Often, when I walk through a gear store or participate in outdoor activities with men, I notice one distinct difference in our clothing and gear. Well, ok, two- color is an obvious one. Companies have started making a lot more clothing and gear in more colors for both genders, instead of the standard black and grey. But a big difference I’ve noticed is the use of graphics on women’s clothes, and the lack thereof on men’s. And while I’m not totally opposed to the “accenting” of my stuff on the whole, I’ve noticed a certain trend in the choice of graphics applied to women’s things: for the most part, they’re all dainty and fragile things. Let’s take a closer look at the common offenders, shall we?
1. Flowers– So many flowers EVERYWHERE! On everything. It’s actually quite amazing how many different ways companies have managed to put flowers on their stuff. Screen print, woven, stitched, engraved, realistic, whimsical… one company even attaches a hair band with a fake flower to their packs. What is that? I’ve never though, “Oh, if I’d just worn my flower hair band today that hike would have gone so much better.” No! And again, the choice of flower is usually dainty and fragile. Things like daisies, lilies, and baby’s breath (really?). I’m not totally opposed to the concept of the flower. They are pretty and they smell nice. But why not at least use a flower that’s tough and fights back, like a rose? And why flowers in the first place? Remember how they used to cover just about every couch in an awful floral pattern that people eventually realized was horribly ugly? Just because the coloring and style of flowering has changed doesn’t make it a whole lot different. Perhaps companies think that flowers are visually appealing to women while the clothes are hanging on the rack and that it’ll help sell their things, but when I shop for gear, the appearance is only a small factor in my decision to buy. And shouldn’t an item’s effectiveness at what it was made for be the selling point? I want a piece of gear that is tough, functional, and long lasting. I don’t want to look like a walking bouquet when I’m in the mountains. There’s plenty of real flora to admire out there.
2. Dragonflies– Again, why? What is it about this strange looking insect that says “woman”? Dragonflies weird me out. When I lived by a lake growing up, they’d fly around while we were trying to play and annoy the crap out of us. They zoom right in front of your face and then stop and just hover there, as if that is the absolute best place in the whole yard for them to hang out at that moment. Have you ever had two mating dragonflies land on you? I have. They just conduct their business all out in the open, without any care to what, or who, they land on. They used to swarm the golf courses when my dad took me out to learn how to play and I hated when they touched me. One night, I had a dream that they landed on my legs and started sucking out the blood with their creepy little pointy tails. In my dream it didn’t hurt, but my dad told me that everything would be ok as I sat on his lap and watched my legs turn purple. I think I was 6 when I had that dream and I still remember it. So, sorry, but I have no idea what these annoying, sex-crazed, blood-sucking creatures have to do with me. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’d refer you to the Twilight series.
3. Birds– Now here’s one I can get on board with. To me, birds have always symbolized a sort of free-spiritedness. They’re smart and resourceful and can be pretty clever, too. I’ve always thought it would be cool to take off in flight under my own power and just kinda cruise around, enjoying the views. I’ve seen tastefully done bird graphics, such as simple silhouettes or as a small accent or embroider. Arc’teryx’s bird logo is one of my favorites. It’s unique and is usually the only detail on otherwise clean and well-fitting (and extremely functional) clothing. Birds don’t usually scream fru-fru to me like a flower does. The closest I’ve seen to crossing the line is the use of peacocks. I’ve seen one shirt with so much peacock on it, I nearly went cross-eyed. I also recently saw a pair of skis with a HUGE peacock graphic on it, but the colors were subdued and it wasn’t quite so in your face (also, though I haven’t spent much time skiing at resorts, I get a faint vibe that skiers and snowboarders really like insane pictures and graphics scribbled all over their gear. Or maybe that’s just what all the companies do so they’ve forced themselves to like it?).
4. Fur– Fur has certain practical uses. It’s a good non-technical glove lining because it’s so warm and soft. It’s even useful along hoods to help catch snow and keep it out of your face. But I’ve seen fur in bizarre places. I saw a set of women’s hiking poles that had fur lining the wrist strap. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually wearing gloves when I’m using ski poles, so I’m not really sure what practical use the fur has in that location. I’ve also seen fur on a pair of resort ski boots. Several things wrong with this; one, most people I know wear socks with their ski boots, negating the soft, fuzzy feeling you’d get, say, in a pair of gloves. Two, you know how animals dry their fur? By licking it. Otherwise it really doesn’t dry that fast. So either, you get to lick your sweaty ski boots dry, or you get to wait for them to dry, missing out on that sweet pow, brah. I’ve never seen fur on a dude’s gear, besides the aforementioned practical uses. And even those uses don’t really encompass actual technical gear (exception to this are those fuzzy jackets that are trending right now, made for men and women. Now that I think of it though, does anyone actually use those as active wear?). And so I bring you back full circle: why does fur represent women? It’s not there for practical purposes, so why is it there at all?
5. Sparkles and Swirlies– WTF? Unless you’re trying to imply that I’m some sort of magical snow goddess, is this really necessary (I saw a show about a real-life goddess last night and it doesn’t sound that great. She’s not allowed to speak or show emotion in public, gets carried everywhere, and her own dad kisses her feet. No thanks.)? You know when is the last time I used sparkles? When I made a huge, gaudy, sparkly welcome home poster meant to embarrass my husband. I ended up wearing sparkles for a few days after, but that was incidental damage, and not intentional. Before then, the only other time I remember wearing sparkles is in middle school I had this awful sparkly rainbow-striped sweater that I can’t believe my parents didn’t stop me from wearing out of the house. I don’t know if this is yet another attempt to attract the female eye and encourage purchasing, but my first thought when I see sparkles is “really?” What is it about sparkles and swirls that seemed “woman” enough to put on our gear. They add no practical value to our things, so I don’t understand why the man-power and resources were expended to add them.
So what do we want? Well, personally, I think the simpler, the better. Most of the gear I have, I’ve used extensively and know exactly what works in which conditions. It’s sometimes hard for me to phase in new stuff since I’ve found a system that works for me and for the most part, covers the spectrum of needs. When I think about the items that comprise this system, the trend in appearance is simple, with splashes of color. I do prefer to not be clothed head to toe in black. Admittedly, I do love pink, but last year I got dressed for a ski day and realized that I was clothed head to toe in various shades of pink which, unfortunately, clashed a bit more than all black. I felt a little silly, so I’ve tried to diversify my color selections. But I think all outdoor enthusiasts, regardless of gender, can agree that functionality is a top priority, especially when you’re paying top dollar for your gear. If a piece of gear fits that criteria, then it shouldn’t need sparkles and graphics to sell it. Clean lines, simple colors, and most importantly, gets the job done. I think those are things we can all agree on.