'Wainwright chic' strides from the hills to the catwalk

Outdoor wear suited to long country hikes is being hailed as the high street's next big thing

Millions follow, literally, in his footsteps. They even follow his advice on what to wear. But while Alfred Wainwright – the author of seven revered walking guides to the Lake District – was undoubtedly a fixture on the national landscape, fashion was never one of his strong points.

Nevertheless, high-street retailers, never slow to latch on to a marketing opportunity, are touting Wainwright chic – a mash-up of Compo from Last of the Summer Wine and Kate Moss – as the next big thing.

Outdoor wear is in, and Wainwright is being credited with boosting the trend.

Before anyone gets too carried away, the people wearing Sergio Rossi's hiking boots or Dolce & Gabbana plaid shirts won't be going anywhere near a mountain, fell or moor. Instead they'll be braving the dangers of windswept streets, surviving the pitfalls of trendy nightclubs and scaling the peaks of their office block front steps.

At a push they might, like Moss, explore the various stages of a music festival. But it is Moss and co who are said to be taking their cues from the stylings of the man who died 19 years ago at the age of 84.

Debenhams says sales of its chunky walking socks are up 15 per cent; walking trousers up 148 per cent; flat caps up by 180 per cent; walking boots by 30 per cent and Fair Isle knits by 25 per cent over the past two years.

"We're calling it Wainwright chic," its director of menswear, Paul Baldwin, said. "At one time, these specialist clothes would have been bought only by long-distance hill walkers. Now, however, you're more likely to see them worn on the streets of Kensington and Chelsea than Scafell or Grisedale Pike."

Robert Johnston, associate editor of the men's fashion magazine GQ, said the trend probably had more to do with catwalks than fell walking. "For autumn/winter next season it's going to be hiking boots and chunky knits and plaid shirts. It's sexy and it's masculine, and as well as protecting us from the weather it gives a sense of comfort in the economic climate – we're dreaming of the great outdoors. Buying less but of better quality is the rule of this economic climate."

Dr Eike Wenzel of the German Institute of Trends and Futurology will be presenting research today on the fashion for outdoor clothing in urban areas at the Outdoor Trade Fair in Friedrichshafen in Germany. He said part of the reason for the trend was a shift in attitude towards nature over the past decade.

"We found that people no longer love business suits," he said. "We have noticed that in many urban areas – London, Berlin, Oslo – the middle classes and upper managers are riding bikes to their offices wearing chic outdoor clothes. So we have a funny picture of people wearing their outdoor clothing and doing jobs where they earn a lot of money.

"We want to get closer to nature and we are identifying more with nature, perhaps because of awareness of climate change."

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