When Jason Chen coined the term gorpcore in The Cut back in 2017, he wasn't discovering a new trend — he simply put a label on an aesthetic we were already familiar with: fashion that leans towards the outdoorsy, informed by what you might see on a hiker or a camper, with an emphasis on the utilitarian. But it occupies a gray area between technical apparel and something a little bit more zeitgeist-y, like normcore.
Gorpcore went mainstream in the mid-2010s when celebrities like A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean started wearing Adidas Terrex AX3 GTX Men's Trekking sneakers and Arc'teryx jackets. Demand for these brands skyrocketed, both from consumers and other players in the market: This ushered in a series of collaborations — North Face and Supreme, Columbia and Opening Ceremony, Fjallraven and Acne Studios — that continue to this day. (Just last week, Reformation announced a capsule with Canada Goose.)
Gorpcore has flourished into its own subcategory in the market. And in recent years, it's evolved to intersect with the luxury world on a whole new level.
Dior x Birkenstock, Jacquemus hiking boots, Prada's hit nylon accessories — okay, the latter technically is a re-issue, but still: All of these are a testament to gorpcore's popularity among shoppers. (The Lyst Index of 10 hottest products for Q3 of 2022 included both the Birkenstock Boston Clog and the Patagonia Better Sweater fleece.)
"Essentially, gorpcore became the new luxury streetwear," says Lorna Hall, director of fashion intelligence at WGSN. "Its active functionality was truly performative to those buying into it — hence the infamous TikToks demonstrating a jacket's waterproof credentials [by] standing in a shower or throwing bottles of champagne at it."
It's only growing in resale, too: Searches for "gorpcore" have been on the rise on Depop among its loyal customer base of teens and twenty-somethings, according to Augustina Panzoni, the company's trends and category manager. Brands like Arc'teryx, The North Face and Salomon are driving greater traffic than ever, especially for vests, rain jackets, technical pants and bags. But Panzoni calls out Prada, Dior, Jacquemus and Loewe as luxury brands that have crossed into the space.
Gorpcore gives these younger consumers the opportunity to mix and match different aesthetics together and express themselves. They tend not to be loyal to a single brand, nor can they necessarily afford an entire luxury wardrobe. By jumping (and cashing) in on this aesthetic, luxury brands have provided more aspirational options to those able to afford them; but it's an aesthetic that's still attainable on a budget.
TikTok has also helped. Panzoni points to the viral trend of people wearing Arc'teryx's Gore-tex jacket in the shower while listening to "Arc'teryx" by YG; searches for Arc'teryx rose almost 200% in the last quarter on Depop.
Meanwhile, for the brands that originated gorpcore, this recent trend is an opportunity to expand their clientele and stay relevant.
In 2021, The North Face teamed up with Gucci on a collaboration of groovy backpacks, colorblocked coats, Gucci-North Face monogramed puffers and heavy-duty boots. Launchmetrics reported that in just four months, the collection accumulated a whopping $15.3M in Media Impact Value. That same year, Arc’teryx partnered up with Jil Sander on a line of jackets, bibbed trousers and one-pieces that marry aesthetics and utility. More recently, on Sandy Liang's Spring 2023 runway, models walked out in ballet-inspired outfits paired with Salomon hiking shoes, creating an interesting juxtaposition between the designer's über-feminine style and tougher footwear.
"We carved out this unique space for ourselves in the fashion market with our statement sandals, and now with our lifestyle boots, but we really saw an acceleration of comfy-casual trends winning during the pandemic" says Julia Feldman, associate product line manager at Teva. (The brand alluded to a luxury collaboration on the horizon.)
Also on the footwear front, Collina Strada — a beloved New York label that's often inspired by nature and driven by sustainability — introduced a collaboration with Melissa that's generated a lot of buzz. Their Puff Sandal is futuristic-style hiking shoe that's both funky and sporty, inspired by founder Hillary Taymour's own lifestyle.
When it came to designing the shoe, it was equal parts about the aesthetic and functionality. "We made it so you could literally hike up rocks and jump into an ocean — it's the coolest water-functioning shoe I have ever seen," Taymour says. "Wear it with a pair of socks in the fall, with cargo pants or a dress, and it's still a statement shoe. I feel like anything that's multi-functional and can be worn for different types of outings is very much the Collina way."
So what's behind this new wave of gorpcore — one that toys with luxury — surging years after the trend first emerged? To a certain extent, it's a reflection of our sociopolitical climate.
"In streetwear, the mood and mentality always fits the times, and there's a very definite element emerging of 'harderwear for hard times,' which aligns the aesthetic and performance to the dark geopolitical and economic mood music" says WGSN's Hall. "The narrative is less about outdoor pursuits and weather functionality, more about survivalism."
As for what's to come, some predict the next step for gorpcore is to go digital.
"Streetwear is also starting to respond to the meta economy, where we see performance streetwear increasingly being influenced by metaverse/gaming and fantasy aesthetics," says Hall. "The question is: Should they lean into these shift, or is it a step too far from their true extreme/outdoor DNA and therefore too big a risk?" Only time will tell.