Rob's Blog Archive

October 20, 2013

In the Hood










People who know me will attest to my preference of function over style.  Like my Bronx accent, I got that honestly from my parents.  My father’s concern for style consisted of wearing a suit and tie with a white shirt to work every day.  His reasoning was that dressing conservatively didn’t offend anybody.  It’s not clear that my mother’s inclination to be stylish reached that level.  Beyond this, both parents liked to research everything they did or bought.  I’m a stickler for function and don’t give a rat’s ass about style. 

And so when, at the age of fourteen, I started learning about camping and hiking, I read everything I could get my hands on on the one key function of clothing, staying warm.  Most notably, I read Gerry Cunningham’s book, “Lightweight Camping Equipment and How to Make It.” 

From the reading, I learned about everything we had and knew at the time.  Polyester insulation existed, but it was nothing like we have today.  Fleece hadn’t been discovered by the outdoor community.  And the holy grail of outdoor clothing, a waterproof breathable fabric, would hit the market ten years later.  Down and wool ruled the world. 

While there have been great advances in materials---even down has improved---there have been very few advances in clothing design.  Most of what we know now, we knew then.  Only articulated knees in pants and fingers in gloves come to mind, and they’re not exactly quantum leaps. 

Among the bits of wisdom we had was that, pound for pound, a hood is the most efficient way to add warmth to a jacket.  All arctic peoples incorporate hoods into their clothing and have for centuries.  This is an old bit of wisdom.

In those days of yore when I started getting into the outdoors, all insulated jackets came with hoods.  If the garment didn’t have a hood, it was called a sweater.  The seventies were a great decade.

During the eighties, fashion concerns took over the outdoor clothing market and insulated hoods all but disappeared.  Clothing for climbing Mt. Everest had them as did low end sweatshirts, but not a lot else.  Occasionally, some manufacturer would include a fleece jacket with an integral hood, but that jacket would be out of the catalog within a year or two.

Come the turn of the century, things started to change.  Hooded jackets for all uses started appearing on the market.  Designed like sweatshirts, hoods were not removable.  It’s odd if one considers that for a fraction of an ounce in weight, one has the option of a jacket with a hood and one without.  Of course, a detachable hood hangs differently than one that’s integrated, an obvious difference in style, but they function equally well.  Did I mention that I don’t give a rat’s ass about style? 

As I start looking into exactly what gear and clothing to get for my expedition---hopefully several expeditions over the next several years but starting with skijoring the Iditarod Trail---I am amused by the fact that almost every insulated jacket out there now comes with a hooded version.  Mind you, it’s not “Quintessential Design’s Great Jacket” with and without a hood.  It’s “Quintessential Design’s Great Jacket” and “Quintessential Design’s Hoodie Great Jacket.”  My assessment is that the word “hoodie” has been critical to the increase in popularity of an inherently useful garment feature.  I don’t care.  I’m just happy that most jackets now come with “hoodie” versions. 

I have seen trends like this cycle, some a couple of times, during my lifetime.  I am certain that the popularity of “hoodies” will decrease.  I’m hopeful that it won’t drop to levels of the eighties and nineties when hooded jackets were less common than Chihuahuas who can pull a sled, but I don’t know.  In the mean time, I’m enjoying the variety that’s out there, and am prepared to stock up when it looks like hoodies are no longer in vogue.  Did I mention that I don’t give a rat’s ass about style?

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