Review of Thunderbolt Sportswear’s Softshell Jeans Mark 2 and Agility Hoodie, after half a year of use – and thoughts around athleisure.
Category: Enclothed Life Page 2 of 3
One of those things where we’re living very superficially is when it comes to what covers our own surface: clothing, fashion, and all that.
Strangely enough, the superficiality can go contradictory ways:
Never caring about fashion or clothes, the cheapest stuff may be the best – but given its environmental and social impact, and the influence that clothes have on one’s own attitude to and bearing in life, that may be a costly approach.
The expensive approach, spending a lot on clothing, hunting after the latest in style and fashion trends, caring only too much, seemingly tends to be equally as superficial – and it’s well recognized as such.
Whatever you think of that, wherever you fall on that line, some insight into the processes behind a production is sure to be a good thing, making another step closer, away from the superficiality.
Fascinating, then, to use the chance that Hermès provides through its Festival des Métiers, to meet with various of its craftsmen and see how they work – which chance I took as they came to Vienna (where they will be until this Sunday, September 27, in none other but the Spanish Riding School):
Seeing a type of clothing that is rather business-like in a material that is not the traditional choice is somewhat disconcerting.
A blazer may be more casual and sporty than a full-on suit, but it still is a step up in style for most men nowadays, outside of the office and business world that requires suit and tie; a blazer in a Windstopper material, then, seems a tad too radical a departure from the norm.
Well, that material is still missing from my ‘collection’, but Veilance has produced blazers in everything from high-density polyester weaves as used in water- and wind-resistant shells to wool-cotton blends and the just-mentioned Windstopper.
Going for such technical materials, and for some technical, protective, features as well, these pieces do stand out from the usual range of men’s clothing.
At the same time, in bringing these two sides together, they show just how much we have forgotten that clothing is always both protection and presentation, function and style.
Even a pair of jeans and a T-shirt transports a message and keeps its wearer dressed and (hopefully) comfortable.
If jeans and a T-shirts isn’t your style – or if it is, but only spruced up a bit towards the more sartorial – and you still spend a good bit of your time moving around outside, not just in a car, blazers like those from Arc’teryx may be just the thing for you: Style and substance, so to speak.
Pieces I can speak of are:
For one, the Haedn blazer of the most recent seasons (and an otherwise unnamed blazer from a few seasons ago), which is a wool-cotton-polyester blend with a rather more traditional look and feel but great cut and performance…
Secondly, for the spring/summer seasons, there is the Blazer LT. This light and thin, rather shirt-like, version of a blazer is odd at first (Shouldn’t a blazer be a thicker material?), but turns out just perfect for a greater touch of style and protection…
Something I can’t resist mentioning: If the blazers have you thinking of hipsters on bikes – or perhaps, men with a sense of gentleman-ness who know how to combine old(er)-fashioned classical style with modern elements – check out Onoo’s “Sendling” jacket!
Even in a field of many brands that are unknown to all but those in the know, Thunderbolt Sportswear is an outlier.
Given the Schoeller Dryskin used in their (now so-called) “Originals” softshell jeans, they fall right into the category of “technical menswear.”
Their focus, however, was less on the fashion than on the performance side of things; their jeans were even presented as a potential climbing jeans.
And so, even as many a brand in the category of tech-wear comes from a background in sports, especially cycling (Outlier is probably the best known; 7Mesh is newly getting started, to name just two), they went quite unnoticed in that field.
For me, too, the material was the main point of interest back in 2011 when I got my pair. And while I still love my Veilance Spec Pant, I have gone through two different other models from Veilance while the Thunderbolts are still going strong…
Where one of the selling points of Arc’teryx Veilance pieces are their very particular cuts, Thunderbolt’s offering is considerably more run-of-the-mill – but it’s a good mill: Schoeller Dryskin, and a classic five-pocket jeans cut.
As much as I like the peculiar cut and functionality of Veilance pants (with their angular lines and hardly visible ‘cargo pockets’ along the outside of the upper legs of some models), the comfort of the Thunderbolt’s softshell material is just amazing.
After four years of use, they are still the favorite pants of mine for most situations, from casual lounging to not-entirely-too-formal business wear.
Where Veilance’s materials work well, but can get to feel a little clammy when it gets warm, the Schoeller Dryskin is quite alright in a hot summer (for which it is somewhat too warm, of course) and still enough for me on a cold winter’s day.
(When temperatures get below freezing, however, it is time for the Veilance Spec Pants…)
The material cleans up well (even with the DWR gone), has withstood everything I’ve thrown at it reasonably well – and what faults in it have come up are not visible from the outside or without very close inspection or were easy enough to repair – and if there is one problem with it, it is that the feel is almost too comfortable.
It has, more than once, reminded me of the feeling of pajama pants, it feels that soft on the skin.
Hence, I enjoy going out in them, and they are a favorite for just lounging around at home, all the same.
Things had gone quiet around Thunderbolt Sportswear, but they are still around and on the verge of updating their original softshell jeans (stronger thread in the stitching was one of the few needed improvements) and introducing new products.
We’ll see what comes. I’m sure it will be good.
