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Plaid Button Down Shirts

Editor’s Note: The following essay was originally featured on THE ROCK FIGHT podcast and is available to listen to in the player below.


Today I’m picking a fight with…Button down shirts. Because they do not belong in the backcountry.

If you’re unaware, there is a trend, especially among mountain bikers, climbers and trail runners, to wear button down shirts while out recreating. I don’t want to be too negative, but…

I hate this trend.

For men of a particular age, the button down plaid shirt is a staple of those who lead an outdoorsy lifestyle. If someone out there knows the specific history of how short sleeve button down shirts became the default uniform of men in the outdoor industry I’d love to hear it.

Maybe it was the misguided belief that vertical lines could camouflage you in the forest. Maybe it was dirtbags trying to come off as ‘presentable’ when heading into town for coffee and a breakfast burrito. As if their greasy hair, scraggly beards. dirty bandanas, and not so subtle odor didn’t tip them off to local authorities as signs of being John Rambo-style outside agitators.

In reality when these shirts became the rage for outdoorsy types, it was to serve as the mountain polo, something to be worn at business meetings or after recreating.

But regardless of the history or the why, the bottom line is that if you’ve walked the halls of the Outdoor Retailer trade show, or maybe attended Trail Days in Damascus you’ve seen this uniform on a lot of white dudes: some form of facial hair, potentially a hat, a pair of boots, trail runners or chacos and all wearing short sleeve plaid button down shirts.

It’s the longest tenured trend among those working in the outdoor industry and will endure longer than puffy coats, craft axes or tin can whiskey.

Now I don’t know when those shirts went from street clothes for outdoorsy people, to something you’d see under a hydration vest at Hardrock. But over the last decade or so, there has been a significant increase in seeing these shirts on people climbing, running and biking. Most notably among the ultrarunning and climbing crowds, but definitely in all facets of our little corner of society.

And I just don’t get it. There is no obvious advantage to the button down shirt over more conventional options and frankly the typically thicker fabrics or finishing touches on such a shirt make it limiting in how it would perform as an active garment.

Now before you send me a giant dissertation on the technical benefits of wearing such a garment, and if you truly feel the need to do so, myrockfight@gmail.com is the place to go, I might be able to save you some time and tell you that I don’t care.

I don’t care if there are a few ancillary benefits to wearing a shirt like this when you’re active.

Given what we know about the default garment that most people run or bike in, the t-shirt, the only thing I can point to as a reason for choosing to wear a button down shirt is that it is a fashion choice. The blending of what you use to identify yourself as an outdoorsy person and the pursuit of an outdoorsy activity.

Humans define themselves in many ways and how we present ourselves to the public are influenced by all sorts of factors. Either with confidence or draped with insecurity, our interests and mindset will lead us to make choices like how we dress or how we do our hair. Those who define themselves by doing outdoorsy things are no different. A lot of us may think we don’t subscribe to such vain pursuits in our lives but the truth of the matter is that we all make daily choices based on what we see in the mirror.

Hence my mustache the likes of which could create world peace if our global leaders would just give it the chance.

Our identity is partly formed by how we choose to dress, you don’t need to be invested in current fashion trends for what you wear to tell a story to anyone you pass on the street.

So let me have a word with you plaid shirt runners and climbers and I’m going to be blunt: You may not realize it, but all you’re really doing is trying way too hard to be cool and show the world that you like to go outside. Ditch the office shirt, put on a t-shirt and resume your favorite activities. Because after this rock fight, those plaid button downs that you’re wearing to the crag are just full of holes anyway.

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