First, Rock Climbing Became a Pandemic Hobby. Then It Became a Fashion Moment

In the past few months, it seems as if every man in a hip part of New York City has been wearing a pair of Patagonia baggies or a pair of loosely fitted cargo pants with a plastic buckle around the waist. Or, if you went twenty minutes outside of the city on a “nature walk,” you’d see herds of dudes out there in comfortable-yet-functional hiking sandals, perhaps paired with a funky bootleg t-shirt with some facts about Walter Benjamin on it. If you’ve seen these things, don’t fret. You’re not crazy. Everyone is dressing like a rock climber now.

Many of them are even climbing themselves. Rock climbing, like darning socks and naming your sourdough starter, is among the many hobbies people gravitated toward during the pandemic. (Of course, it was also having something of a moment pre-pandemic.) But climbing feels distinct from those activities. It’s a solitary activity, but it’s also fun to do with friends. There’s something soothing and methodical about finding your way up the face of some sort of Paleozoic hunk of Earth, or just Nickelodeon-colored man-made walls. 

There’s also, unsurprisingly, a whole way to get dressed for it. Climbing up rocks isn’t just about the climb—it’s also about what you wear to do it.

Designer Spencer Phipps is maybe the perfect example of this new climbing guy. Phipps, who lives in Paris, installed a climbing gym in his own home right before the pandemic. It ended up being a great move: he used it all the time in the darkest parts of lockdown, and still uses it quite often today. Phipps says he loves how low-tech climbing is. When he goes for a climb, he tends to wear a lot of vintage military surplus clothing. But when I ask him who the most stylish person he’s ever seen climbing, he says that there was an octogenarian man at a gym he goes to in Paris who had the best fits he’d ever seen. “He would wear these leggings. But he was like, so skinny and old that they were kind of like, baggy, skinny jeans or something like that. It was just like, sort of skinny and droopy,” he says. “And then he had these like salmon colored crocs. And this pom pom beanie.”

Erin, who works at VITAL, a gym in Williamsburg, says she can spot rock climber guys out in the world pretty easily. “I’ll notice,” she says, “People on the subway with an Osprey bag. You can usually tell that they’re a climber or a really serious hiker.” Erin’s own favorite climbing-related article of clothing is a pair of Gramicci pants: “I’ve been wearing them every day because I can wear them to do virtually anything. They also look super cute—kind of like a loose pair of chinos.”