Fashion Forward: Turning function into fashion
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 16, 2012 23:04
Though beauty and aesthetics go hand in hand with fashion, it’s easy to forget that clothes have always had a purpose. Over time, utilitarian designs became classic staples—and though certain pieces were initially designed for function, many have crossed over and become quintessential fashion pieces.
My aunt and uncle wore my favorite outerwear after a long, frigid autumn day raking leaves. As a kid, I waited indoors and watched them stomp their muddy duck boots onto the doormat or put away their Barbour jackets. Back then I’d stumble around drowning in their outerwear, feeling adventurous and all grown up. Today, thankfully, they fit—and they’re perfect for a walk in the woods or a rainy day.
This trend may be thanks to Leon Leonwood Bean, or L.L. Bean, the hunter and fisherman who founded his outdoor clothing company in 1912. Nearly a century later, his products have become staples in the outdoor world and carried over into fashion. The classic L.L. Bean duck boot is not only practical and warm, it’s become a fashion statement for the young and trendy. An L.L. Bean senior manager told The Associated Press that sales in duck boots have risen from 150,000 pairs four years ago to an expected 500,000 pairs in 2012. They’ve become extremely popular on college campuses and on the runway—Tommy Hilfiger incorporated the stylish winter boots into his preppy Fall 2010 Ready To Wear line. The shoes create a chic look for women when paired with a classic trench coat on a rainy day, while men look traditional and sharp wearing them with cuffed jeans and a winter coat.
The waxed Barbour jacket has been an iconic symbol in British style for 117 years. Founded by John Barbour in 1894, the waxed and waterproof jacket was made for chilly temperatures and active wear typically associated with hunting, farming and other outdoor activities in British country life. Barbour holds official royal warrants, having dressed the Royal family—including the late Princess Diana and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge—for years. Similar to the L.L. Bean duck boot, Barbour jackets have soared in sales within the last five or six years because of trendy East Londoners who mix stylish vintage outfits with the iconic British coat. They’re popular for major music festivals such as Glastonbury and have been sported by celebs Alexa Chung and Olivia Palermo. They’re practical to throw on over any outfit, and are a classic item that will last forever.
Youth subcultures have transformed utilitarian staples into iconic fashion statements—how jealous I was of my big brothers who were part of the teen angst era. Doc Martens started out as a military boot invented by German World War II doctor Klaus Märtens and soon became a necessity for factory workers, police officers and postmen. Later, the boots dressed the feet of punks, New Wave kids and members of the ’90s grunge and pop-culture scene. The Schott NYC motorcycle jackets were synonymous with the rebellious movement—The Sex Pistols, Joan Jett, Steve McQueen and Bruce Springsteen rocked the leather Schott, which is still a huge part of fashion today.
There are a number of pieces that have gained prestige for their quality and performance. Sperry’s boat shoes, Hunter rain boots, Longchamp bags and Clarks desert boots have become popular on college campuses thanks to their practicality. These pedigree pieces may be a splurge, but they are investments that promise longevity. Behind clothing comes a lifestyle, and it’s when fashion meets resilience that the simple aesthetic of quality clothing is created. Durability possesses its own authentic style—the best trends come from superb craftsmanship, because there’s nothing like a piece with a heritage.