A Dirtbagger’s Musing on Fashion

A Dirtbagger’s Musing on Fashion

If you walk around a mountain town, you’ll find an abundance of a people who look a little different. They aren’t city folks; they don’t necessarily look like they belong in places like New York or South Beach in Miami. Everything from the glow of their skin to the clothing they wear denotes a sturdy demeanor. You could take them off the sidewalk and plunk them right into a ski resort lodge or at the bottom of a crag. No one would glance twice.

But plunk us outdoor folks into anything but a mountain town and we’d probably stand out a bit. We’re different that way.

Other people change clothes between work, working out, and going out. Outdoor people just brush the dirt off, finger comb their hair, then move to the next event in their day.

How did we create a sub-culture in which we accept each other as-is? How is it that our people are so “multi-comfortable,” for lack of a better word (or probably for lack of a better vocabulary)?

Part of it might be that we’re just oblivious. Part of it is something else entirely.

Since the first day of becoming part of the outdoor community, I’ve gotten progressively more tangled in its tentacles. I went from skiing to whitewater kayaking to climbing and then on to mountain biking, never dismissing one for the other.

The more I got hooked on different outdoor sports, the less I cared about other things “normal” people enjoy, like saving up for a great dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant, for example. Things of that nature meant I’d have to get fancied up just to eat. Getting fancied up costs money.

Meanwhile, there were outdoor skill courses and pieces of gear to be acquired. Since a fancy dinner out and an outdoor piece of gear made the same-sized dent in my bank account, it came down to choice and priority.

Thus, Ramen dinners at home it was: the outdoors won.

Along with this prioritization of funds, my immersion in outdoor life also brought addiction. The more I fell in love with the various sports I participated in, the more I found myself swapping shifts with people at work or accepting lesser hours (and smaller paychecks) so I could be outdoors working on fun.

Combining the two points above, I came to this conclusion about myself: lower funds coming in, coupled with priorities placed on progressing outdoors, resulted in a shift from mainstream fashion to making purchases that pulled double duty. High fashion, which has little place in our closets (being filled with gear anyway), is overlooked by the outdoor addicted. It doesn’t fit in our repertoire.

Some of us take this even further by using backpacks for luggage or making a tent double as their home. *Raises hand*

I’m probably lowballing it, but there are at least a few thousand people in the outdoor community who, in similar circumstances, fall under this conclusion.

Just like anyone else, we outdoor folks want to continue doing what makes us happy. But unlike everyone else, you won’t find us saying our happiest memories were getting dolled up and going to dinner. Instead, we spend our money on a second-hand puffy that dresses us for the occasion of a weekend dirtbagging in the wild.

We’ve realized functional comfort is a priority, and it trumps looking glamorous. “Business wear” means tucking in our most expensive plaid shirt into a washed pair of Carhartt’s. Getting “dressed up” means pulling on our cleanest pair of leggings and layering a scarf over a long poly-blend tee.

These same outfits adorn us at the crag as soon as the formal event is over (quickly untucked and un-scarved).

It’s kinda endearing how naive we are about all of this. Unlike other unconventional groups who pride themselves on being different for the sake of being different, outdoor folks don’t have a need to stand out. We’re not doing it for attention.

We probably don’t even realize we are different.

Put us on a sidewalk in upscale New York during business hours, and our brightly-colored base layers, customized with a few dirt smudges here and there, would stick out like a sore thumb amidst a sea of black. But it’s not until our parents infer that maybe we should “run a comb through our hair” or ask us if we’re going to “iron that shirt” that the difference strikes our bewildered minds.

We don’t notice it. We don’t see our fashion as being just a little off from the rest of society, that we do, in fact, stand apart.

But, as a member of this community, I gotta say: I wouldn’t want to stand anywhere else.



About the Author


Gina Begin

Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Over the years, she has been consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. When she's not playing the part of a photojournalist, Gina can be found collaborating with women worldwide through her nonprofit, Outdoor Women's Alliance, and working to improve her outdoor skills and wilderness safety certifications.