Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Great Outdoors


It's that time of year when London experiences a surge in the number of short term visitors. Tourists used to be easy to spot; garish casual clothes and a camera slung round the neck. Now they are just as easy to recognise, but they seem to take up so much more space.

Their uniform has become that of the great outdoors. Cargo pants with a  seemingly infinite number of pockets, weather-proof jackets in space -age materials ( and more pockets), a day sack overloaded with water bottles and technology, and trekking footwear that is at least twice the size of ordinary shoes.
I'm all for dressing appropriately for the conditions. And much of this gear is eminently suitable for striking out into the wilderness. But I am curious as to how this has become the chosen apparel for city visitors. When you see a group of them together they look like a gaggle of mature anthropologists on a field trip. 
I guess it may be due to all those headlines about the perils of  city life. So could it be that those cargo pockets are stuffed with self defence equipment, distress flares, and emergency rations?
It's not just visitors who have recently stepped off a 747. This also includes indigenous parties who arrive at a London mainline station from the depths of Surrey or Hertfordshire looking like they must have got on the wrong train. Surely, kitted out like that, they meant to end up on the Yorkshire Moors.
Well, it's their choice. But I am left musing whether this is what they wear at weekends at home. Do they dress like this to go shopping?

18 comments:

Gabrielle said...

I am from Seattle, Harry, and I can confirm that yes, they do indeed dress like that to do their shopping, or worse. I am married to one of them. This afternoon, he wore his uniform of cargo shorts, t-shirt, heavy Keens (sort of a hideous hybrid athletic shoe/sandal. He also wore a large shoulderbag/rucksack thing containing his laptop, and carried a mobile phone, iPod, and GPS gadget in his pockets. We were at the beach with the children, mind you.

Wendy Hutton said...

I was in London recently, after spending time travelling in Morocco, so I was guilty of wearing my usual trekking gear. It mightn't be fashionable but it's light weight, easy to pack, dries quickly if wet and can be (slightly) dressed up with funky jewellery. Nothing beats a pair of Lafuma or Columbia pants for long-distance air travel — we did 36 hours dressed like this from the north of Borneo to Lima last year. Try it!

Anonymous said...

I suspect that part of it has to do with all the walking involved in visiting London. Most folks from the states spend very little time getting from one place to another on foot, so they lack fashionable and comfortable city shoes for walking (or they lack the high pain threshold needed to walk all day in impractical shoes). Once you put on a pair of sneakers or hiking boots, it feels stupid to put on dress slacks and a nice silk shirt--so they complete the costume with a trip to REI.

Although I have to second what Gabrielle said, I live in Texas (so we don't even have the granola image of Seattle) and my husband lives in cargo shorts and keen sandals on his days off in the summer. The funniest thing is he keeps catching his pants on door knobs and cabinet pulls. ha!
Melissa

miss cavendish said...

I'm picking up my husband today, from a week-long conference in London, and am relieved to report that he wore proper leather lace-up shoes, slim jeans, and a smart blazer while there. I wouldn't have let him board the plane in one of those concoctions that Harry describes.

Anonymous said...

I suspect there are two very good reasons why people dress like this.

Number one, many Americans seem very reluctant to pay very much for their clothing. Number two, many Americans are also criticized for dressing like adults. (Hence, all the "why are you so dressed up?" comments.)

Therefore, I think that the people who do actually buy some quality clothing purchase outdoor type gear to satisfy both issues. (I know that much of the outdoor clothing can be quite pricey, but then again they don't have to answer for being so "dressed up.")

lagatta said...

Linda, you have lived in Vancouver, the same style zone as Seattle. Those things are as expensive as urban clothes, and a kind of status symbol in their own way among that set.

Wendy, you can find easy-to-pack "travel" garments at many shops and on many websites. Not the most fashionable things but usually fairly inconscpicuous. I've never taken as long a haul flight as you; I'm planning to go to Buenos Aires (a place I wouldn't be caught DEAD dressed like that and where such garments would scream tourist and actually be more of a crime risk than a town wardrobe) but I think I'd still wear a longish skirt or loose dress on the plane.

I met a Buenos Aires friend at a conference in Paris where he arrived, more than a bit jet-lagged but in the same attire as Miss Cavendish's smart husband.

My Moroccan friends would tell you where you can get a nice summer dress made up for a cheap price in Western terms...

Deja Pseu said...

