Together for tomorrow


Fashion prepares for a climate changed future

by | Oct 4, 2023

“Dressing for the apocalypse” has become only half-jest. A wardrobe built to cope in a world of record breaking temperatures, increased flooding or more unexpected icy cold snaps and fierce winds has become a modern survival necessity. Designers are adapting with a range of interventions from new fabric technologies, altered approaches in their designing and styling, and doing away with fashion collections that have been tied to traditional seasonal ranges and runway calendars.

Fabric technologies have for some years already seen high performance gear become part of everyday clothes. Down jackets for instance, used to be the preserve of hikers and outdoor adventure types who didn’t care too much about essentially being wrapped in a sleeping bag if it meant comfort, warmth and wind protection in a lightweight package.

Designers have been able to transform this workhorse outdoor garment for an everyday wearer by making it even more compact and adding style elements for more aesthetic appeal. Jackets have improved “down fill power”. This rates the “compressibility” of a garment – how much it can be squished but still be fluffed up again. High fill power makes down jackets effective at keeping the wearer warm and makes them suitable not just for stashing into a rucksack but into an urbanite’s laptop bag too. The marketing behind down also pushes the line of “ethically sourced” to quell the consciousness of the moment. The punt is that water birds, whose down feathers are used in these garments, are not force fed or live picked. They are slaughtered for meat and their down collected after death.

The down garments’ aesthetic appeal has been lifted by introducing cuts like slim fit styling, trench-style designs and printed patterning and washes. There are ombré shades and florals and brand signatures including Tommy Hilfiger’s colour-block down jackets and Pucci’s kaleidoscopic patterns. There have also been high-profile collaborations, including performance apparel brand North Face teaming up with lux brand Gucci and previously also with Japanese high-end cult label Sacai for limited edition ranges.

North Face x Gucci 2021

When it comes to keeping cool in blistering heat, fabrics now have UPF (Ultraviolent Protection) ratings, odour control technology, moisture wicking and wrinkle free technologies. The idea remains to bridge style, comfort and functionality. The target has been to raise the game for the still enduring athleisure trend. The work from home new normal gave rise to the likes of yoga pants as gym kit doubling as outfit for the school run and coffee dates. Designers have exploited this demand with offerings like the reloaded exercise dresses. These dresses are made with high-performance material for temperature regulation, odour control and moisture wicking. They also have versatility with built-in shorts and bras and are marketed with new styling and colours and being sold as what you can wear for a paddle ball knock then team up with a blazer for a day’s work in the office.

But even with innovation and engineering of materials the standout fabrics come down to natural fibres as champions. The three stars being linen, cotton and wool. Linen and cotton can be weaved to allow for heat to escape, helping to regulate body temperature. Linen, derived from the flax plant, is “breathable”, which means air can circulate between the fibres. Cotton is also breathable, lightweight and soft. It’s also effective to soak up sweat so heat can escape and the skin feels cooler.

In layers, cotton can also be effective for retaining heat. Layering with enough air circulation – so loose fitting – is important for airflow and trapping heat to help the body stay warm.

Wool meanwhile, may be the outperformer of the three. Wool can keep you comfortable in both warm and cool conditions due to its thermoregulatory qualities. By spinning wool into superfine microns it becomes a lightweight fabric that is sought after for comfort and its wrinkle-free and draping properties. Wool has UV radiation absorbing properties, is moisture wicking with its sponge-like fibres and has odour control properties.

Added to the fabrics and materials as buffers for extreme weather dressing are new style aesthetics. Designers have picked on the mood around climate doom and climate anxiety. Some designers have gone full Mad Max and dystopia in their creative expression. The trend is typified by architectural layering, muted and neutral tones also an emphasis on deconstruction, cutting, patching, thrifting and repurposing. It’s what made the #avanteapocalyse hashtag trend on the socials and continues to be driven by proponents like Rick Owens and Yohij Yamamoto.

Rick Owens Fashion show in Venice, Ready to Wear Collection Spring Summer 2021. Photo by Valerio Mezzanotti

It’s filtered down to the everyday extreme weather wardrobes as looser-fitting styles, versatility like dresses with wide sleeves that can be paired with heels, sneakers even rain boots. There’s an emphasis on designing for gender neutrality and taking inspiration from street culture. Think skirts for men, as Brad Pitt quipped about “breeze” for his choice of brown linen skirt at the premiere of “Bullet Train”. New lightweight hoodies, a streetwear staple, is a versatile go-to for warmth, including head protection on cold days but also ideal for hot days as sun protection, moisture wicking and coping with switching from blazing outdoors then stepping into indoor environments with air-cons on full blast.

Another key impact on dressing for new weather extremes has come from the shift away from seasonal fashion collections in recent years. Fashion houses emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic with new reckonings. There were the massive disruptions in supply chains, change in clothes shopping patterns and a new reflection of a world desperate for a slower pace. It became obvious that the treadmill of seasonal collections is toxic.

It’s positively given rise to more season-less design. Season-less fashion means clothing designed and made to be worn for weather variability, styled to be suitable for greater parts of the year and to be easily paired with a few other items in a wardrobe that is smaller, more adaptable and durable.

Innovators and designers are giving us clues to what we will wear in our changed world. What we do know is that weather extremes are a promise, also a wake-up call. Our wardrobes will have to adapt with the recognition that less is more; that sustainability, versatility, durability beats out fads; and the spirit of human creativity, collective action and problem solving can still be bang on trend.

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