I’ve always liked being outside (though, full-disclosure, I’ve always liked being inside, too) and while I’m usually game to walk to a nice spot in the woods to read a book or laze on the banks of a river all day, I’m not one to see the great outdoors as my venue to push myself. I have no problem if you want to take a 10-mile hike up a mountain with a heavy backpack, eat lunch for ten minutes at the peak, and then race down before dark. I probably wouldn’t join you, opting instead to wait behind on a soft reading spot beneath an interesting-looking tree that also happens to be where I grew tired of walking.
Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who loves not doing anything. Hyperproductivity is our society’s most marketable personal quality, and thanks to the gradual human-driven destruction of our planet, so-called leisure activities have taken on an apocalyptic urgency. Every ad featuring high-socked hikers in a picturesque wilderness has a sinister undertone to me, as if it’s saying enjoy this while you can because soon it’ll be reduced to dust one way or another. Considering the ecological and political state of the world, it’s not an altogether harmful attitude to hold. But as someone who is somewhat of a connoisseur of lazily enjoying one’s self, I couldn’t help but be turned off to the trail-mix and granola aesthetic that came along with the fashions I encountered when I moved to liberal enclaves in the Pacific Northwest.
The easily mix-and-matchable outdoor brands like Patagonia, Columbia Sportswear, Arcteryx, and Poler Stuff are the uniform for people who go outside to not just be, but do. Their garment staples are comprised of multicolored, high-performance fleeces and flannels, shiny quilted down jackets, pants and coats that swish, all subtly stamped with their status symbol bearing logos. Teva sandals and Danner boots in my adulthood came to replace the Ugg boots and Timbs that were ubiquitous to my East Coast upbringing. My walks through some of the downtown areas of America’s outdoorsier cities — like Portland, Seattle, and Missoula — put me face to face with a high number of people that looked like they were on their way to or from a camping trip. With the 2017 spread of Gorpcore, the name fashion insiders have given the now-national outdoors apparel trend, the look is inescapable. Suddenly people everywhere look like they just stepped out of an REI ad, even if they live in the middle of a sprawling metropolis.
Having first moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2008, I’ve been avoiding Gorpcore fashions for nearly a decade. The anonymously active styles never suited me and weren’t at all in line with my vision of myself. I am not an outdoorsy person. Why in the world would I ever invest in a moisture-wicking base layer when the most outdoor adventurous part of my day was riding my bike to work or running to catch the bus? But since I moved to Montana several months ago, I’ve found more and more crunchy granola staples creeping into my wardrobe that is otherwise tailored to sitting around.
My family members gave me gifts of sturdy, Gore-Tex boots, thick fleeces, and yes, moisture-wicking base layers to help me survive in a state supposedly more wild and rugged than I had ever known. And now, within a matter of months, my wardrobe has gone through some subtle changes. My shoe collection now includes some stylin’ Tevas and Keens. I’ve got a Pendleton hat that would make any Man of the Woods envious. And there are at least two items in my closet that bear the most elitist outdoors brand name of them all: Patagonia (often referred to as Patagucci for Gorpcorers in the know). I wouldn’t say I’m making batches of trail mix just yet, but there’s definitely something outdoorsier about my wardrobe. What hasn’t changed, however, is I’m inside just as much if not more than when granola style began filtering into my sartorial choices.
Turns out, specialized outdoorswear marketed as being able to carry you through any activity are great for doing nothing. Thermal leggings are just the thing for rolling out of bed and walking two feet to the kitchen. Fleeces carefully designed for maximum utility on hiking trails work perfectly for storing snacks as you shift your position on the couch. And those puffy, shiny jackets I always thought were ugly make great travel pillows after wearing them into an airport, subway station, or similarly urban transportation mecca. Laziness is an activity that can be done in any sort of outfit. At the same time, clothing made for lunging, jumping, bending, and stretching is also great for the kind of sprawling, rolling, and leisurely walking that comes along with a day spent binging a TV series, listening to music, looking at clouds, or reading an interesting new book.
There was something wonderfully perverse about using outdoors activewear for indoors leisure activities, especially for someone as decidedly hiking-averse as myself, but the adaptability of pricey Gorpcore apparel to an easy-going lifestyle was exactly what I needed to realize the connections between the facade of outdoors domination and the reality couch-stationed lethargy. I am by no means rich, but there’s an immense privilege in having the time and ability to lounge that allows watching an entire series of a TV show in one Saturday. That privilege somewhat mirrors that which offers the time, ability, and money to romp around to exhaustion in the outdoors. Barriers to entry for the type of lifestyle touted in Patagonia catalogues include the costs of transportation, entrance, gear, and education as well as cultural legacies that preserve the outdoors as a place of labor for many communities of color and one of respite for upper class white people. Still, I am what I am, and wearing those clothes while doing nothing makes me feel more powerful and alive than any bushwacking trek to the top of an icy cliff ever could. That’s my declaration of authenticity, just like the outdoorsy types: I need this high-performance fleece to sit on my ass, because that’s what luxury is all about.