Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Patagonia vs. The North Face


Two correlated notes:
I'm now looking for some nice winter jacket. I remember you mentioned some brands considered preppy but aren't ( For example, j.crew and the north face). I don't see any big difference between Patagonia and The North Face in terms of brand concepts and products. Could you tell me why TNF is not a part of preppy brands, please? Maybe I don't quite grasp the idea of preppy.
And:
For the past month, I traveled about England and Scotland. On such trips I always bring and wear my 30 year old Barbour Beaufort jacket. This trip, at two hunting and fly fishing lodges, I noticed many, many people wearing outerwear by The North Face. Typically a Denali fleece under a Barbour or under a shell by The North Face. These people were natives to Great Britain. 
All of this brings me to the North Face Denali jacket of which I have several of and have found to have good qualities of very long wear, primarily due to the substantial polar-fleece fabric and the extra fabric layer on the elbow and shoulder area. I have found that Patagonia fleece tend to pill and fuzz in the elbow area. Your recent blog about Patagonia kelly green fleece got me thinking.
I know you have stated that The North Face is not preppy. Does this apply to the whole range or could the Denali jacket get special dispensation? : )

Just a trend I noticed this year in Great Britain and I would like to know your thoughts, if any. Thank you.
It is time to open up the moot court.  Patagonia vs. The North Face - which is preppier?  And why?



** Poll Closed - Final Results **



At a barn supper, you have to watch both ends of a cow.  Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T in Classic Navy
Here is one response, worthy of being part of the post:

Patagonia vs. The North Face

by Keith Baker:

As an outdoors athlete and former outdoor business owner, I can offer some insight on the Patagonia/TNF question. Don't ask me to pick a favorite - I love them both in different ways.

Patagonia is definitely the "preppier" of the two companies, especially in the Lisa Birnbach granola preppy, Bohemian preppy senses. The company consciously pursues that image - Volvos, Birks, NPR, fly fishing. They are privately held and the founder/owner, Yvon Chouinard, says he will never take the company public so he will not be beholden to shareholders. He is an accomplished Alpinist, rock climber, surfer and fly fisherman and a god in this business.

The North Face appeals to more aspirational image-casers and logo-buyers because of their lower price points (the Denali jacket is the biggest player here). Even thought they have price-point items (for outdoor clothing and gear), many people continue to find TNF outside their budget. TNF still has a solid reputation in the mountaineering, skiing and outdoors sports fields because they do make technically superior products. Their image, especially in Summit Series (serious technical mountaineering clothing and gear) is more international and techie, and is well-earned. And, unlike Patagonia, TNF makes tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and other equipment. TNF is also a unit of publicly-held VF Corporation.

Despite TNF's superior technical image, Patagonia's products are technically sound and are of high quality, and they appeal to their own aspirational buyer - but their aspirational buyer is trying to convey a bit more than the typical TNF aspirational buyer. As Chouinard said a few years ago, "I know the closet many of our clothes ever get to their intended purpose is when an overweight, middle-aged man wears them when he drives his family from Manhattan to their country house for the weekend. But he has a dream: one days he is going to lose 30 pounds, he's going to get in shape and he is going climb Rainier. And I'm okay with that. Dreams keep us alive."

Definite nod to TNF on clothing for high-output activities like running, Nordic skiing, snowshoe racing, cycling, etc. They have dialed the marketing on that and have the Flight Series that covers the spectrum in an easy-to-understand way.

Both companies are environmentally responsible with a slight edge to Patagonia and have a stable of serious and accomplished outdoors athletes carrying their standards. Both help build the outdoors recreation industry and continue to attract people to the outdoors (remember Chouinard's story above).

As an illustration, my wife and I are driving up to Summit County this afternoon to ski Breckenridge, Copper and Vail for a few days. Our clothes, personal items and skis are packed in TNF Base Camp Duffels and ski bags. Our clothes are a mixture of mostly Patagonia with (in descending order) TNF, Mountain Hardwear and Marmot thrown in. Our gloves are from Black Diamond; skis, boots etc. from Black Diamond, Fischer, SCARPA and Garmont. Keep in mind, having been in the industry (I sold my business a few months ago) for many years, we could have anything from any brand we want.

As an aside, I drive a Ford F350 Super Duty PowerStroke because Mercedes AMG doesn't do a truck. The rack system is from Thule - of course. ^_^

Let's talk Nordic skiing and snowshoeing sometime!

Google Plus Photo of Keith Baker


109 comments:

Scott Alexander said...

Patagonia, almost by default. The North Face, at least where I live, has ties to the kind of guy who wears a Polo shirt, jeans and Timberland boots; or more often the girl who wears her black North Face jacket over a sweater, with leggings and Uggs. Certainly neither of those looks are preppy.

Christy said...

Patagonia. The only caveat I would add is that frequently the color selection offered by TNF is better, with colors truer to my ideal "preppy" look. With Patagonia, I sometimes have to inwardly groan over picking a color that is slightly "off" in favor of the better quality product.

Anonymous said...

Patagonia, of course. But, The North Face Denali fleece fits most people better than a Synchilla fleece.

Maggie said...

I would say that both, like so many things, are post-preppy (like J. Crew, Lilly Pulitzer, and so many other formerly preppy brands). Personally, I like North Face better for outerwear and Patagonia for other things.

b46af09c-192f-11e1-bbc0-000bcdcb2996 said...

Patagonia! I live in Denver, Colorado a city on the front-line of this particular battle (Colorado preppies Live in their fleece!) North Face makes a great product... but the Denali and other items tend to force a lot of black into the ensemble.. which in my opinion is best reserved for evening wear and men's business accessories.
Most Patagonia colors and styles mix better with khakis, cords, and Barbour products for casual
sportswear. Also, Northface enthusiasts tend to wear it from head to toe in coordinating outfits.. or pair their Denali's with denim or cargo pants.. both of which I consider very un-preppy!

