A Gorpcore Fashionista in Tokyo

This fashion season, outdoor clothing labels take a turn on the catwalk

Climbing Mount Fuji, or On the Commute? Puffie from Ternua; hardshell by The North Face; watch cap by 66 North.

My long-time haute couture has become au courant!

Midweek, early spring. A rain day, too soon in the season for a typhoon, but still a tempest of wind and rain lashes our bedroom window in suburban Tokyo. I’d really rather stay under the futon, but duty calls…

It’s going to be a long walk to the station.

Fortunately, I have the right clothes for the job. After half a lifetime of cherry-picking outlet shops, bargain bins, and clearance sales, I have a closet full of premium, high-tech, performance-enhancing apparel. The latest miracle fibers. Quick-dry Wickron™ for Tokyo’s tropical summer heat and humidity. Capilene® and Merino wool for the pre-dawn cool of spring and autumn. Polartec® and Thinsulate™ puffies for winter’s bright, dry days and chilly nights. WINDSTOPPER® fleece and GORE-TEX® shells for wind- and rain-lashed typhoon season.

Until recently, sporting such recreational gear on a workday earned me sideways glances from fellow commuters.

Then, a couple of winters ago, a sea-change rippled through the dour, dark blues and browns and greys, the occasional bursts of tan among my fellow commuters.

Suddenly, Canada Goose parkas appeared on my pre-dawn winter commute, along with Fjällräven’s quirky canvas Kånken daypacks. Followed by Under Armour and hipster updates to cammo pattern army surplus .

Next came bright layers and shells from brand names already familiar on Japan’s mountain trails. Ternua; Arctyrex; Mammut; Columbia; The North Face; the homegrown label Montbell, and of course Patagucci — I mean Patagonia :-).

Now, according to a recent Outside story, specialized outdoor gear and clothing has caught on with the fashion cognoscenti. In “Fashion, Keep Your Hands Off Our Gear,” Marc Perruzi laments the fate of his favourite brands sucked into the “pop-culture vomitorium.”

Turns out, according to the taste-makers at Vogue and elsewhere, outdoor performance wear has become all the rage on the catwalks of high fashion. It’s all part of a larger trend called “gorpcore.” The term combines gorp, which means “good old raisins and peanuts,” and normcore, which the Urban Dictionary defines as “post-ironic anti-fashion.”

“Gorpcore posits the hypothesis nothing’s more stylish than clothes that aren’t stylish at all. It’s about utility and function. Remember these are clothes originally designed for activities that are inherently functional such as snow-shoeing to your neighbours in sub-zero temperatures to get a cup of sugar or chopping wood to make fire,” Susannah Tucker, senior editor at online retailer ASOS told Vogue magazine.

Apparently, it all started right here in Japan, with male fashion magazine Popeye: The Magazine for City Boys.

There’s also the yama gyaru “mountain girl” phenomenon of the last few years. Trendy Harajuku girls head into the woods for a little shinrin-yoku forest therapy (another recent trend started here in Japan :-)).

It’s nice, I suppose, that models, celebs, and other slaves to fashion can enjoy the latest advances in miracle fibers. Just so long they don’t get between me and the bargain bin at my local outdoor gear shop.

I have been investing in name-brand outdoor clothing for the last couple of decades. Ever since I graduated from the denim, leather, and army surplus of my first urban and backcountry explorations. And into the travel-friendly, wrinkle- and stain-resistant togs befitting a world traveler and expat who found himself in the wilds of northernmost Japan.

But it’s about more than just facilitating an active-not-athletic lifestyle. Though new miracle fibers continue to emerge (hello, PlumaFill!), this stuff is made to last. I’ve got layers from 20 years ago and more. Fleece socks. Capilene tops and bottoms. AWindstopper jacket my wife and I have shared for over a decade. The wool sweater I borrowed from a friend 25 years ago…

So, sure, these brands cost a premium. They don’t call it Patagucci for nothing :-). But they also add to qualify of life on the trains and in the mountains.

So whether it’s Vibram approach shoes or stankproof base layers, I’m better prepared for whatever this overseas adventure might throw my way. Jammed commuter trains. Typhoons. “The Big One” earthquake which will turn Tokyo into the seismic equivalent of a post-apocalyptic, Hunger Games-esque, zombie apocalypse.

And if The Big One doesn’t strike, my quality of life still benefits from all the swag. The quick-dry, stink-defying, sweat-wicking base layers, and the bombproof wind- and waterproof outers, hanging in my locker.

Meantime, I’ll ride the rails into the city. Trek the vertiginous mountains and volcanoes of the Japan Alps. Board off-piste in Hokkaido’s champagne pow-pow. Plash tropical beaches on desert isles.

Now if only someone comes up with a stylish hayfever mask for the cedar pollen which, like sakura cherry blossoms, herald spring in the city…