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Outdoor Chic

Outdoor Gear Is More Than Just A Fashion Statement; It's A Way To Stay Warm And Dry
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

The claustrophobic urban congestion gets to all of us. With the roar of traffic droning in our ears and the echoing blink of computer cursors fluttering in our eyes, we trudge along with our briefcase-cum-portable office, stuffed with laptop, cellular phone and calculator, dreaming of the peaceful solitude of a deserted beach at daybreak, or a brisk walk through dew-drenched autumn woods. Squinting down the carbon monoxide-filled concrete canyons, our numb brains have just enough energy to envision the verdant banks of a rippling trout stream, the cool clear water gurgling playfully around our Gore-Tex waders.

"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky," we mutter (borrowing from poet John Masefield), ashen and hacking, our shirt collar constricting at every step.

Is there any further explanation needed for the flourishing of field and stream sports as never before? According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, more than 15 million people hold hunting licenses and 30 million own fishing licenses in the United States. These traditionally male-dominated sports are rapidly gaining popularity with women as well. Female shotgun target shooters and hunters, for instance, increased 79 percent between 1988 and 1993, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

On the business side, the foundation estimates that hunting and shooting sports annually generate more than $18 billion in economic activity in the United States and support more than 690,000 jobs. According to the American Sportfishing Association, fishing is even more popular: "The popularity of sport fishing has grown steadily over the past several decades to the point that one in four Americans now go fishing each year," according to the Edward Goldstein, the association's acting public affairs director. These anglers spend in excess of $24 billion annually. Of this amount, more than $530 million is spent on camping equipment--$195 million of that on special clothing.

This clothing encompasses a wide spectrum of gear, from custom-made tweed shooting suits and reversible parkas made out of loden (a thick woolen cloth for outerwear), to old khakis and flannel shirts. Once upon a time, when the trout were bigger, a person could get outfitted from his local sporting goods shop, the venerable pages of the L.L. Bean catalogue or that monument to sybaritic sports gear on Manhattan's Madison Avenue, Abercrombie & Fitch. That revered store went the way of all flesh back in 1973 (although its shops in other locations still exist) as did many of the smaller local sporting goods shops, only to be replaced with mega-athletic mall stores whose floor space is predominantly taken up with racks of logo-encrusted T-shirts and piles of hideously over-designed sneakers.

But L.L. Bean is still chugging along, as are half a dozen other fine companies with catalog merchandise. Along with several U.S. purveyors, a number of renowned European shops have recently given a decidedly luxe boost to field and stream accoutering by opening stores in the United States. What these venues have in common is a matchless concern for quality, defined by a wedding of function and style.

Granted that a high proportion of this type of clothing has become very much the fashion cry--everything from loden shooting capes to safari shirts are fair game for designers. But good sporting gear must be made to withstand the rigors of the outdoors. Boots must be comfortable all day long; pockets must actually hold and store items; jacket sleeves must be constructed for both ease of motion and protection from cold and wet; leather belts must be stitched with thread that won't rot; gun patches, bellows pockets, two-way zippers, removable hoods, storm-fly fronts, game pouches, fleece quilting--they're all there for a purpose.

Herewith our choices for the best suppliers of field-proven country clothes with panache. Addresses are those of the main venues in the United States and elsewhere. Prices are approximate and may vary.


165-169 New Bond Street,
London W1Y OAR
725 Fifth Avenue,
New York, New York 10022

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