Grace said...

I personally prefer Patagonia, but honestly, I think they're pretty much interchangeable. North Face just looks a little too suburban high schooler to me.

Anonymous said...

Patagonia -- for their continued commitment to quality and to reducing consumption by promoting repairing, reusing and recycling to reduce our environmental footprint.

Bitsy

OML said...

Your timing is impecable! I've been looking at new down coats this fall and have been torn between the NF trasit and the Patagonia Downtown Loft and you've confirmed my suspicions. Thanks again Muffy!

Greenfield said...

Patagonia, hands-down. TNF has become the urban "uniform" of downtown twentysomethings who like to dress in black from head to toe; the logo is also much more conspicuous and their brand seems to have "gone viral," at least in NYC. These people's style might actually be an antithesis to Prep. In general, I am not a big fan of any kind of "fleece" never worn by a sheep; call it what they will, it's still polyester, and has nothing like the warmth or wicking properties of natural wool.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Patagonia.

Which is actually kind of amusing (and satisfying) to me, because the company was founded by a Frenchman (via Canada and Maine), is headquartered in Southern California, and has a strong surfing and climbing culture.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time posting. Couldn't resist the topic. If you are discussing traditional preppy, then neither. Modern preppy, then both. North Face has suffered of late from over-exposure, but 10 years ago this would have been a much different debate.

I went to a large state university in the upper Midwest, alongside students from wealthy suburbs of Minneapolis and Chicago. This was my first introduction to Patagonia, with the Retro-X and Snap-T being the only acceptable choices.

This was over 15 years ago, and more real world modern version of preppy. Khakis or cords, Levi's 501's, earlier J. Crew combined to survive the bitter old winters.

suburban prep said...

I would say that Patagonia is the preppier of the two.

Jason A.S. Hsu said...

Patagonia over TNF every time, Muffy. People want Denali's because everyone has them, first, and they are a good fleece, second. People want Snap-T's and Retro X's because they are a good fleece, first.

Suburban Princess said...

I own neither...I still struggle with fleece. I own a few pieces and end up never wearing them as I just cant seem to fit fleece into my life. I had this convo with Lisa Birnbach when she was in Toronto and a year later I would still end up shivering rather than put on a fleece jacket. I grew up on natural fabrics and am loathe to stray from them.

Fraser Tartan said...

I'm in my early 40's and was raised here in the San Francisco Bay Area, original home of TNF. I'd say 20-30 years ago, both of these brands were worn by exactly the same people, primarily serious outdoor types, preppys, etc. But over time, TNF generally "lost its way" as Muffy would say, and broadened its customer base by drifting towards producing more fashion garments and making them more easily available. Today, I see everyone from preppies to gangsta thugs with gold teeth wearing TNF (worn oversized). Patagonia has remained more or less true to its cause and retained its much smaller customer base, image, and exclusivity as a result.
I don't think wearing TNF is any less preppy than wearing Levi's jeans. They're both neutral. Just choose your TNF garment wisely, avoiding the purely fashion-oriented garments, wear your proper size, and avoid the very popular and un-preppy :) black. I don't see anything wrong with the iconic navy Denali, for example.
That said, I have on a vintage Patagonia field coat (yeah, they made them) as I type this.

Farrah said...

Patagonia hands down. I actually go out of my way to avoid purchasing TNF because it seems so suburban to me. And personally I get sick of seeing TNF everywhere (usually black jacket with Uggs - ugh!. Overexposure and stores now in malls has killed North Face.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess to me the question really is... does it matter? People should wear the items they find to be attractive, high-quality, and functional. People shouldn't suddenly switch from TNF because someone else says it's "not preppy."

Some of the criticisms leveled at TNF - that people want their clothes because "everyone has them" could have been leveled at Patagonia in the 1990s, and could still be leveled at Patagonia in some areas today.

The fact that of the matter is that both are or have been "trendy," with people who never do outdoorsy things wearing the clothes of both companies. But both companies make highly-functional gear, and people really do climb Everest wearing TNF gear.

Now, if we want to get down to philosophy and business models of the two companies... I do not know much about that, and I know that Muffy is well-educated on those points. But then the question becomes what makes something preppy... should someone who strives to dress in a preppy manner choose clothing they don't necessarily like just because the company better meets preppy ideals?

I'm not actually a big TNF fan... I bought one of their Denali fleeces, and found that it wasn't flattering on me, and I gave it to my sister. I also own a Patagonia Synchilla fleece, and find it to be too bulky... L.L. Bean fleeces actually LOOK better on me (and for much less money.)

Regarding the love of natural fibers... I agree that most of the time natural fibers both look and feel better. But anyone who has ever been even semi-serious when it comes to athletic pursuits will admit that "technical" fabrics win, hands down, over natural fibers. Preppy style does need to evolve. I would never be caught dead running in cotton.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 6:58 - Many great points. I never want to wear something because it either is or is not trendy, but practices of a company are one factor that I try to consider. With regards to your question "Does it really matter?", I believe Muffy implied that it does not when she referred to the "moot court".

kSm said...

I agree with you, Anon, about L.L. Bean fleeces. I've had the best luck with them so I haven't bothered with the other two brands. Why mess with what works!

Pigtown*Design said...

After their great one-page ad in the NY Times on Black Friday, I am now firmly in the Patagonia camp... plus, it's the only other place on earth where people speak Welsh, other than Wales.

Guido Fox said...

