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Coats & Jackets

The new way to wear fleece

The new way to wear fleece

Photographed: Patagonia retro fleece jacket (£109); Boden slim leg chinos (£60); MVP Ellsworth Oxford striped shirt (£24); MVP Goswell Henley top (£32); Converse Chuck Taylor 1970s Hi (£69)


It’s shaping up to be the year of unfashionable fabrics. First there was the comeback of corduroy, rescued from professorial wardrobes to become a cold-weather essential. Now we're falling for something equally practical: fleece. But this isn't the half-zip pullover that your mum made you wear to school. The fleece of the moment is as fuzzy as a teddy bear and comes with built-in texture and cosiness.

One thing to note when we're talking about fleece is that this isn't the woolly stuff off a sheep. This is technically polar fleece, which originated in Massachusetts in 1979 when Malden Mills and Patagonia developed Synchilla (synthetic chinchilla). But like sheep fleece, the raised fabric traps air, which creates an insulating layer around your body. Designed to be light, strong, and easy to wash, this versatile material is made from polyester and can even be crafted from recycled plastic bottles. Even smarter, it dries out incredibly quickly, so it's great for changeable weather.

"Fleece is great for warmth and works really well as a layering piece," says Thread stylist Alexander McCalla. "You can pretty much have it as the top layer, or if you’re really cold as a mid-layer beneath your overcoat." To make sure it works both ways, you need to nail the fit. Anything baggy will conjure up images of elasticated waistbands and velcro slippers, rather than the rugged outdoorsman you're trying to channel. All that texture means it looks great in bold colours or patterns, but think outdoorsy Patagonia ikat, rather than wolf-howling-at-the-moon motifs. 

Being so practical, it looks particularly good with other clothes that are built to take a beating, like work boots and lived-in jeans. But there are more contemporary ways to wear it, too; it’s ideal with workout gear in lieu of your normal nylon jacket, safe in the knowledge that it can be chucked in the locker or washing machine. That said, there are limits. "If it looks relatively sporty, don’t try to smarten it up," says Alexander. "It’s a similar thing to someone wearing running trainers with a suit, it doesn't really work."

Since fleece was originally designed to go up mountains, it makes sense to buy from brands that have the outdoors in the DNA. There's a reason why much of the fleece you’ll have seen wandering around has Patagonia’s logo stitched on the chest – as well as helping invent the fabric, the brand creates jackets that perfectly toe the line between form and function. "Columbia is a bit more affordable," says Alexander, “and The North Face’s are classic. Barbour has come out with a few options recently, or if you prefer things minimal and Scandinavia, look to Fjällräven."

As fleece has shaken off its granddads-and-hikers connotations, it’s also morphed into interesting new shapes. Brands like YMC have swapped the fabric in on jackets where you might normally expect leather, and it’s also popping up in the linings of hoodies, coat collars and even gilets. “They look really good under an overcoat,” says Alexander. “That way, you won’t have any bunching in the sleeves. If it’s too warm for that heavy a layer, then a denim jacket works just as well.”

If you’re still not convinced, let Alexander try a final pitch. "I promise it’s not just for hiking, and it’s not just for geography teachers. Fleece has really evolved in the last decade or so; you don’t have to be out in the wild to be wearing it. It should be something you can just throw on."

Just not with a suit.


Words: Theresa Harold
Photography: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Brooke Philips