(And the date for the new releases has just been announced: March 16.)
Some new piece of gear, a new fashion trend in a new season, something that disappoints – such things give something to talk about.
It can be seen on the vast majority of blogs; it can be seen with my previous review of the Veilance Diale Composite Sweater (good, thus not talked about at length) and the Cargo LT (and Voronoi) Pants (which failed and therefore gave me a lot to talk about).
Where are the things that make for the earlier-mentioned “wardrobe for all seasons”?
Their disappearance, so far, is another example of one of the big issues in making oneself at home in places and with things: the large extent to which both the good and the familiar disappear.
Familiarity, by and large, means nothing but such a disappearance of the new and noticeable into the background – and to a forgetfulness of what would actually be there. Good products, similarly and very differently, often fulfill their purpose and suit us so well, they also disappear from our attention.
If we want to make ourselves more at home, then, we need to become more conscious of what we are overlooking in our lives and in the places we are, but also to find those things that fit for us and for what we do, so that we can be less conscious of them.
In my daily and in my less-ordinary life, when it comes to clothes, these good things have included a few pieces from Arc’teryx Veilance. For a few years now, the Spec Pant and Stealth shirt(s) have been staples in my wardrobe. They have held up well; they give the look of being well-dressed but not seasonally-fashionably so; they suit and protect well.
Sure, as usual, a lot of it may be due to the placebo-like ‘enclothing’ effect of a Windstopper cargo pant that can very nearly pass as a pair of slacks and a shirt that includes Kevlar in its material mix – but when it works, it works…
Of course, there is one big problematic issue perfectly pointed out by such a review of things which have proven good, but come from a brand deeply involved in quarterly earning figures and, with this line, twice-yearly product releases with few constant items: You can find out that these things are good only at a time when you cannot get them anymore…
As I said, it’s time for wrapping thoughts about clothing in some examples, and I want to start doing so immediately after I started talking about examples I feel quite at home in: pieces from the Veilance line made by Arc’teryx, otherwise better known as a company making outdoors clothing.
Both are still available (in many sizes, though not all – see the links with the names of the items above) at the time of writing.
The sweater is already a favorite, albeit but a recent addition (and it will shortly get a competitor).
The pants… Well, that was an interesting experience. Looking at them more closely made me notice some problems with the material (which had also been a reason why the Voronoi pants I had had went back, together with those pants’ – for me, overly – trim cut).
That led to some consideration of the similar older Spec Pants (and Stealth Shirt – I will add reviews of these older things later) and made it necessary that I also talk about the attentiveness of the warranty department.
You can hear all about that, at length…
… and as always, YouTube comments are disabled, but if you have sensible comments or questions, you are more than welcome to ask here.
One particular “fashion” interest of mine – thinking of Clothe to Home – are pieces that are avant-garde in their materials and qualities, but not too visibly special, let alone fashionable, in their design; made to look timeless (or perhaps rather, fashionless) and, more importantly, but not visibly, to perform in a variety of conditions.
Clothing, then, to feel at home in and be at home in many a place.
After all, outdoors gear may be good for withstanding all different kinds of weather, but isn’t truly appropriate for better company (accepted as it has become in most ordinary circumstances).
Stylish clothes, on the other hand, all too often don’t exactly protect and can be quite a nuisance.
For being able to get by with just a few pieces, with getting by meaning both being well-dressed in terms of looks and being well-dressed in terms of functionality, then, it takes a peculiar class of products.
Peculiar, as pieces like those from Arc’teryx Veilance sure are.
What most people see, if they ever become aware of the existence of clothing lines like these, are very high prices for products described in very unusual ways (and in the case of Veilance, from a brand better known for its outdoors roots). These kinds of clothes, often termed urban techwear, certainly do play with both a luxury/special-class appeal and a desire to feel ensconced in a shell with a nearly special forces-appeal, but not quite that look.
It manages to remind one of the reason sometimes given for why a woman would wear sexy underwear when no one can see it – to make herself feel sexier and stronger and more self-assured – but in a male-oriented fashion that is somewhat “gear-queer” – in the way in which William Gibson had one of his protagonists in “Zero History” explain it:
“It’s an obsession with the idea not just of the right stuff, but of the special stuff. Equipment fetishism. The costume and semiotics of achingly elite police and military units. Intense desire to possess same, of course, and in turn to be associated with that world. With its competence, its cocksure exclusivity.”
(Maybe I should mention here that Gibson – @greatdismal, whose latest novel, The Peripheral, is out, by the way – certainly knows a thing or two about that himself; he has been seen in Veilance pieces before, and they sure fit his cyberpunk worlds, too…)
That all can sound odd, perhaps even negative.
If you couldn’t care less about your clothes, just want to be dressed and not have spent a lot, you can certainly get by differently, travel with just what you have on you and then get some cheap T-shirts and pants after you have arrived.
Clothing can also be about wearing things that protect, physically in functioning well as protection against the elements and comfortable temperature regulation, and psychologically in providing its wearer with a decent, well-groomed look and an expression of individual style, though.