I'll be honest, I don't think of either of them as terribly preppy. The fact that they are or rather were true adventure outfitters made them both good. I think being "Preppy" is really about quality and knowing something works the best for the need. Polar Fleece is amazing stuff. I think that both Patagonia and The North Face have jumped the shark on their clothing. Changing their traditional cut and fit to a fashion fit is a ridiculous trend and makes for a lesser product at a higher price. Back in the early days, you went to an outfitter to buy it, now it's all the lowest tier at the sporting goods store.

Anonymous said...

Neither is preppy - or, more to the point, should be worn - because most of both of their garments are made from recycled Coke bottles. I know, Lisa Birnbach says we're supposed to give up insisting on natural fabrics, that battle was irretrievably lost long ago etc. Yet there are still people practicing the true faith. We may yet prevail... Athanasius contra mundum!

Chris said...

Certainly Patagonia. As someone who grew up on the west coast, TNF is much more associated with hiking and mountaineering for me and Patagucci with New England and prep. However, both were prevalent on my college campus in Maine.

Katie T said...

While I don't think either brand makes or breaks the preppy style, I'd have to say Patagonia is the preppier of the two. I own a vintage LL Bean snap fleece very similar to the popular Patagonias, and I just prefer the cut and style to that of North Faces, and the recent color combos are fantastic.
TNF was once a very trendy item in my college town, which interestingly enough has almost completely converted to wearing Patagonias. While my college is stereotyped as 'preppy', it's certainly more of the young, modern prep style rather than true prep.

Anonymous said...

Friends,

I am still using a lovely, battered North Face raincoat that belonged to my mother and was purchased before I was born (that's 25 to those who are counting!). They were one of the first companies to embrace Gore-Tex, an amazing American company that is still family owned today. My parents trekked Annapurna in TNF back in the late 80s. It is, and was, high quality gear.

It's not their product quality that's driven fans away, it's their image. In locals without our American TFN connotations, it still is regarded as quality performance gear.

That said, I'm typing this in my Patagonia fleece. With the exception of a few pieces, my North Face warms my closet...

Warmly,
A Punny Preppy

j.mosby said...

Patagonia hands down!

Anonymous said...

Patagonia, definitely. The reason: the colors! I spent last winter looking for a new down coat. It was nearly impossible to find one from TNF in a color other than black or a dreary grey. Instead, I got a great bright blue Patagonia down coat. They offer a variety of other bright colors, like orange and green, that look really wonderful in dreary winter. In fact, I think the colorfulness really contributes to a preppy look--so often, outerwear is "neutral," and therefore doesn't add much in the way of zip to an outfit. The fleeces also come in a great spectrum of colors, though I personally don't wear fleece.

That said, TNF is, I think, more functional and sturdier than Patagonia. I have a great set of skiing pants and a ski jacket, both gore-tex, that have held up really well over the years and are seriously warm. For whatever reason, my Patagonia items feel flimsier.

Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

As far as prep schools go these days, it's a draw. My research was mostly anecdotal, but it seems pretty even.

Fraser Tartan said...

I honestly avoid TNF around here (San Francisco) because the urban streetwear hip-hop crowd with the flat-brimmed baseball caps (with label attached) wears TNF en masse. The product itself isn't so much the problem.

Fraser Tartan said...

I realize my comments probably contradicted each other. I guess on an intellectual level, I don't see much difference between the good Patagonia and TNF products. But emotionally, I don't like wearing TNF because of some of the people who embrace it. It's an image issue. Clothes have connotations and TNF, worn as casual "street" wear, now has connotations that I don't like.

Winston said...

I base all my purchases of clothing on the tenants of durability and function. I have a few Patagonia Retro X fleece jackets as well as a TNF Denali. My experience is that the Denali most assuredly holds up better. Retro X fleece clumps and wears thin in areas of wear, such as the arms. It is an attractive garment, but my five year old Denali looks better than my two year old Patagonia.

Jessica R. said...

My problem with Patagonia fleece is that the women's version is different than the men's. No front zip pocket for women. I dislike the slim fit for women as well which leads me to buy the men's version which does not fit very well. (sleeves are too long). North Face, specifically the Denali, is ideal in that it is made for women and it is not made "feminine" by excluding a front chest zip pocket.

Anonymous said...

I have both North Face and Patagonia clothing. The North Face has held up much better. Last year I got so disgusted with my Patagonia fleece and the pilling or separation of the fabric fibers that I thought brushing it would help. Bad idea!

Nelson Rawlings said...

My 80 year old mom still wears her ancient North Face fleece. Her Patagonia was recycled years ago.

Jacob Phelps said...

Patagonia... TNF can't touch it (nor would I touch TNF)

Anonymous said...

If I were to order a Patagonia fleece, which one should it be?

BarbW said...

Both companies have items which are very trendy, non-classic clothing, which I would not wear to walk my dog. Both have jackets which are warm and useful. Either they both are preppy or both are not. I don't see much difference between the two other than North Face has been embraced by big chain stores.

Anonymous said...

Both are and are not preppy in some areas of their respective clothing lines. It's a draw.

Anonymous said...

I have to ask... can we refer to ANY polar fleece garment as "vintage?" I'm not sure my clothes from the 1990s can be considered vintage.

J said...

Here is a picture of the elbow area of my Patagonia fleece jacket. I took this photograph this morning. The bare spots should be visible. And after just two years of wear.

Anonymous said...

Well, I cannot comment on the quality of either because I do not own either company ( a little out of my price range, the one fleece I do own is Columbia). That being said, if I was to purchase one it woudl probably be the Patagonia. Here is the PacNW the competitve mom types all wear the same "Portland uniform": black NorthFace fleece / jacket, ridiculously expensive, low-rise jeans, boots (either Uggs, black Hunter wellies or black riding-esque boots) and a Coach or Louis Vuitton logo purse, usually Coach because there is an outlet store nearby. I believe that is also were all TNF is bought. The outlet center. Many of you have made the case that TNF is a great company with a great product, but the feel is wrecked. It has been ruined by logo-mania and rampant consumerism and the need to be trendy.

