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Dec 1, 2012

Fleece or Fleeced?

Someone! Please, tell me! What has happened to FLEECE!!!???

Remember way back when, in the late 80's or early '90's when either Land's End or L. L. Bean introduced us to the new and innovative fabric called fleece? Remember?!

Fleece started out light,warm and, well, it looked bulky but it really wasn't...

Fleece was fleece back then. Actually, back then, it was all Polartec. And it was all produced at Malden Mills in Lawrence, Massachusettes, by "The Mensch of Malden", Aaron Feuerstein.  You might remember that, in 1995, Mr. Feuerstein shot to fame for doing the right thing.  A fire gutted Malden Mills, ceasing production of Polartec and put 1500 people out of work.

At that point, Mr. Feurestein could have chosen to move production to Asia and shut down the local, now ruined, mill.  He didn't, though.... He repaired, rebuilt, and retooled - all the while paying his employees their regular salary and their medical insurance.  Mike Wallace featured Mr. Feuerstein on the TV Show "60 Minutes" because of this, and when he asked Mr. Feuerstein why he had continued to pay his  employees during the "hiatus", Mr. Feuerstein answered "Because it is the right thing to do."

"The right thing to do." Today, those words usually mean "The right thing to do for me" or "for my company" or "for the bottom line". How often these days do businesses - big businesses - do the right thing for their employees?

But I digress...

 In the beginning fleece was one weight. There were a few "bejeweled" shades of color, mostly trimmed in different a "bejeweled" accent color.  There was one fit.  It was warm, it was soft and comfy. It was like wearing your favorite childhood "woobie" (no relation to the Sahalie catalog's uber soft garment) out in the open.

Sure, there were some challenges at first.
Everyone looked like an oompah-loompah because the bottom was trimmed with some elastic-y trim to keep it at your waist, rather than being hemmed so it might fit in a more flattering fashion.

Fleece was static-y as all get out! If you had long hair, it was always sticking up or flying away or, if a hair fell out, it gathered like birds nests in your fleece-y armpits. Try to kiss a fleece wearing friend and the two of you could end up with 2nd degree burns and a black out in the neighborhood.

Fleece could go from soft and smooth as your favorite blanket to shag rug rag in one wash, it attracted lint like a pair of black velvet pants in a white cat household. Once you figured out that the best way to wash it is to turn it inside out, do up any zippers or snaps, and toss it in, that challenge was conquered and you were good to go.

People started to want more from their fleece. They wanted the garment to be windproof, weather resistant, less bulky, more colors, warmer, cooler.  Different manufacturers started using the fabric in different ways - lining jackets, outerwear "systems" (the multi layer garments where the fleece and other layers zip or button together, becoming more than one garment). Making it thinner, making it thicker... Making it out of recycled plastic soda bottles.

"Premium brands" like Helly Hansen, Marmot, and The North Face are other brands that offer fleece for "high performance" if you don't mind paying more and acting as a walking bill board. My hot pink Helly Hansen fleece is great, but it's made for the dog park - not the board room.

The stores have given us what we asked for - or have they?  The last several fleece garments that I have purchased have been almost weightless.  The fabric is so thin that it's nearly opaque.  I bought an "active wear" fleece that turned out to be what I call "1/2 fleece" - the fuzz is only on the exterior, it's uber thin, and offers almost no insulation whatsoever.

I've purchased several fleece quarter zips for my husband, who often gets cold, only to receive the exact same garment with a different label in it. The material is too light and thin, the weave too loose to provide the desired insulation. In other words - he's still cold!

So, where is it? Where is the fleece we all know and love? Why has fleece become difficult to figure out? At the end of the day, I'm looking for a warm, comfortable, not terribly unflattering fleece to wear. WHY CAN'T I FIND IT????

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