Hiking Chic Is Travel's Latest Fashion Trend — and Wales Offers the Ultimate Inspiration
These are confusing times in the world of fashion. For centuries, the most luxuriously and expensively dressed have prided themselves on a certain impracticality of attire. When designing outerwear, Elsa Schiaparelli and Alexander McQueen paid scant regard to wicking, windproofing, or stain resistance. Salvatore Ferragamo and Christian Louboutin crafted heels with little thought for scaling hills.
By the same token, if you'd been tasked with finding the least stylish people in the world, you could reliably have headed to, say, rural Wales to seek out determined hikers in garish anoraks and waterproof trousers. Though a wonderful place for orienteering, Wales has not historically been a bastion of hipness.
Now, however, this fashion paradigm has been turned on its head. To be unprepared for the elements in 2022 is to be out of touch, decadent in a bad way, or—worse!—some sort of influencer. Gore-Tex and lambswool have never been hipper. Arc'teryx jackets and Moncler hiking boots are flying off the shelves. And you can forget Paris or Milan. Wales is now the vacation destination to name-drop, and if you can do so in Welsh, gwell fyth—so much the better.
Quite the chicest place is the Cambrian Way, the wild and at times forbidding path that stretches 300 miles from Conwy in northern Wales all the way to Cardiff on the southern coast, described by its creator, Tony Drake, as the "mountain connoisseur's walk." You will need a topographic Ordnance Survey map, for there are no signs, let alone cell service.
There are a few different paths that have led us to this point. One has become known as the "gorpcore" trend ("gorp" deriving from "good ole raisins and peanuts," the high-protein snack preferred by serious hikers). It is best understood as practical outdoor wear meets high fashion: see Gucci's recent collaborations with the North Face.
Aesthetically different, but springing from the same well, is the "cottagecore" look, in which, the New York Times says, "tropes of rural self-sufficiency converge with dainty décor to create a twee distillation of pastoral existence." Think Beatrix Potter meets Withnail and I.
Either way, if you have the wherewithal to gather kindling, forage a few mushrooms, and prepare an impromptu fricassee in a bothy kitchen, well, congratulations—you are basically Kim Kardashian. A bothy, as any British hiker knows, is a rudimentary hut, left unlocked and free to use, in which all of your cottagecore fantasies may come true. (Disclaimer: you might equally run into some ex-soldiers getting drunk on hard cider.)
Our longing to be as far away from our fellow humans as possible, and to fill our lungs with non-recycled air, has undoubtedly been exacerbated by COVID. However, the trend actually pre-dates the pandemic. As early as the summer of 2017, the runways of Paris and Milan resounded to the clomp of hiking boots. Lucas Ossendrijver, former chief designer at Lanvin and a pioneer of the look, said in an interview that he liked the idea of the outdoors as an "abstract fantasy."
While fashion frequently peddles flights of fancy, it also works with what's at hand. A stroll in the near-wilderness was about as exciting as it got for many of us during lockdown. For some, it was habit-forming. After all, there are few deeper pleasures than setting off over a craggy mountainside, defying the elements, and being rewarded with a warm cup of tea. As the old proverb goes: There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
For more information on the Bothy Association, which maintains wilderness huts across the U.K., go to mountainbothies.org.uk. Photographs by Julian Broad. Styled by Ellie Witt. Hair and makeup by Amanda Grossman at the Only Agency. Models: Matilda Lowther at Heroes; Pranav Bhargav at Supa. Production by James Ward at Sauce Studios. Thank you to the Elan Valey Trust for their assistance with this shoot.
Opening photograph credits: On Matilda: Max Mara knit dress, $1,190; maxmara.com. Grenson Nanette G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. Model's own Barbour jacket.
A version of this story first appeared in the March 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline The Call of the Trail.