Anonymous said...

Clueless as to which is "preppier" but absolutely certain that between the two, I'd take home the Patagonia because their logo is simple to remove using my stitch ripper that I keep in the drawer for routine removal of logos. North Face, on the other hand, embroiders their logo [on front AND on back of jacket, mind you] right INTO the fabric. Same thing with Polo, those ponies are embroidered right INTO the fabric, there's no removing them, and if there's no removing exterior advertising, then I'm not wearing it.

-Flo

Carol said...

I have to smile about logo-mania and share a quick antidote about my grandmother.
While in college in the late 70's, Ralph Lauren and his polo shirts were all the rage. My family normally wore Lacoste shirts and removed the alligator emblem. When seeing one of her grandchildren in latest RL casual shirt offering (with an embroidered polo player on horseback,) my grandmother replied "Why display a logo like that. Isn't your own monogram good enough?".
How I miss her!

Hugo said...

As a British chap myself I couldn't resist leaving a comment. North Face is certainly worn far more here in recent years within the hunting and fishing communities, however, that can be blamed almost exclusively on traditional "country" pursuits becoming fashionable in the past two or three years. As a rule I find that if someone is wearing North Face whilst hunting, they almost invariably only started shooting within the last two years or so. As a lifelong hunter who has had many an opportunity to test both my Patagonia Synchilla (a gift from my American girlfriend) and also a North Face fleece ( a gift from an Aunt) to their very limit, I can say with hand on heart that the Patagonia is simply the superior product. As to which is preppier, however, it is not my place to say.

Sean said...

I have to take exception with Mr. Hugo. I've been hunting and fishing in Scotland for nearly 30 years and whist the hunting and fishing attire trend is toward the North Face, I find that more experienced outdoors people are the individuals wearing North face under a Barbour waxed jacket.

Anonymous said...

Berghaus. Now's that's outdoor living.

Anonymous said...

Several thoughts. I think Anon 11/27 4:25 gets it spot-on: traditional prep- neither, modern prep-both.
I'd frame the question as which is more prep-compatible?

Given the appearance of Patagonia stuff in the LLB catalog in the early '80s, I'll give the nod to Patagonia.

I'd like to test the hypothesis that on any given weekend, October through April, in any mall on the East coast, 33% of females age 15 to 25 will be wearing a black TNF fleece and Uggs.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, although I totally love Patagonia (and especially their stores in Ventura and Boston (when I now live), I just look terrible in their stuff. Whereas, I do not particularly like TNF, their stuff fits rather well. Very sad state of affairs.

Ellis said...

Mr Sean, I find it interesting that our experiences of others attire should differ so greatly, though at thrity years of shooting your experience easily pips mine, so I shall defer to the more qualified answer. I have also seen an emergence more and more of Dubarry jackets.

Virginia said...

Oh, my! I wear Dansko or Haflinger clogs, clothing by Barbour, L.L. Bean, Orvis, Vineyard Vines; I sail a Dufour 35 (with my husband and family), drive an XC70 Volvo, live in Connecticut, attended prep school, and a trad prep college, but now I am out of the "preppy club" because I love my North Face fleece Denali jacket! : )
Great post, Muffy! You are so very creative!

ken22 said...

I work with mostly urban teenagers at a boarding school for at-risk youth; North Face is popular as 'street cred' wear, along with other former outdoor icons like Timberland. Preppy is the last word I would use for North Face; you are very likely to see it everywhere at a hip-hop club. I have never seen Patagonia in a similar context. I had assumed that NF, like 'Tims,' was going the way of the once-great Abercrombie & Fitch.

Anonymous said...

Hi, again. When I asked you about the reason TNF couldn't be considered preppy, I didn't even realize that the question would be that much thought-provoking to many others.
Anyway, I'm trying to get proper blue colored fleece jacket from Patagonia, but it's of extreme difficulty judging right color from their website. What is your thought about their perussian blue, please? Can it be a good substitute for classic navy?

non_such said...

Patagonia though need this really be discussed? If anything the debate should be centered on whether the brands loyal adherents embrace the sort of rugged/adventurous/far flung travel ethos the brand represents or is it simply a reaction to the widespread popularity of The North Face? Assuming that a fair portion of self-identified preps find more cachet in Patagonia; it is fair to say that even this manufacturer is currently suffering the fate of The North Face 15 years back, the slow assimilation to the mass.

As a footnote: Patagonia discontinued their line of foul weather gear several years back.

WEH III said...

Not sure what "street cred" is but I'm guessing I must not have it! I just think North Face is a more durable jacket, at least from my experience. Many folks have written about TNF being taken over by people who don't fit our norm. Where I live, a functional, durable jacket is a must have item. "Street cred" not withstanding.

Anonymous said...

I don't like company logos being shown either. But exclusively, Polo horse logo looks great to me, to be honest with you. I know it sounds silly, but it really does to me ^^.

GP said...

Neither. Both are stuff made of plastic bottle remains.

L.L. Frijol said...

I have to agree that North Face is synonymous with "urban street wear". A few years ago, it was also associated with Southwest Side taggers/graffiti artists here in Chicago.

Related to the proletarianization of taste (every prep's worst nightmare, I assume), I absolutely MUST add that I caught my very "urban" co-worker from the "inner-city" neighborhood of Englewood checking out L.L. Bean boots online. I wonder if he also lurks The Daily Prep...

Anonymous said...

