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Everyone in Denim

Editor’s Note: Our reader who posted this really should get to know Cory Richards (if your Issue 18 didn’t burn, check out Cory’s short piece “Climbing Couture”).

My passion for climbing began when I saw a photo from an old guidebook of a climber in zebra print tights. He might have been wearing a tangerine muscle tank as well but that is beside the point. I realized then that climbers with their wide-fold bandanas, and curious names for cliffs, the tinkle of their multi-colored racks, and their slim climbing slippers had more style than any other sportspeople. Though fine purveyors of casual sportswear such as American Apparel now make zebra spandex available to the masses, the climbing styles have evolved through the decades to the point where most climbing circles would preclude anyone from joining if they donned lycra like that. So I keep to my sensible black leggings with the yellow zig-zags up the side in order to maintain some street cred at the crags. The loud sportif neons of the 80’s have been sadly forced to retire by the sweat-wicking, eco-friendly earthen threads of Patagonia in the 90’s and now in the 2000’s, with the economy in the dumps, the trend on the cliffs seems to have devolved back to gym shorts and t-shirts ala the old umbros from 7th grade gym class. Not only does this look get pretty boring for a belayer or an admiring crowd, but it suggests a personal and aesthetic negligence that, in my opinion, borders on the rash and suicidal when it comes to climbing. My goal is to encourage style in the climbing community and therefore safety. With that said…

Though climbing skills are pretty important, so is looking stylish. You don’t look good pulling burly moves if your clothing is played out, you look boring. Climbers should look and feel glamorous as a rule. That is why I have compiled a few outfit ideas for both men and women to don in and out of the climbing season that will make them feel as sexy and hardcore as their gritty rack and sexy harness accessories would suggest.

The greatest thing about climbing is that you already have all this neat metal gear that looks cool and is colorful and even makes a pretty noise when you walk around. The accessories are the hard part, let me tell you, so with that taken care of all you need to complement your hardware are affordable movement pieces that don’t clash. They should create a cohesive unit from all angles and poses: jamming to jumaring…even spread-eagling. I think everything retro is amazing. Therefore let’s take a look at some past fashion precedents in the climber’s closet of yore.

One word: blue jeans. Now I know that the only people in the backcountry nowadays with blue jeans are fly fishermen from Idaho who don’t give a shit about quick-dry even though we all know “cotton kills”, but the best thing about these killer pants is that they suggest nonchalance and being “for real”. As in: “I just rolled out of my band practice and onto the crux move of this cornice with a Pabst in one hand and my chalk bag in the other, yeah I’m wearing designer jeans to send this move, so?” And at the same time conversely suggesting “I grew up doing this sort of thing, where I’m from in Idaho you don’t change clothing…ever. I weld in jeans, climb in jeans, shoot in jeans, even poop in jeans. I’m from Idaho and we all wear jeans.” And when I say jeans, I mean real jeans, not costing more than 50 dollars and containing no lycra whatsoever. I’m not even talking 501’s, people, I am talking middle-america’s favorite: the 550’s. Sure they don’t stretch, they might even rip in the crotchal area with a powerful lunging motion, but they won’t show your crack, and they will last forever, slowly growing that fine patina as long as you never wash them or take them off.

Men: watch out, the ladies love classic blue jeans under harnesses. It says, “I am so good at climbing I don’t need pants made by companies with Sanskrit words for names” and simultaneously “I don’t try too hard too look good.” And for women: go for the cut-offs, but not too high as they might ride up your harness creating some painful and embarrassing rappel situations. The cut-offs (a dark vintage wash is preferable) accentuate your muscles, suggesting a modern girl who throws caution to the wind and enjoys the fruits of her fit and modern body. Same goes for the rise. High-waisted is not only vintage cool but also sensible: you don’t want to expose your athletic Capilene thong to your belayer or the cute team climbing simultaneously on the route nearby.

Watch for my next post on helmets, hats, and headbands. It’s getting hot in here…