It’s Downton and it’s in Midtown. It’s on the college campus and probably even in your closet. Patagonia has become a staple of American fashion with its evolution in recent years. Once labeled as the outdoorsy, “Let’s go for a hike in the woods while looking good” brand has evolved into something else due to its versatility and comfort within the American workplace.
One of Patagonia’s signature looks – the “Better Sweater” – can be spotted on almost any block in Manhattan. It doesn’t matter if you’re hobbling around Stone Street or waiting in line at Chipotle on 48th St., there’s likely a 99% chance a Patagonia logo will appear before your eyes, and most of the time, it’s the “Better Sweater vest,” a slim-looking sleeveless vest normally adorned in neutral colors like an everyday grey or forest green that hugs tightly to anybody.
It’s usually accompanied by slim-fitting chinos and a pair of loafers. It’s become known as the “Midtown Uniform” due to an Instagram account that features only those wearing it.
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Patagonia’s vests and other apparel isn’t just worn on the broad shoulders or around the pudgy guts of New York City’s business types; it’s also been seen on some of the world’s most elite in the tech and business quarters. It’s been prevalently displayed by the Uber-rich at the annual Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Apple CEO Tim Cook or embattled New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, have been photographed wearing those Patagonia vests.
The New York Times listed Patagonia in an article titled “How to dress like a power player.” Others have labeled Patagonia’s vests as the “Power Vests.” It’s become the unofficial — but official — wardrobe partner of business-types everywhere, which Patagonia now, ironically, shifted to end after perhaps unknowingly fueling the clothing shift.
Americans, in general, are ditching the suit. The Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. men’s suit market has fallen 8% to $1.98 billion since 2015. Coincidentally, sports apparel has soared in that same period, growing 17% to $44.8 billion.
It’s not accurate to say activewear brands like Patagonia or yoga-pant enthusiasts Lululemon are to credit for this rise, but Americans have fueled the industry during that same period. Sports apparel has grown 17% to $44.8 billion since 2015.
“The current crop of young adults love comfort,” NPD Group chief industry adviser Marshal Cohen told The Journal. “The word ‘stretch’ in menswear isn’t a dirty word anymore.”
But surprisingly, Patagonia took a step back from new business. The company put the kibosh on bulk order sales for some corporate sales clients last month, when they decided to start getting selective. Vested (no pun intended) President Binna Kim said in a tweet that Patagonia told her that they would “no longer [be] doing branded vests for financial services companies” while focusing on companies who make differences for environmental and social platforms.
— Binna Kim (@binnaskim) April 1, 2019
“We recently shifted the focus of this program to increase the number of Certified B Corporations, 1% For The Planet members and other mission-driven companies that prioritize the planet. This shift does not affect current customers in our corporate sales program,” Patagonia said in a statement, via BuzzFeed News.
While Patagonia says it only affects new customers, other companies have started to take a similar, selective approach for bulk corporate orders. BuzzFeed News reported The North Face recently rejected an oil corporation from buying branded vests because the company didn’t “align with our brand values and mission to move the world forward through exploration.”
It’s unlikely the Financial District or rush-hour subway platforms are going to be less-crowded with fleece vests.
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