The humble fleece workout jacket is something I see most moms in my small Midwestern city wearing when I’m out and about. Out for endless errands, on the way to the gym, doing a grocery trip or rushing to a quick coffee run: those North Face-y type of jackets are everywhere I go, on all kinds of moms.
I remember when my younger sister first became a mom and how she wore a North Face fleece jacket almost everyday but in the summer. My other sisters and I teased her about it, but now that I’m a mom, I see the logic: it’s supremely comfortable, warm, functional enough and not so precious that you’ll cry when your kid spits up or spills stuff all over it.
Still, I didn’t succumb to getting one. It was just too “mommy,” if you know what I mean, right up there with much-maligned black yoga pants.
But then I started running again and needed something for cold outdoor runs…and so when Old Navy had a sale on their fleece jackets for $8, I had to bite.
And what do you know…I love wearing it! It’s soft and so very comfy. It’s thin and not bulky at all, so I don’t feel super-frumpy when I wear it, but it’s extremely warm. It’s easy to grab when you’re just going to be out and about, like going to Target and then to the library and goodness knows where else. It’s easy to pull on to go to the gym and then keep on when you head off to do work.
It’s just…easy. That, in a word, is the fleece jacket’s appeal.
But how to make it chic? Fashionable? Indicative of some sartorial flair and verve? Was such a thing possible? Well, I know Ye Gods of High Fashion have made Birkenstocks, Tevas and Uggs fashionable at some point — but I don’t ever think the fashionization of the fleece jacket had ever been attempted. (Paging Phoebe Philo…your next fashion challenge at Celine?)
Still, I thought I’d give it a try. Not that I’m a fancy fashionista or an “influencer,” but in my own way, I was curious to see what would happen. So I attempted to style a fleece jacket in a few different outfits that weren’t the typical way of wearing a fleece. It turned it surprisingly tricky — and illuminating — as you might see below.
Comfy and Casual
First stop: the most simple and easygoing outfit ever. This is really just a step up from the typical mom outfit of “fleece jacket + yoga pants + sneakers.” Instead of yoga pants, you pair it with a dark rinse pair of skinny jeans and a slightly elevated tank. And instead of sneakers, you wear a more refined shoe like ballet flats or ankle boots. (I did a casual Rag & Bone moto boot.) The fleece jacket here functions then as a blazer substitute.
This works because while all the pieces are casual and easy, all the little details are subtly leveled up — especially if you go with a structured, elegant shoulder or handbag. This is a nice little outfit for coffee breaks or errand running. It’s not super fashion-y but just a tad more composed and thoughtful than the typical t-shirt, jeans and sneakers you see it often combined with.
Classic, Modern and Pared Down
The next phase of my little experiment was basically “What Would Carolyn Bessette Kennedy do?” The funny thing about this thought experiment is that I could, somehow, imagine CBK wearing a fleece jacket — she was athletic and active, after all — but I couldn’t quite picture how she’d TriBeCa it up at first. I could only come up with layering it under a streamlined camel coat (mine is sold out at Old Navy, but this one is similar), paired with jeans and black boots and then topped with a knit hat.
In a way, I could totally picture a paparazzi snap of her walking to or from Bubby’s in Tribeca wearing this combo, deep in conversation with a slightly cheesy JFK Jr., a black knitted cap over her long white-blonde hair. (I think I might be the only person who found JFK Jr. kind of cheesy, but maybe it’s because he had a thing for those man-hats.) Of course, I’m the antithesis of a leggy statuesque New York blonde — but this outfit still felt smartly practical but refined in that New York utilitarian kind of way.