I think there's also a class of folks (you encounter a few of them on the Fodor's discussion boards) who like to think of themselves as Professional Travellers who are really into the gear, and scoff at the idea of trying to blend in with the locals. I also blame Business Casual quite honestly. Many people below a certain age don't seem to own anything but cargo shorts and flip-flops, unless they go in the Ho direction, but even then it's "casual Ho." If you could see how people dress at my office, it's almost like a badge of honor to dress as casually as they can get away with, and those who dress up a bit more are suspect. This attitude seems to have swept over a good portion of the US.

lagatta said...

Sorry, we can't edit published posts.

More accurately, "Harry, Linda lived in Vancouver..." (and tells us that was among the reasons she moved back to London).

Fortunately, that is far less prevalent here in Montréal, though we are far poorer on average than Vancouverites. I can't fathom anyone here saying "why are you so dressed up?"

déjà pseu, even more of those on Lonely Planet. A good antidote is copenhagen cycling chic... and the sites it links to.

Harry Fenton said...

A lot of bells being rung....
Deja Pseu....I have been meaning to share thoughts on business casual . Before I do, I obviously need to know what 'Ho' means. Could you enlighten?
Lagatta.....I was in Vancouver two years ago and was amazed at the preponderance of rugged footwear.Absolutely agree with you about Buenos Aires.
Miss Cavendish...top marks to the Cavendish household.
Anonymous...'fear of being accused of dressing up'. Yes, I think it happens in a lot of communities. So conforming becomes the watchword. It always was.
Wendy...of course your'e excused. You'd been 'travelling'.
Gabrielle....oh dear...Thanks. It made me chuckle

Arabella said...

I was thinking of packing body armour next time I go home to Blighty (must stop reading The Guardian online), but, of course - a few layers of travel gear would work just as well at a fraction of the price. Hurray.

Deja Pseu said...

Harry, "Ho" is short for "whore", shorhand for the streetwalker look. Think lots of skin, a la Britney Spears, Paris Hilton. Cleavage (both chest and arse), see-thru, skintight...you get the picture. I'll admit though, I'm seeing less of that look these days and more of the "music festival at the beach" look.

StyleSpy said...

Thank you!!! While I don't love the cargo pants and hiking boots, the thing that enrages me is the ENORMOUS backpacks so many lug around. I have been nearly bludgeoned to death many a time by tourists' Himalaya-worthy, 40-pound camping packs that they are wearing and have become oblivious to, ignoring the fact that with these gigantic growths strapped to them they take up a LOT more space than the rest of of mere humans who don't feel obligated to kit up like we're trekking the Gobi. (Seriously -- I was nearly knocked down in the street by one in Paris last year. And the guy didn't even realize he'd hit me.) What on earth are they carrying around in those things? Tents? Four days' groceries? For pete's sake, you're in the middle of a city -- chances are that if you get hungry you'll be able to find a sandwich somewhere!

Harry Fenton said...

Deja pseu...thanks. Actually I did know that. But the term 'business casual' threw me off the scent because I associate that phrase with the male of the species, and didn't think that meaning could possibly apply. My mistake.

Deja Pseu said...

Ah, got it. Sorry, should have clarified; here "business casual" is used for both genders.

Mode Monitor said...

Yes, I'm quite sure they wear those things when they go shopping too. Unfortunately, I have witnessed this with my own eyes in New York (so this mode of dress is widespread). People put on this garb because they do not know how to dress. Over the years, to my great dismay, I have noticed an unmistakable slide in sartorial standards. That is to say, people dress worse and worse. This is directly related to the increasing casualness of clothes. I am so tired of seeing ugly, unflattering (not to mention bad-for-your-feet) flip flops on city streets, along with crocs, sweats, shorts and pants with words across the bum and many, many other offensive sights. www.modemonitor.com

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy everyones' comments about the decline in dress standards. My mother never left the house without makeup, her hair perfectly coiffed and well-dressed, even if only to run an errand or go to the market. It was important to convey your sense of good taste. Someone once said we must enjoy every moment of our lives, and beautiful clothes, and wearing beautiful clothes, brings joy to my life, even if in a small way, and contributes to those moments being enjoyable.

lagatta said...

Hmm, while I don't like cargo/hiking clothes, flip-flops or gym shorts on city streets, I'm not so down on casual dress. It can look light, fresh and young. Yes, there are horrors, but if you put a pic of me at 50 with a pic of my mum at the same age, with her matt powder and opaque lipstick, stockings, overdone hair (you know, sleeping in curlers) etc I look much younger and fresher.

There can be something very attractive about the freedom we won in recent decades. Not to be confused with going about like a slob who doesn't give a fig how he or she looks.

TheSundayBest said...

Great minds?

http://www.thesundaybest.org/2008/07/187-joodito-or-the-curse-of-technical-apparel.html