I’m no clotheshorse, but not a guy to run around with sagging pants and shirts hanging out of them, either. So, at home same as at home on the road, I want to travel with just a few select pieces that will work – but I want to have the clothes that I consider mine, not run through throwaway things.
Two to three different kinds of pants, two kinds of shirts, one or two pullovers, one blazer and one jacket.
Around 10 pieces and I’m set for half a year, going from a hot summer to a cold winter, the way I want to look.
Yes, it is not cheap, but there are more expensive brands in urban tech, let alone in luxury menswear (and in Europe, in many other regards). The quality, functionality and durability – and un-fashionableness/timelessness – of the Veilance pieces is of the highest, the customer service stands by their assurances if something still happens to fail (as you’ll hear in my video reviews, that does happen), and so it makes for a way of clothing that I, for one, certainly feel at home in, and feel that it makes me more at home in the world, outside and in ‘fashion’ terms, with no need to constantly get new clothes, and no need to spend a lot of time thinking of just what to wear for the conditions and the occasion.
Clothing is a very peculiar thing.
It used to be that it was very much of a place and a people, with particular materials only available in particular places or for people of particular social classes, made in ways typical for certain professions and/or peoples. Nothing much changed, except slowly
Clothing, one might say, was thus one factor that made one at home, and visibly of a place and a position.
Now, we have much more freedom to dress as we’d like, but we also have some people paying their clothes ever less attention, others paying rather too much attention to what style guides and stores present as the latest fashion. And fashion comes in seasonal cycles, sometimes to the point where people only seem to know about the seasons anymore because it’s time for a new style.
In ways big and small, clothing is still a major part of a habitus; the typical appearance in looks and manners that marks a person as belonging to a certain class. T-shirts and blue jeans have something to say, as does the cut of a tailored suit.
Not thinking about clothes at all is just skimming the surface and forgetting about their influence on a person and his/her appearance in the world; just following fashion trends is equally as superficial.
And there, we are not even thinking much about the impact of their production and the consumption behaviors associated with them. (One oft-cited statistic states that Americans throw away some 70 lbs. of textiles each and every year, at quite the environmental and financial cost…)
Nor are we, at that point, thinking about the qualities that clothes provide, in making their wearer fit into environmental conditions, even as that is one of the primary purposes of clothing.
Clothes may seem to be presented so much because the textile industry is big business, and fashion an even bigger one. Whether it is the right dress to show off curves, the right suit to show a standing, individualistic combinations or pret-a-porter to show style, there is an interest.
Outdoors pursuits also, aside from fitness, need proper clothing and profit from better gear – and dismissive of fashion as outdoors people may be, there is an influence of style even in the, also big-business, world of outdoors and sports gear and its reviews. (Colorways alone change regularly, and the fashionable colors can be seen at the trade shows some 2 years in advance.) Again, a natural interest.
No wonder, as clothes, at a deeper level, are interesting because they represent social concerns – of displays of status, wealth and/or health and beauty – that just would be of interest to a social animal like we humans are.
We are influenced by the things that clothing represents, as far as we notice or know them. The proverbial first look by which we judge a person is a look, to a large extent, not at their bodies but at their clothes; something is noticed, whether we want to or not.
Even the refusal to participate in fashion is a fashion statement – and one cannot opt out of social estimation. As Mark Twain observed in his typically wry way, “Naked people have little or no influence in society.”
Someone who dresses wrong for a particular occasion, out of ignorance, will be held in low esteem by those in the know about such conventions.
Someone who is seen as knowing fully well what the conventions would be, but flaunts them deliberately – the manager using the red sneakers effect – is assumed to be in a high position that allows him (or her?) to do so.
For ways of making oneself at home, then, fashion is a difficult topic, but clothing, within or outside of the vagaries of fashion’s changes, is an essential theme.
As we live much of our lives in our clothes, more so even than we do in the places we call home; as we present ourselves at least as much, if not more, by way of what we wear rather than as the bodies we are, it is an issue to consider.
We can wear clothes to feel comfortable in them as we are, or we can wear clothes to become as the clothes make us feel.
In the tense play between protection from the elements and physical comfort on the one hand, social conventions and their flaunting as well as representations of symbolic qualities, on the other hand, clothes also make a perfect way to think about the tension we all face in making ourselves at home.
On the one hand, home is the social world where we want to live our very own individual lives but also depend on other’s opinions and approval; on the other hand, home is the uncaring companionship of the places in which we live, with us doing what we do in the weather and climate they have.
In between, we do what we do – and the question is how we can make ourselves more at home there, deciding what we pay attention to and what we don’t, so that we more deeply live richer lives.
Time to take a look at some examples… and for me to ask: Do you just wear what’s in the stores you’ve grown up going to? Mix and match? Go minimalist? Follow fashion or your own style, or try not to care about any of that?
Being at home somewhere typically implies that you have at least some things that are familiar, that you can call yours, around you – but also, that those same things become so mundane, they aren’t really noticed much anymore.
It’s just a fact of life, and part of the “faulty connections” we make about happiness, that we get used to new things quickly, adapt and never notice what we have, thinking it’s just normal.