Dear Muffy:

Being from the Bay Area, MHO is that neither is preppy. TNF has gone from Yuppie in the 80s to urban tacky today. Patagonia has gone from “Campus” to HyperGreen. Not that Green is bad, but as the Greeks chiseled in the granite over the opening to the Oracle, “Everything in moderation”. As for me, neither communicates who I am.

As for fleece itself, I confess to owning two pieces. One is a vest (Gilet to you Sloanies reading this) by Ralphie Golf in Augusta green and a brown jacket by Columbia that I keep in the trunk (boot) for emergencies. I don’t really feel that fleece is preppy because it connotes so many different lifestyles. I was slightly taken aback when I first saw you wearing it. Yet I admit to its usefulness, which is a preppy test.

Since down has been brought up NPI, I will share with you what “Capt. Green Beanie” taught me. Down is unfit for serious use. If it gets wet, it becomes a lump that takes days to dry out. You will likely be a popsicle long before that. Synthetic fiberfill (Or for that matter fleece) can be wrung out and worn while still keeping you warm. As fashion wear, down still has the allergy problem.

Wool layered under Gore-Tex is my preferred solution. I just bought a heavy cable-knit B2 Saxxon wool turtleneck to wear under an un-insulated EB parka. EB still makes a few quality items. I still have the EB parka that I bought in ’95 as a back up. That reminds me, Muffy are you still being a good patient and wearing your lanolin patch?

On the subject of Lacoste logos, I used to wander around the campus looking for women wearing them. I was carrying a vial of bacon bits and a tweezers and I would offer to feed them. Those were the days my friend...

All the best,

PrepWest

Anonymous said...

We like to snow ski in Vermont and Colorado. TNF is one of the best brands for outfitting us. Patagonia used to have appropriate clothing for skiing, but no longer.
I'll stick with TNF as long as they produce clothing I can use.
I don't think of my self as a gangta or a hip hopper! (smile)

Ellen said...

I just ordered a Patagonia jacket. Already have North Face, but am so curious after all the comments! And the comments are all interesting, and valid to each individual.

Muffy, I find your polling a fascinating aspect of your blog and I enjoy all you provide!

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Not to throw a spanner in the works but what about R.E.I.?
Our Canadian equivalent (M.E.C.) has a great 'house brand' that is affordable, long lasting and modestly styled. My 'fleece' is even a wool blend performance fabric; it doesn't get much better than that!
SMD.

Anonymous said...

I am not gangsta (whatever the other was) either. I have a very fine gore-tex North Face jacket. In the past 10 years it has kept me dry in both heavy snow and heavy rain while skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking and hiking.

I don't understand why something being popular by suburban moms and urban twenty somethings precludes it from being good. Who cares what they like?

I am also quite familiar with Patagonia, since we have an outlet store here locally. I have had several fleece jackets, including one that is now least fifteen years old. It still looks brand new. I recently bought a windproof fleece, and am looking forward to many years of wear.

I don't know if I would call either preppy, but I do think both make quality products.

Anonymous said...

I don't think either is preppy. When I think of the "Old Guard," I imagine them in wonderful wool or cotton. I also think that both Patagonia and North Face are terribly overpriced. You are just paying for the logo.

John said...

I don't consider either preppy. I have never owned any of their clothing, FWIW. There's nothing wrong IMHO in wearing their clothes, & I would think no ill of anybody I saw in their clothes, but the word "preppy" would not cross my mind when I saw them. I see a lot of people in the street wearing one or the other. At one time I would have associated Patagonia with the word "yuppy."

Ben said...

It is nice to see this debate taking place between so many people who really use these clothes as gear, including while stalking and sailing.

Anonymous said...

Something just occurred to me after reading the comment questioning why something being popular with suburban moms and urban twenty-somethings precludes it from being good.

I admit to having an aversion to items which become popular with the "masses." But the commenter raises a good question. I started thinking about the fact that when I was a kid/young teen in the '80s, blucher mocs with (what L.L. Bean referred to as) the "Rangeley Knot" were popular with EVERYONE at school. Granted I grew up in Maine and there were a lot of preppies, but I mean this was a HUGE trend and everyone wore these. Likewise, in the '90s, plaid flannel shirts became extremely popular with grunge musicians, and that rippled out to practically EVERYONE. Does that mean that those items were not preppy? Certainly not. And of course we can look at all the non-preppies who love to wear Ralph Lauren polos... does that make the polo shirts un-preppy? No.

So, I think we really do have to say that these items are either not preppy (because they're not "old guard" items) OR they are both preppy (and yet also popular with non-preps.) I can assure you that huge numbers of current Phillips Exeter Academy students wear TNF, and almost none wear Patagonia... so if we want to go by what REAL preps wear... TNF wins.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to define the term preppy here first. Some of them consider the term preppy one of the American traditional culture or life styles originated from those who related directly or indirectly to preparatory schools or certain areas in the United States.
Some others, on the other hand, might consider the term preppy the current way of life or trend of those who are actually attending the preppy school now.
But, from my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong please), when Muffy talks about preppy here, she means preppy being one exceptionally beautiful culture orignated from and based on those people who related to preppy school and who valued quality, function, and originality, not what's actually happening now in prep schools or what the prep boys and girls are doing or thinking now)
We should take it into consideration that there must be really big difference between the old preppy people and today's boys and girls currently attending the preppy school in term of life value and mindset.

Anonymous said...

Dear Muffy,

Regarding Patagonia, which is the preppier brand by far, which model/colour would you recommend more? (It's a gift and it's my father)
Men's Classic Retro X - Black Oak
Synchilla Snap-T : Narwhal Grey
Men's Simple Synchilla Jacket - Prussian Blue (He already wears the same in Narwhal Grey)

Other suggestions will be really appreciated.

Thank you in advance for your help and your kind work.

Best regards

Robert M. said...

Another interesting poll, Muffy.