Trying for Mod and Failing
I only included this because I got ambitious and thought I’d turn the fleece jacket into a kind of mod top — think Gattaca/early 90s Prada vibe, very minimalist and even uniform-like. I paired it with a black A-line neoprene mini (mine is from Fabletics; here’s a similar one from Reiss) and wore it with black tights and ankle boots. The problem is:
1. I think only a model could barely get away with this, no matter how convolutedly I pose in a stupid picture, and
2. The jacket is too stiff, long and bulky, even when cut fairly slim.
Really, though, the idea is flawed, because the outfit I’m thinking of really just needs a shirt, not a jacket, to work — and trying to make this kind of jacket be a shirt is a Sisyphean endeavor. Oh, well!
Nouvelle Grunge Ski Bum
Besides, if I’m honest with myself, I’m not really a 90s-minimalist on the Prada tip kind of person — or really a clean-cut mod. My style icons are sort of more on the romantic-bohemian/eclectic hippie-grunge end of things, so I tried to find a way to make it work in a slightly more Seattle-y way. After all, fleece is super Northwest-y, no?
I took my muse for this kind of outfit from the whole ski/snowboarder look — knit hat, leggings, big sweatshirts. (I also do love winter sports, though I haven’t skied in years. Hoping to go snowshoeing later this winter!) For my first attempt, I layered the jacket under a down vest from Old Navy, which itself topped a dress (mine is from Vans), leggings and Frye motorcycle boots, which you can see here:
This ended up being super practical, but I made the mistake of wearing almost all black, which photographs not so well unless you have a great camera and lighting. I also would’ve worn my fur-trimmed ski-type boots, which would’ve broken up the relentless black as well. Ah, well, #fashionbloggerfails! In real life this outfit looked pretty Goth-y, though, which works great for me.
But all in all, this outfit, the camel jacket outfit and the casual coffee-date one are the best ways for me to wear a fleece jacket without getting too sloppy about it — mostly because they fit in with my existing style predilections. But also, those outfits accepted the fundamental nature of the fleece jacket as a humble, practical layer and didn’t attempt to make it fashion-y in and of itself.
Actually, what I found interesting about this little fashion experiment was just how “dominant” the humble fleece jacket was as a fashion item. Trying to make it into something it wasn’t — like a regular top — just looked and felt ridiculous. But when you combined it in outfits that respected the integrity of its function as a lightweight cover-up, it worked — and it worked pretty well. And actually, wearing a North Face-y type of jacket doesn’t mean you have to give up fashion aesthetics — it works well layered unobtrusively with other more stylish elements. A North Face-type of jacket is underrated as a layering piece in terms of fashion potential, but creative fashionistas should give it a go — and keep themselves toasty in the process!
In a way, doing this fashion experiment actually made me regard the fleece jacket as an interesting metaphor for motherhood itself. We deride the fleece jacket as dowdy, practical, useful but unattractive — and it’s the same way we think of being a certain kind of mom at times.
Think of how fashion affixes “mom” in front of nouns to imply frumpiness and unfabulousness: mom jeans, mom hair, mom glasses and the like. I also think of that moment on ‘Bob’s Burgers’ when the little girl Louise yells at her mom playing a fun game, “Ugh, you just had to mom all over it, didn’t you?!” It’s like anything mom-related is uncool, stifling and dowdy. (I know it’s starting to be the same with “dad”, like dad bods and such, but I think that’s a much more recent idea.)
“Momming” is traditionally something that somehow takes over our self-expression and lifestyles, making them dowdy and suffocating of our fabulous pre-mommy selves.
But with a little creativity and experimentation, your mom obligations — and your fleece jacket — don’t have to default to frumpiness. There is a way to incorporate it into your existing style and life! Hope exists for us all!
(Of course, in real life, you likely need a lot of support, help and sleep — I don’t want to blithely flatten the very real difficulties of being a mama for the sake of a fashion metaphor!)
Yes, there’s a time and place for total DGAF-ness in terms of style and momming around. And there’s no shame for just throwing the dang jacket on over pajamas and getting through the day.
But if you’re up for it — and want to have a little sartorial creativity — trying to make a North Face jacket in a more traditionally stylish ensemble is a lot easier and more fun than you’d think. And you’ll be super-warm in the process, making for a much happier winter!
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