To be old-school is to be green.

“Pop quiz: In which of the following situations should you avoid wearing wool? (Choose all that apply.)

  • Cross-country skiing in mild spring conditions
  • Alpine skiing
  • Hiking on a warm, sunny day
  • Trail running on a shadeless route in summer
  • Fitness training, indoors or outdoors, year-round

Answer: None of the above.

Surprised? You’re not alone. Personally, I would have never imagined wearing wool when I expected to work up a sustained sweat. Wool, as I perceived it, would be too hot, too bulky, too scratchy, just plain too old-school for most of the activities mentioned above.

The above comes from the “expert advice” section of REI’s website, which I understand to be a sort of White People version of Bass Pro Shop (or perhaps one could say, BPS is the redneck equivalent of REI).  While this fellow goes on to write a favorable review for his new merino wool hiking shirt, the opening was what really bugged me.  It elucidated a disturbing misconception that a lot of people seem to have, that there’s something wrong with “old”.  It’s an issue that’s at the heart of our disconnect with the natural world: new is good, old is bad.

I’m going on a trip with one of my professors this summer, to go mountain-climbing in Peru.  My mom was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough cold-weather clothing or that what I had wouldn’t be adequate, and wanted to buy me more.  After I listed off the gear I already had that I was planning on taking, she explained, “I just don’t want you to be looking like Edmund Hilary up there.”  I exclaimed, “Just what is wrong with Sir Edmund Hilary?!?”
(Eventually I compromised and agreed to a set of new coal-silk long underwear.)

One idea which I have taken to heart in recent years is that “What one man can do, another can do.”  If the “battered bastards of Bastogne” could go a month without washing their hair, who’s to say I cannot?  If Heinrich Harrer could climb the Eiger in 1938 with gear made of canvas, leather, and wool, then so can I.

Old-school things are secondhand.  Old-school things have character.  Old-school things have class.  Best of all, old-school stuff (if you go back far enough) aren’t made of petroleum-derived materials!

To tie this back to the opening comment (“Personally, I would have never imagined wearing wool when I expected to work up a sustained sweat.”): tell that to the GIs who helped win the Second World War.  Just because something hasn’t been branded with The North Face, doesn’t make it inferior.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Our high school marching band uniforms were made out of wool. They might not have been so bad, only for the fact that we had to march in them while playing instruments, knowing that the last person who wore it might’ve been going commando.


  2. […] the tacti-happy survivalists (and the larger community of consumers in general) would adopt. I’ve written about it before, but when the dominant paradigm is an Ancient Sunlight-fueled culture of disposability, embracing […]


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