As preppy people, I feel we look for items of quality and durability. When we find them, we embrace them. And sometimes, the mainstream will pick up on these items because they value the same things.

Specifically, though Patagonia and North Face have items which have stood the test and yet, both have trendy items that remind me of the unfortunate L.L. Bean Signature line. Items which make an appearance for a season or two and go away...only to be replaced by something else quite horrid.

I voted that they both are preppy, but just as easily could have voted both are not. It depends on specific items which are being considered.
I fly fish passionately. I wear breathable waders from Patagonia. I wear fleece from North Face. They have served me well and enable me to enjoy my passion.

I wish both companies long life and good holiday sales!

Kim said...

Muffy, this is a fascinating poll!
I took some sociology classes in college, which qualify me to be nothing more than a total amateur observer. But it is fun!
It is interesting how some people are strongly Patagonia only, while others consider both or neither as preppy.
Seems to me that many of those who view only Patagonia as the preppy company do so because they want an exclusive image item(s), while the North Face-Patagonia people are looking for clothing that fills a functional need regardless of the image.
I am interpreting this incorrectly?
To me there is no right or wrong answer in the poll, just interesting viewpoints.
I apologize if this is not a timely comment, for it really is not answering your question of which is more preppy.

Anonymous said...

Kim,

I think your comments are interesting!

As prep school students, we wore uniforms. Now, out in the real world, that uniform continues to be the clothing we wear and the cars we drive, our hobbies, where we vacation, etc. It is a way to identify each other, regardless of school or geographic location.

So, I guess that is why North Face is out for some people. There is the belief that NF is no longer a credible indicator of prep.

Clear as a glass of Madeira?

Locke said...

Kim and Anon @10:47, I really like the exchange of thoughts you two have offered. The psychology of prep!
Muffy, I commend you on your blog and the topic!

Cheers,
Locke

Anonymous said...

In my opinion the entire idea of being preppy means buying well made, classic items. To me being "a real prep" means not worrying if a brand is "preppy" or not. As a tall, then woman with an athletic build and long arms TNF items have a better fit for me in the torso and arms as opposed to my Patagonia items. I purchase items that will fit into my preppy wardrobe regardless of what name brand they are as long as they fit properly, are made well and have a classic look. I love my TNF items especially my TNF down parka in the chilly northern winters.

Brett B said...

While I do believe that the North Face be worn in a very "preppy" manner, being preppy is all about the traditional, classic look behind something, and sometimes all you need to achieve that "classic" look is different wording. If your fleece says Patagonia instead of North Face, you are automatically associated with a bygone time - one of ivy league ski trips, whereas North Face, a comparatively recent fashion venture, has associations all across the board. And by that I mean, from preppy to southern belle sorority girl to simply those with absolutely no grasp of fashion at all. As much as I hate to say that the brand really determines the clothing here, it does. But I am curious to know why you feel that way about Jcrew - I understand as a rather ubiquitous, off the rack apparel store that provides preppy styles at a commercial rate, one cannot deny that the clothes they design are simple and pretty adherent to the modern prep trend. I think to say that as a brand, they do not embody preppiness is fair. However, I feel if someone were to dress up a classic jcrew oxford with a classic tweed sportcoat and preppy trousers with some fine penny loafers - basically, the look of a preppy - that they could achieve it with the help of jcrew.

Ice Matty T said...

North Face is an “aspirational brand” not "preppy". The North Face is designed to impress co-workers on business casual Friday and leave them thinking you’re ready for that exotic weekend getaway full of adventure. I also think Patagonia isn’t really “preppy” either. Patagonia is as high quality outdoor/performance brand that offers classic style and often with a dash of color.

Patrick said...

TNF started with good roots and was a quality outdoor brand. It however was purchased and is owned by Vanity Fair. At which point some level of quality was lost as well as overall appeal. Patagonia has maintained its platform and was well ahead of the curve in producing materials with recycled content. They also have stuck to their staple items and are less likely to chase trends.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, Patrick. I see Patagonia chasing a lot of trends in their woman's line of clothing. I think TNF and Patagonia offer fairly good quality. The main discussion on Muffy's blog seems to be about their fleece garments. I will stick to natural fibers like wool.

Andy H. said...

I cross country ski. I've used both Patagonia and North Face...and Mountain Hardwear.
I come from a preppy heritage, and it is a tough call to say which is more preppy, or if either qualifies, really.
Both have company histories of about 40 years, both are field tested, both seek to lessen the negative environmental impact of manufacturing, both recycle, both are made in countries other than the US.
Good question. My answer both/neither!

Trey@flw said...

Both! In cold conditions I wear a North Face Denali fleece under a Patagonia Nano zip jacket...with a Vermont Originals ear flap hat. Don't know if my outfit is preppy, but is sure is warm and comfortable.

Anonymous said...

I just go with Icebreaker New Zealand merino wool outdoors clothing. Their fleece tops are made from wool.

Anonymous said...

Neither. Use their equipment when you're actually out in the wild, but wearing that stuff otherwise is like wearing gym clothes in a non-gym environment.

Fagen said...

Hello, I just wanted to ask a couple of questions and hopefully get your thoughts on two things regarding your NF and Patagonia poll.

What are your thoughts on Helly Hansen and or Arcteryx? I have been wearing both brands for years and I am very happy with their products. (I used to Sail 2 - 3 times a week.). I am guessing that you are going to say that they are both too pragmatic to fall into the "Preppy line"? I also own N. Face and Patagonia, but I seem to wear the other two more often.

Great job on the site and I am happy to see people that understand that good taste doesn't go out of style with time.

Anonymous said...

