An airport around red-eye-time is a ghastly sartorial sight. Forget the pervasiveness of athleisure. Head-to-toe Alo or Vuori is par for the course these days; this is much more severe. People walk around looking like they’re at an adult sleepover, wearing saggy tie-dye sweatpants, socks and sandals, completing the look with a full-size pillow. Public decorum goes right out the window.
I’ve been traveling long-haul for both work and leisure for the past 20 years, but never really thought too much about what I packed. Well-constructed chinos and denim with some dress shirts, polos, and blazers was the name of the game. But this formula has limitations: Chinos have no stretch and can be unforgiving on longer flights, and denim can be too dressed down for certain events upon arrival.
I first heard about Outlier shortly after they launched in 2008. I was intrigued with the problem they were trying to solve: The co-founder, Abe Burmeister, was feverishly A/B testing different fabrics in the Garment District, working off a hunch that he could create pants that wore like a jean, but had stretch and durability. Countless prototypes and some years later, Outlier now specializes in utilitarian clothing that travels exceptionally well and doesn’t look flashy. I bought the Slim Dungarees, which are made with a Cordura nylon blend treated with high-tech stuff called Schoeller-Keprotec, which makes the pants look and function like an abrasion-proof canvas. Meanwhile, a separate poly-nylon blend on the interior gives them a soft feel. Abe’s initial idea was to create a brand that worked well for cyclists, whose pants tend to get shredded by their bike. That ethos seems to have lended itself to a lot of other activities, like traveling.
My first trip with the Slim Dungarees was to Copenhagen, which served as the perfect test kitchen. The weather ranges from nice to dismal, and everyone is on a bike. They worked like a charm. (The Slim Dungarees have a fitted but not tight five-pocket chino fit; Outlier makes pants in various other cuts and fabrics.) Since then I’ve worn them to Patagonia, East Africa, the Middle East, South America, and beyond. I find them very comfortable to wear on flights, as they have a bit of stretch and remain super breathable in stuffy, overheated airline cabins. But the real value is how well they work on the road. You only have to bring one pair, two if you’re feeling extravagant. They stay dry in light rain, and dry fast if you get soaked. They don’t need to be washed often: spill a coffee and it will bead right off without staining the fabric. You wouldn’t ever go long without washing a garment for obvious reasons, but because of the exact blend of materials, the Outliers require little maintenance. The pants are breathable in hot weather but polished enough that you can walk into the Four Seasons and not look out of place.
After a 12-year run of wearing clothing from the brand, I found that I’m not the only avowed Outlier diehard. A friend and former Army Special Forces soldier told me his team wore the Slim Dungarees when they had to look discreet, and they never even tore the pants while on difficult missions in rough places like Mosul. I’ve converted other new fans, like photojournalist and NGO worker friends who have left their Filson chinos or bombproof Carhartt pants for the Outlier cult. Enthusiasts (even if I don’t know them personally) also include streetwear guys who buy Outlier along with Arc’teryx Veilance on Grailed, and the menswear cognoscenti on reddit.com/techwear.
I used to think of clothing as stuff to wear, but Outlier is doing something unusual: It’s making clothing that is also a utility and piece of technology. Because it performs so well and doesn’t need a lot of care, I pack less and move more freely. I’ve amassed a lot of clothing from the brand, but really only need the one pair of pants. It doesn’t hurt that they blend in a variety of circumstances, either. Sometimes it is good to be the gray man and blend into your surroundings.
More on Travel
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- The 6 Very Best Packing Cubes
- What Counts As a Personal Item?
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