They are synonymous with walking the dog, pottering about the garden and being a member of the National Trust. However, the fleece has recently had a haute upgrade. Last month, the actor Florence Pugh was pictured in a cream coloured zip-up fleece during the couture shows in Paris.
Pugh’s jacket had all the hallmarks of a traditional fleece – fuzzy faux shearling and pockets deep enough for a roll of poo bags – but the gold-tone zipper and exaggerated collar hinted that the fleece wasn’t made for taking the bins out. In fact, it is from the LVMH-owned French brand Patou and costs £890.
Recently, A-listers of all ages have begun to appropriate the outdoor staple. Gen Z models such as Kaia Gerber and Gigi Hadid wear them on trips to Erewhon, a cult, fancy LA grocery store, while on Instagram Gwyneth Paltrow has been modelling one from Goop, her own fashion line. At recent catwalk shows, including Chloé, Dior and Fendi, models were bundled up in cosy fleeces, while prices on the designer e-tailer site Net-a-Porter reach £5,500 for a hooded fleece from the Italian luxury brand Brunello Cucinelli.
The once humble fleece is now not so humble and on the high street the frenzy is equally in full swing. A spokesperson for John Lewis says online searches for fleeces have jumped eightfold year-on-year. Marks & Spencer’s latest GoodMove activewear range included a “trail” collection featuring several fleeces. Since launching in January it has sold more than 3,000 of the £45 fleeces.
But it is the “dad fleeces” from outdoor specialists such as Mountain Warehouse, Craghoppers and Berghaus that have suddenly become coveted among millennials and gen Z. Often found in the back of the car covered in dog hair, nowadays they are being worn to natty wine bars. Regatta, a British outdoors chain known for its no-frills fleeces, reports double-digit growth in the category. Free from flashy logos and sold in limited muted colours such as mossy greens and oatmeal, these fleeces are different from more “gorpcore” styles, which feature technical fabrics and utilitarian toggles.
Jessica Slinn, Regatta’s women’s lifestyle category manager, describes the fleece category as “ever evolving”. “The perception of a fleece has changed,” she says. “What was once an outdoor commodity has now become so much more. Anyone can wear a fleece and with such a wide range of designs from shape, colour, print and fabrics there’s something for everyone.”
But for all of the fleece’s associations with nature they are often made from polyester, a kind of plastic, usually derived from petroleum. There are brands such as Passenger and Patagonia that opt for recycled polyester. Experts also suggest using a Guppyfriend bag when washing fleeces to reduce the amount of microplastics released.
The great fleece upswing can be pegged to a wider outdoorsy trend that fashion brands have been quick to reorient themselves towards. Hiking and camping gear is now just as likely to be found on the front row as at the foot of a mountain.
For his debut show as creative director of Burberry last season, the Yorkshire-born designer Daniel Lee even set up camp. Inside a giant canopy guests sipped hot toddies as models in hiking boots weaved their way around them. Now it’s pitching up at Harrods.
To mark the department store’s 175th anniversary, Burberry is taking over the Knightsbridge store for February, transforming it into a luxury campground. Its windows have been draped in waterproof fabrics and ropes, while a “camping corner” features a “knight blue” checked tent (a motif introduced by Lee) selling Burberry hot-water bottles and slabs of Romney’s Kendal mint cake.
Meanwhile, in Chelsea, Anya Hindmarch has teamed up with Ordnance Survey on a pop-up shop. In addition to backpacks there are navigational tools from the geospatial experts, alongside piles of carabiner clips and tins of plasters.
Joel Moore, one of the founders of Common Ground, an outdoors group that organises hikes around the UK, sees fashion’s co-opting of fleece as mainly positive. “If it gets more people into the outdoors and enjoying all the activities that come with it then it’s good,” Moore says.
But he doesn’t “see the clothing as a trend. It might be fashionable now but I think the clothing and accessories will always have a place and a purpose in people’s wardrobes. Especially in England.”
Printed fleece, £45, M&S
Myla zip-through fleece, £158, Varley
Hot-water bottle, £290, Burberry for Harrods
Half-zip fleece, £15.55, Regatta
Blue fleece jacket, £70, Berghaus
Retro fleece, £210, Patagonia