Please accept my apologies for arriving very tardily into this discussion. But whenever I see someone in a North Face garment - and they are ubiquitous here in northern Massachusetts, like the nouveau-Coach people - I think of my funny nephew's favorite t-shirt, emblazoned with a mock of the TNF logo which reads: THE SOUTH BUTT.

Ramboxman said...

Owning both the R4 and the Denali wind pro I can tell you that the Patagonia is far, far warmer. As far as down jackets Patagonia has more choices and colors. TNF has gone down in quality. Patagonia give more back to the environment and I personally like the look of their stores. TNF is more readily available and everyone in Chicago where TNF logo shirts. But personally for me it is Patagonia all the way, get an R2 and the Das Parka and you will know why.

Preppy - both are trendy. But I noticed that in Jackson Hole everyone had Patagonia, but in Breckenridge it was more TNF. In Chicago it is more TNF and in California I see more Patagonia.

Customer service hands down is Patagonia's Iron Glad Return Policy which sold me, when TNF fleece less than a year old piled up in the inside collar so bad that I had to replace it and TNF wanted me to mail it in for repair and would not replace.

Trust me I own both, but to be truly warm Helly Hansen for skiing and Arc'teryx are going to be the best.

DictionaryGirl said...

I must agree with Mr. Alexander's comment. North Face jackets are a staple of fitting-in where I live. You have a North Face, Uggs, a couple of COach bags and poof! You are all set as far as fashion goes. It is really very cringe-worthy.

CB Phillips said...

Muffy, due to your TNF vs Patagonia blog and poll, I ordered two Patagonia Retro-X jackets and two North Face Denali. All were ordered in late December and I have worn them for over a month now. They are both warm, but I really feel a bit warmer in the Retro-X. However, I do not like the separation of the fibers on the Patagonia, especially in the elbow/arm area. It really looks a bit nappy. I like the elbow fabric on the Denali.

DMG said...

At my college, Northeast private University, only the "hippie" kids wore Patagonia. Everyone else wore TNF or another active apparel brand (Helly Hansen, Marmot, etc). Wasn't until working in the city that I learned that Patagonia wasn't synonymous with Birkenstocks and Phish.

Daniel 小当 said...

Patagonia. But as Laguna Beach Fogey said it's pretty funny since it's also the brand of climbing, surfing, fishing etc dirtbags everywhere. I guess there is a intersection of styles there.

Anonymous said...

Dear Muffy,

For a men of medium age (40's) (my father) wich is the colour/style you like more? Retro X Dark Walnut vs. nickel, Snap T Dark Walnut vs. Nickel. He's classic, smart, elegant and the best father...

Thanks a lot for your help

Anonymous said...

Patagonia is preppier. TNF is college gear, but I do prefer the colors of TNF. The Thanksgiving colors of Patagonia leave a bit to be desired.

YOEL LAZARUS BEAUSIER said...

Hi,
I happen to have owned, borh, The North Face, and Patagonia wear. Unlike most of you, I do not consider myself neither a preppy, nor a avant gard e, whatever you ident yourselves with. I have, though, worked for Marmot, and EMS, places that posers were disdained with fervor. We chose these garments according to the active endeavor we pursued, and these were very specific. For example, if we saw a dude or dudette wearing a retro pile jacket, we immediately connected, because we knew we had something in common, not anymore.

Anonymous said...

Neither are "preppy" per se. But they both make nice, functional outerwear that lasts, and generally looks good. So what's not to like? Unless you need to be in "prep uniform" all the time.

JSL said...

I'm quite late to this thread but will gleefully weigh in with my own thoughts. Neither Patagonia nor TNF are preppy, but many items within each brand are prep-compatible. Both companies were founded on backpacking and mountaineering (not skiing) goods, and these are not traditionally preppy endeavors. If we are to go by brand heritage, then neither should rightly be considered prep in the way that we consider Barbour or Orvis to be prep.

Kim made an excellent point, that many of the strongly pro-Patagonia responses bolster their arguments by pointing out that everyone and their mall-walking grannies wears TNF, often with sartorially disastrous results. This is not much of a TNF-deterrent to me, as many classically prep items went through surges in popularity with non-preps and still managed to hang on to their spots in prep closets. In a generation or two, items like the Snap-T and the Denali probably will be considered classic preppy, even if they have been abandoned by more mainstream buyers. The mere fact that suburban moms, public school students, and even (gasp) rappers wear TNF does not mean that their products are somehow tainted, or that we should turn up our noses simply because the brand is experiencing a bump in popularity among the urban set. And yes, while the number of black TNF jackets is overwhelming, they do produce more, and I believe better, colors than Patagonia.

From what I've gathered in reading this blog, our local definition of prep includes choosing functional, attractive clothing not based on trends. This leads me to believe that the opposite must also be true: if a functional, attractive item becomes suddenly trendy, we should not abandon it to the masses as a punishment for becoming ubiquitous. To do so would put preps onto the same style treadmill as everyone else, trying to stay ahead of the crowd within a certain aesthetic, purging and replacing perfectly good items as soon as they are embraced by non-preps. We would become, in effect, hipsters. And we mustn't have that.

I'll put my soapbox aside now.

I want to like and support Patagonia, but I just plain find fewer things that meet my needs in their store than at TNF. Snap-Ts and Denalis are both very prep-compatible, as are most well-made, well-fitting fleece jackets from any number of manufacturers. I suspect that one day my children might squabble over my "vintage" Denali and lament that they don't make Capilene long johns like they used to when I was their age. Until then, I'll keep wearing my TNF alongside the graffiti artists and soccer moms, and if a navy or kelly Snap-T fell into my lap, I would enjoy that as well.

andrew said...

i consider both of these brands to live in the 'wilderness chic' neighborhood but do not consider them to be preppy. To me, prep includes an affinity for natural materials and fibers like wool, cotton, leather (for shoes not pants), rubber (as in rain slickers). Not gore tex, nylon shells, or polartec fleece. on the other hand, as a new hampshire native who loves to return and hike the white mountains in the winter, i like both brands a lot and prefer Patagonia's long johns and accessories.

