Trends

Retro Vibes

Outdoor Brands Are Rocking Out with Retro Vibes.

Culturally, the 1990s are characterized by music — grunge, the rave scene and hip hop — and technology, including cable television and the World Wide Web. The Cold War was over and the dot-com bubble brought wealth. It was a diverse period, and fashion followed suit.

“The ’90s were extreme — classic, cool, chic and preppy — moving from all denim to grunge, and everything in-between,” says Margaret Doran, VP of sales for Pendleton Footwear. In an ode to the era, Pendleton is attempting to reach different generations of customers that remember and love that time with their heritage brand. For Fall 2020, footwear and slippers feature a vintage ’90s Americana vibe. Pendleton’s line of OutLeisure footwear features ultra-light, flexible styles combined with sleek waterproof leathers and water-resistant wool. The men’s La Brea Mid and women’s Park Slope contain an ultralight, high elastic EVA outsole with Vibram XS Trek, rubber pods for stability, traction, and durability.

Left: Cotopaxi Teca Fleece. Right: Patagonia Snap Front Retro-X Fleece Jacket.

Apparel is All That and a Bag of Chips

Krimson Klover is also channeling the past in its upcoming apparel collections. The Highlands and Lindsey puffy downs are cropped with boxy fits, while the Sugarloaf is color blocked with sporty chevron stripes. The Kora Bag is the brand’s modern take on the fanny pack and the Peace Love Ski baselayer set is a nod to the ’60s and ’70s, two eras that made a style resurgence in the ’90s. According to Ellen DeLisio in product development at Krimson Klover, “Brands are trying to hit both Generation X and Millennials at once. For Gen X, its timely and inspiring. It’s new and fresh to the younger Millennial generation, but they appreciate the vintage aesthetic which gives it cache.” Let’s not forget that Gen X was also a little rebellious — think surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding becoming uber popular — and the Millennial audience may crave that counter culture status a bit.

As far back as the early ’90s, employees working at Patagonia were surfing at lunch and playing volleyball in a sandpit behind their offices. In the fall of 1994, Patagonia made the decision to make all of its cotton sportswear 100 percent organic by 1996. They succeeded. The Synchilla was launched in 1985, and remained popular through the next decade, even extending into today. Now, with Fleecelab, the brand is toying with new designs and materials to create limited edition fleece styles and a lighter footprint. For transitional weather, a Shelled Retro-X Pullover is crafted of quarter inch Sherpa pile fleece and shelled with recycled nylon Supplex with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. A Snap Front Retro-X Fleece Jacket is made of 70 percent recycled polyester pile fleece and lined with a mechanical stretch recycled polyester ripstop to combat wind and moisture.

Another retro nod to fleece comes from Cotopaxi, whose Teca Fleece features bold color blocking that ties back to a less technical time for outerwear.

Left: Smith Rebel from 1998. Right: Cotopaxi Bataan Del Dia.
Park Slope from Pendleton Footwear.

Fresh Gear & Accessories

“I think we are seeing the consumer respond to an overall more fun, laid back and less technical vibe with product today,” notes Evie Moe, VP of design at Cotopaxi. Coupled with an increased desire for versatility, retro vibes lead to a yearning for things like fanny packs that are just for fun. The Bataan fanny pack has a three-liter capacity and mesh pockets for storing keys or a phone. It is part of the (Re)Purpose Collection from Cotopaxi which employs fabric left over from other company’s larger production runs.

Smith Optics is pairing chronicled eyewear with environmentally-friendly materials in its new Archive Collection, which features exact replicas of popular styles from the late ’80s through the ’90s. Some styles are updated with a proprietary ChromaPop lens to amplify color and detail and Evolve eco-friendly bio-based frame material derived from renewable, non-genetically modified castor plants to reduce the use of petroleum in eyewear manufacturing. “The ’90s were an era where fashion focused on comfort, purpose-built and carefree,” comments Graham Sours, global category director at Smith, who is seeing retro vibes not only in outdoor, but in the fashion world as a whole.

Left: Krimson Klover Lindsey Vest. Right: Darn Tough Element Crew Lightweight.

Socks are experiencing a throwback moment, as well.

“The retro trend appeals to Millennial and Gen X for its nostalgic connection, along with comfort and functionality, which is also very successful in bridging to Gen Z,” Darn Tough Vermont designer Jenny Knapp explains, adding, “Gen Z has come through the athleisure trend, which has many links to comfort and functional ’90s styling.” Comfort was key in baggy jeans, thick sweatshirts and puffy jackets, with the athleisure market following suit, adding in sustainable materials and tech features. Darn Tough is launching a new sock category called Athletic where the main objective is to deliver minimalist style with technical features for high performance activities like trail running and obstacle race day. The Element series in the Athletic category employs Merino wool and design features like retro sportif stripes. Zones of mesh are on the top of the foot to enhance breathability, comfort and flexibility. The footbed has segmented cushioning with elastic support to reduce fatigue.

With an emphasis on improving overall well-being in the marketplace and consumers seeking a connection to their products, retro items, like these socks, can “help reconnect to those feel-good memories about experiences they had or people that bought them joy,” notes Knapp.

Get your insight early.

Sign up for Outdoor Insights' mailing list to get our publication delivered to your inbox. January, May, June, October, November.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.