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Style Starters – Hard Techwear

It’s no secret that techwear has skyrocketed in popularity over the past 5-10 years. It’s been creeping up for a while now, but the trend of people satirically filming themselves in the shower wearing their Arc’teryx jackets on TikTok served as a clear indicator that techwear had finally busted out of the alpine and into the fashion sphere.

We all own a piece of techwear. Most of us have a waterproof jacket or some Gore-Tex boots which served us well for wet dog walks or a drizzly hike. But the new wave of techwear popularity isn’t really fueled by functionality, it’s fueled by fashion—fashion intrinsically linked to people’s ever-growing desire to look like they know what they’re doing in the outdoors. Outdoor apparel has now erupted from its frumpy, functional chrysalis into a mythical butterfly that almost every fashion designer is trying to catch.

In this installment of our Style Starter series, we’re going to take a look at techwear, the brands that make it tick, and the key elements of the contemporary techwear look.

Historical Context

An image from Operation Market Garden in 1944, via Holland

Humans have been making clothing to battle the elements since the dawn of man, but the history of the kind of technical clothing we’re talking about today starts with the invention of the first synthetic fibers.

We didn’t have anything imbued with technical prowess until the invention of nylon at the dawn of World War II. Chemical giant DuPont patented nylon in 1938 after over a decade of tinkering with the polymerization of organic compounds to create the world’s first synthetic fiber and its artificial properties outperformed a lot of natural materials during technical applications (tear strength, weight, water-resistance, drying time, etc.). Nylon was a revolution, and soon it was everywhere, from toothbrushes to tarps to parachutes.

Another landmark in synthetic fibers was polyester, which ironically was actually discovered before nylon. American Scientist Wallace Carothers was working for DuPont in the mid-1920s when he discovered that alcohols and carboxyl acids could be successfully combined to form fibers, but he was ordered to shelve this project as DuPont was hellbent on perfecting its nylon formula.


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