In the world of luxury fashion—populated with downy vicuña and triple-ply cashmere aplenty—what place is there for fleece? For the man who wears the toniest textiles, synthetic fleece can, understandably, seem like the black sheep of insulating fabrics. But if you’re basing your judgment on camping gear of yore, it’s time you gave fleece a reappraisal. Not only has technology enabled polyester to be woven with all the softness of a fine woolen knit but, in a case of sheep in wolf’s clothes, there are now highbrow fleeces made of actual wool. The humble outdoorsman staple has officially gone luxe.
Fleece as we most commonly know it was invented in the late 1970s and popularized in the early ’80s when Patagonia introduced Synchilla (a portmanteau of synthetic chinchilla) to the world. For most of the next three decades, the fuzzy jackets couldn’t shake their crunchy origins. But that all began to change a few years back when unwitting street style stars like Shia LaBeouf and chef Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food fame—admired for their unstudied, woke-up-like-this bricolage—co-opted classic Patagonia fleeces as the downtown denizen’s mink.
It didn’t take long for fashion to follow, and soon many of the industry’s tastemakers were out and proud about their affinity for outerwear previously associated with the tree-hugger set. It may sound like another case of fashion fanaticism (which tends to burn hot and die fast) but consider that jersey was deemed a pedestrian textile until Coco Chanel made it couture. Now we’re in the moment of fleece’s Chanel-ification.
More than any street style trend, fleece’s widespread embrace can be chalked up to two things: comfort and practicality. Say what you will, but it’s hard to dispute the coziness of a plush fleece jacket—particularly considering it can be worn hard and machine washed. A fleece jacket won’t come close to replacing an elegant wool topcoat but for casual outings, fleece delivers. From deep-pile Sherpas to Casentino wool, here are nine of the best to buy now.