Climbing Fashion throughout the ages!
Humans have been climbing up mountains since the beginning of time. Mountain cultures have had to scale mountains and rock faces in the name of survival for centuries. But it wasn’t until the mid-18th Century that Europeans turned their sites to the mountain tops in the name of sport. The beginning of the Industrial age, with its increased disposable incomes and spare time for manufactures, also saw the birth of recreational climbing! And so began the fashion trends throughout the ages!
1490s – ‘Hatters gonna hat’
The first documented climber was Antoine de Ville in 1492, who ascended a 300-meter rock tower, in Mont Aiguille, on his Kings orders. Apparently he used similar techniques as were developed for sieging towers to achieve this otherwise inaccessible summit. Although there is little information about the all-important outfit worn, after looking through pictures from that era, I can assure you he adorned some extravagant hat or headdress! Because I cannot, for the life of me, find a picture with a bare head in sight!
1920-50 – ‘Chillitary’ – Just your average relaxed military look
From the 1920’s to the 50’s mountaineering really boomed (helped of course by the polar exploration in the early 1900’s and the technological advancements from the war.) The equipment and clothing had come on leaps and bounds by then and was starting to resemble the equipment of today. After the last few decades of wars, it was no surprise that the climbing fashion of this era had a somewhat militant vibe. But again, after the hardships of war, the fashion became simple and plain, with relaxed cuts and basic materials. As the period went on, we also get the joy of witnessing the men’s trousers becoming wider and wider (if you don’t know what a plus-four trouser is… look it up… you’ll see what I mean.) Despite this simple look the technological equipment was quite advance, with rope resembling our modern-day ropes and the well-designed light weight boots.
1950s -Joy to the Wool
The 1950s bought us the woollen jumper look! Even though harnesses still aren’t being used in climbing at this stage, a sweater seemed to be the climbing must have!
The 60s- I lost my hat for a second… but don’t worry, I’ve found it!
Climbing really started to come into it’s own as a sport by the 60s – Wales, The lake district and the Alps, made a name for themselves as climbing hot spots. The clothing started to become a little baggier, more comfortable and functional. But most notably, and has stayed true throughout the world of fashion; it always comes back around! So here we see more fabulous hats adorning the heads of our climbers – fedoras, walking hats and berets to name a few!
The 70’s – Nifty but Thrifty
The 70’s sees the ‘dawn(wall)ing’ of the Era of Yosemite climbing! During this time harnesses began to be mass produced and become a much more common site at the crags. It’s also where we can see the start of the ‘dirtbag’ fashion that has been associated with climbing for so long since. Anything you could find in a thrift shop was fair game! And the cheaper the better! Thus began the flannel, rugby, baggy shirt vibe that plagues the pictures of the ‘good ol’ days’ of climbing!
The 80s- What the actual…!?
They say that the 70s and 80s were the decades of technological innovations and extreme fashions! It was also the era of freedom, hippies and parties! So maybe some drug infused brains will explain whatever is going on with the fashion choices here!? We’ve swapped the plain, baggy attire for the tightest and most outlandish spandex tights you could find. Accompanied by, not a sweater… but in fact, nothing at all! Thank the climbing gods that by the 90s even climbers themselves realized that there were surely better life choices than this! As the decade went on the shorts got shorter and the headbands stood the test of time.
Present day – ‘Insta ready’
At the crags of today you can see a happy medium between practicality (with stretchy, breathable and waterproof materials making up a good chunk of the attire) and high-street fashion. Climbing has become and extremely popular sport and therefore high-street fashion brands have been able to produce some great clothing. The types of clothes that have fueled the ‘I’m just going for a coffee in my active-wear’ culture. But you best believe that a climber will still choose a good headband and a brightly coloured shirt. I mean, you must stand out in those Insta pics, after all!
But climbing God, forgive us our sins, as I have definitely seen some brightly coloured spandex trousers on men creeping back in at the crag! Let us bow our heads in prayer, that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Amen!
I guess the beauty about climbing, is the same today as it has been for decades. You can turn up to the crag with all us other dirt bags and just climb, reach your goals and not be judged …. Unless you wear leopard print spandex… I’m sorry I just can’t!
by Anita Alderman