How do we navigate the high-pile terrain of a world that has reached Peak Fleece? This was the question on my mind the day I conceived of “The Battle of the Fleeces,” Man Repeller’s first-annual (and possibly last-annual) fleece bracket. Created to gauge the prevailing attitudes toward the Patagonia-inspired outerwear species and render the market less chaotic, I wondered if, with the help of my friends and an athletic strategy, I could help lead us toward one true object of desire. The results? Chilling. Exhilarating. Revealing. December madness!
The fleece tournament started with combing through webpages upon webpages of fleece jackets, keeping an eye out for top contenders in department stores and in passing. In the end I found so many you could wear a different one every week for the next two years. Which is to say: The primaries of this bracket were fierce. As they often say in college admissions offices, I could have filled the available slots with qualified candidates multiple times over.
I culled the selection down to four categories or, in the language of brackets, “conferences.” These conferences—Under $100, Marsupials, Deep Pockets (both literal and figurative), and Festivity Fleece—each included eight nominees.
Under $100: These days fleeces run the gamut of “affordability”—I saw a few priced like Macbook Airs, though they more often hovered around the $130 range. Fleeces that dipped below $100 were few and far between, but reflected some of the most popular tastes (like a Patagonia classic, a popular J.Crew number, some normcore-ish Everlane, and a swanky J.W. Anderson x Uniqlo piece). *One disclaimer: some of these prices have fluctuated following the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales.
Marsupials: The marsupial pocket is one of Patagonia’s signature fleece features that has rubbed off on other brands (though, when you really think about it, most hoodie sweatshirts have marsupial pockets). Here, all of the fleeces designed to make you look like the birth mother of Kangaroo Jack find comfort in one conference together. Some unforeseen drama goes down when two Outdoor Voices fleeces face off in the second round. Nike could have also qualified for this conference.
Deep Pockets: This conference recognizes the variety of ways pockets find purpose in the fleece universe. Much to my delight, pocket-centric designs often lean in the direction of abstract expressionism and color field painting. Others that could’ve qualified for this conference include: Tory Sport (I wear this one on winter walks to the gym), Aimé Leon Dore, Napapijri, MM6, Kenzo, And Wander, The North Face and Polo Ralph Lauren. This conference has a parent: I believe its origin story begins with Patagonia’s Synchilla Snap-T pullover, she of the Under $100 conference, if not the Classic Retro-X Fleece Jacket.
Festivity Fleece: Considered the “wildcard” conference, this one includes all of the fleeces that really go out on a limb and shake up the definition of what a fleece can be. Others that could have qualified for this conference include: MISBHV, John Elliott’s patchwork vest, Marine Serre, Off-White, Citizen Vintage, Only NY and Burberry.
I wanted to keep the story under wraps, clandestine, but also didn’t want to determine the outcome with only my point of view, so I set up a wide-ranging Close Friends tab on Instagram and conducted the tournament there. Over the course of five rousing rounds of voting on factors like wearability and aesthetic appeal, about 70 people weighed in. Some were fleece novices, others fleece experts, but they all shared one quality: A firm perspective on matters of taste.
Before I share the winner, some hard truths about fleece: It’s a synthetic material, and the cheaper the fleece, the more likely that it will spew microplastics into the water stream by way of a laundry machine. Here’s the unsung upshot of a fleece bracket: By thoroughly evaluating 32 fleeces, you can whittle down your options to the one that speaks to you, heightening your chances of making a conscious shopping decision. You could also buy through Patagonia’s WornWear program, which repairs and flips used Patagonia merchandise (one of the bracket’s top contenders was a classic Synchilla Snap-T pullover, made available via the trade-in system). If you’re going to buy one of these fleeces, I hope you plan to wear it forever.
As all tournaments do, this competition came down to two fleeces, tied at a 50/50 split until one person, a comedian featured in this story, voted with a buzzer beater that determined the bracket’s trajectory.
From the funfetti-cake appeal of John Elliott’s zip-up to Patagonia’s product styling that occasionally transforms outerwear into the form of a child’s car-seat, enjoy the emotional rollercoaster below that is Man Repeller’s 2019 Battles of the Fleeces bracket. And, in acknowledgement of all of those who have come before me, let it be known that I sometimes refer to Man Repeller in my head as Fashion Grantland.
Graphics by Edith Young; Feature photos via Sandy Liang.