Covid has impacted nearly every facet of our lives.
Even the way we dress.
According to Fast Company, the fashion industry revenues dropped about one third of last year. Nowadays people simply aren’t buying clothing in the quantities they used to.
There was an exception. Consumers have actually increased spending on “casual” and “active” wear.
Since we are not going to the office (nor too many other places) we don’t need Gucci or even more mainstream ‘business’ accoutrement if we’re conducting meetings in front of a screen.
What we do need is clothing that can be used in any number of environments. Whether it’s a hike up the Mau’umae trail atop Wilhelmina Rise or a visit to the Hawaii Kai Costco, we need clothing that’s both durable and practical.
Welcome to fashion in the Covid era.
Of course, the time will come when we all will be vaccinated and will want to board airplanes, congregate and socialize. In meantime it’s all about social distancing enjoying the great outdoors.
A new era for active wear
Back in the day people preparing to tour a national park might visit Eddie Bauer, LL Bean and the like to acquire the proper gear. While these giants of outdoor clothing are still with us, over the last decade or so a number of smaller companies that make specialized techwear or technical apparel, have entered the fray.
These firms, often mom and pop operations, design garments with special fabric, construction and properties that allow for breathability, movement, water-resistance and comfort.
Western Rise, founded by former outdoor guides, Kelly and Will Watters certainly falls into that category. In the bad old days, according to Watters, “Clothing options were sport-specific, over branded, and fit poorly so we carried multiple changes of clothing for each activity throughout the day.”
The Watters decided to address this by founding a clothing line built for durability and comfort that can be used for nearly every occasion.
Unlike an REI or a North Face, Western Rise (which is of course much smaller) carries a focused range of bottoms, tops and accessories such as socks. As one reviewer put it, “they focus on quality over quantity”.
They only make four types of pants–all with slightly different applications.
The philosophy is to put all your marbles into a limited product line and produce something stellar.
What a delightful concept.
I had the opportunity to look at two Western Rise products–the most formal, the Evolution, and the most casual, the Diversion.
I live in Hawaii and spend a great deal of time in Fiji so having a pant that is light, breathable and moisture wicking is paramount. This is how Western Rise describes the Evolution pant (which retails at $149) and why I chose to evaluate it.
You can literally wear them anywhere, whether it’s a business meeting (which I admit are few and far between nowadays) or a foray over to the rifle range.
And yes, they are sturdy enough to bring on the trail but they should not to be construed as hiking pants.
Think of them as a very refined, non-denim, five pocket jean. The material is soft to the touch, a bit stretchy and perfectly tailored.
On the Evolution line they offer a “regular” or a slim version.
If you’re a bit bulkier go for the regular which has plenty of room and enough stretch in the fabric to do just about anything you want. They are not baggy by any means but tend to drape over your lower extremities, feeling much like a nice pair of suit pants.
I’m on the short side and the inseam is pretty much fixed so I did have to hem the pants. Not the end of the world but you need to know that unless you’re 5’11 to 6’2 you’ll have to see your favorite seamstress.
Then there’s the waist.
It’s often a pain in the rear end when it comes to finding pants that will fit my skinny (I’m about a 29 1/2″) waist. The 30 inch was a it tad too big with the Evolution but perfect with the Diversion.
The Acid Test
I wore the Evolution non stop for several weeks and found them very comfortable. This was during Hawaii’s winter, which this year was quite humid. The pants did breathe as the promised. They have the lightest of the entire line and work well in our climate.
They are offered in khaki, navy, olive, charcoal, blue grey and shadow. I have the olive, a rich color that is more than presentable in every situation I encountered.
I haven’t taken them to Fiji (yet) but plan on doing so when it’s possible. They do have a nice travel asset–a zipper on right rear pocket, perfect for stashing your passport and perhaps some Yankee dollars. The right front change pocket is actually big enough to park your cell phone.
Diversion (Slim Pant)
The main differences I could ascertain between the Diversion and the Evolution are the fit and the fabric, which is slightly heavier on the former. Another difference: The Diversion pants (which retail for $138) have a four-way stretch vs. Evolution’s two-way.
The stretchier fabric provides a slightly softer feel.
Their slimmer, tapered fit will “embrace” your legs and are reminiscent of the “pegged pants” of yesteryear. For me the tapered fit is excellent.
I can get away with wearing these and at the risk of not sounding humble, they do flatter my body. What the heck? If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
You can get them in flat black, dune and grey.
As with the Evolution pants, I wore them everywhere (except on the trail). I preferred them a bit to the Evolution pants only because I usually operate in a more casual world.
But that’s just my sense of aesthetics.
What about Travel?
As a travel writer I’m always thinking in terms of what I should be taking with me on the road or, to wear on an airplane. Both are excellent for this purpose but Evolution has a leg up if you want to look dressy.
Seated in business class, no problem looking the part. They are refined enough that you’ll “pass” as a pillar of the community.
The Diversion also has a zippered pocket (right rear) for keeping your passport or money secure.
The AT Slim is best described as something you’d wear at or around town but not as dressy as the Evolution. (Somewhere in between Evolution and Diversion).
I think it would also be a great travel candidate–it has the zipper back pocket as well. If you’re shopping for durability, this is the one Western Rise promotes.
In summary, a lot of thought and “engineering” has gone into the Western Rise lines. They are a testament to minimalism. You don’t need a dozen different pants in your closet (or in your suitcase) to look like a million bucks, at home or on the road.
Robert F. Kay is a columnist for the Honolulu Star Advertiser, a health nut, the author of two Lonely Planet guidebooks and Fijiguide.com. (He appreciates a good pair of pants).