revelation. Get into the 21st century, why don’t you? The newly fleece-clad DH and I spent the most comfortable winter ever, in indoor temperatures that were rarely above 14 degrees and certainly fell as low at 8 degrees in our glacial bedroom.

He was more experimental than I. Years of watching every penny we spend have made me reluctant to spend money on new clothing – nearly everything I own is second-hand (let’s call it vintage) – and I was gobsmacked when he spent over £30 on a fleece. A fleece, for God’s sake, I thought. A synthetic fabric…

I learned quickly, of course, what everyone else has doubtless known for bloody ages – that the good stuff has come on a long way from the pill-prone plastic shite I bought once and discarded in disgust 20 years ago. A crappy £4 fleece from Primark does just what it says on the tin, but a £35 microfleece from Berghaus is a different animal and it is to microfleeces that I am the biggest convert of all. They feel like suede; you can wear them over or under things, or even next to your skin; they come out of the washer almost dry; they wick the sweat right off you, and if you pay a little extra, they are very nicely styled and wear extremely well.

Such garments are made by firms that put the design and utility of the garment first, and the look of the thing second, and there is a quiet beauty in that: these garments are fit for purpose, unrestrictive and comfortable and are designed by the kind of people who actually wear them. They don’t ride up, or stretch, or scratch or itch. It is very pleasant to put on garments that are so well made (more than can be said of the offerings from the average UK high street store), and so reasonably priced at the same time – because gone for good are the days when I could splash out £400 on a cashmere sweater. 

Squall jackethoodieLands’ End is a label that is fast becoming a favourite: like Boden and Orvis, their clothes suit my casual life, and are both practical and pretty. When the DH ordered himself their Insulated Squall Parka, I quickly followed suit with a bright yellow one (but without the extra insulation). It is fantastic for walking the dog: lightweight, warm and windproof, and I practically glow in the dark – important in the fog and the half-light.

Thermacheck 200 parkaSince they had a sale on, I ordered a few other things too – the Squall Jacket (like the Parka but shorter) in Chambray Blue; a stretch fleece hoodie (the most useful garment, by far, I find, as I do suffer so terribly from cold ears); and fleece socks and gloves, so I could check out their Thermacheck 100 fleece in an accessory before buying a staple garment.

stretch fleece giletglovesNext up came a couple of fleece polos, a Heavenly Fleece scarf (I await with anticipation, as the French say); two fleece gilets and a Thermacheck 200 (ie: 200gsm) fleece parka. And if the idea of sports clothing makes you shudder, btw, the firm also does fleeces cut in conventional shapes such as cardigans and blazers, which give a more tailored look without the weight and restriction of wool. I’ve kept my palette to soft blues, greens and lilacs, as with such casual cuts and no applied detailing, using a flattering colour becomes more important than ever. 

blue Craghoppers fleeceMost of the outdoor clothing companies (and admittedly Land’s End is more of a fashion firm that sells outdoor clothing than an outdoor specialist like North Face) develop and sell their own patented fabrics or finishes, with names like WindCheck, Dri-Off, AT-Optic etc. How much of this you need, and how much you’re willing to pay for depends on your lifestyle. Personally, I haven’t yet felt the need to splash out the 100-quid plus level for North Face or Patagonia, as I don’t go hauling my arse up Ben Nevis, but I have lately progressed from Lands End to the slightly more specialist Craghoppers and Berghaus, which offer sun-protection fabrics and anti-mosquito fabrics, and for his birthday I bought the DH Craghopper’s Kiwi trousers because they have eight pockets and he is a pocketaholic.

So, we will see how we get on…

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