Anonymous said...

I would say that neither jacket is truly preppy though they both fall under the definition of modern prep. I personally choose TNF but for very specific reason. I'm in my early 20s and originally from Northwestern Connecticut. Though last year I moved to Chicago for graduate school. I've had two Patagonias in the past but both jackets wrecked very quickly. Granted I believe they both were children's jackets. (I was a kid and then the other was my early teens but I'm petite.) After my issues with them I switched to the Denali jacket and it holds up so much better. I just bought a new one after having the first one for 7 years. I still have the first one and wear it hiking and outside, it's still a good coat just not as presentable anymore. I also have never owned a black TNF. I was taught to take excellent care obmy clothing so I do not believe I have used the jackets in any way that I shouldn't. While I agree Patagonia may be preppier it just doesn't hold well enough for me to consider purchasing.

Anonymous said...

I recently bought the Denali PRO jacket and want to check if there is any way I can get that TNF embroidery removed on both front and back of the jacket easily. It seems the embroidery is heavily stitched into the fabric and I want to be cautious I dont screw up the garment. I hate that logo although I like the jacket and dont want to be a walking advertisement for them

Anonymous said...

I recently moved to a moderately nice area in Chicago and during this time of the year you can tell that TNF has become way too popular. It is like the standard "uniform" of urban Chicago people. I actually wonder how many of these people are wearing fake Denali's. I own both brands, but prefer wearing my Patagonia because it fits better and it is probably 100x less popular where I live. I don't think either brands are really Preppy like JCrew or RL, but I much prefer wearing my Patagonia fleece when I dress up nice. Both of my fleece are new, but the TNF sheds much more than the Patagonia for some reason.

John Rosevear said...

A little over twenty years ago, I bought a North Face Mountain Light jacket. It came with what I thought of as a removable fleece liner. That jacket provided years and years of good service as my first-choice casual winter jacket. Eventually, a few years ago, it reached the point where it was just too battered for regular use. I bought a new one. The fabrics are a little sturdier-feeling, the zippers a little less so (one has already been replaced, speaking of brands that have gone a bit downhill in recent times), and the style has been updated a bit, but it's essentially the same coat. It too came with a fleece "liner", and I've never thought of it as anything else... until reading this post, when I realized that the "liner" is in fact a "Denali". So I guess I own one, and my opinion is that it's a fine jacket liner, and I don't think I've ever had a Patagonia fleece to compare it to, and next time around I'll probably buy a Marmot instead.

Grace Shailene said...

Pategonia is most certainly preppier! I also think you can pair it with more layers than you could a north face. North face + uggs + starbucks = not preppy, just casual.

Anonymous said...

The North Face Denali jacket.... A symbol of no style. Just throw on your spandex, don't forget your MK bag (with sanitizer bottle hanging off the side) and calf high boots - now you're a lamb, with black fleece of course. Did you take your daily selfie on your smartphone? Ok, turn off that candy crush game and find an inconspicuous spot - or what the hell who cares right? Pucker up!

Keith Baker said...

May apologies for being late to the party but I found your blog only recently. As an outdoors athlete and former outdoor business owner, I can offer some insight on the Patagonia/TNF question. Don't ask me to pick a favorite - I love them both in different ways.

Patagonia is definitely the "preppier" of the two companies, especially in the Lisa Birnbach granola preppy, Bohemian preppy senses. The company consciously pursues that image - Volvos, Birks, NPR, fly fishing. They are privately held and the founder/owner, Yvon Chouinard, says he will never take the company public so he will not be beholden to shareholders. He is an accomplished Alpinist, rock climber, surfer and fly fisherman and a god in this business.

The North Face appeals to more aspirational image-casers and logo-buyers because of their lower price points (the Denali jacket is the biggest player here). Even thought they have price-point items (for outdoor clothing and gear), many people continue to find TNF outside their budget. TNF still has a solid reputation in the mountaineering, skiing and outdoors sports fields because they do make technically superior products. Their image, especially in Summit Series (serious technical mountaineering clothing and gear) is more international and techie, and is well-earned. And, unlike Patagonia, TNF makes tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and other equipment. TNF is also a unit of publicly-held VF Corporation.

Despite TNF's superior technical image, Patagonia's products are technically sound and are of high quality, and they appeal to their own aspirational buyer - but their aspirational buyer is trying to convey a bit more than the typical TNF aspirational buyer. As Chouinard said a few years ago, "I know the closet many of our clothes ever get to their intended purpose is when an overweight, middle-aged man wears them when he drives his family from Manhattan to their country house for the weekend. But he has a dream: one days he is going to lose 30 pounds, he's going to get in shape and he is going climb Rainier. And I'm okay with that. Dreams keep us alive."

Definite nod to TNF on clothing for high-output activities like running, Nordic skiing, snowshoe racing, cycling, etc. They have dialed the marketing on that and have the Flight Series that covers the spectrum in an easy-to-understand way.

Both companies are environmentally responsible with a slight edge to Patagonia and have a stable of serious and accomplished outdoors athletes carrying their standards. Both help build the outdoors recreation industry and continue to attract people to the outdoors (remember Chouinard's story above).

As an illustration, my wife and I are driving up to Summit County this afternoon to ski Breckenridge, Copper and Vail for a few days. Our clothes, personal items and skis are packed in TNF Base Camp Duffels and ski bags. Our clothes are a mixture of mostly Patagonia with (in descending order) TNF, Mountain Hardwear and Marmot thrown in. Our gloves are from Black Diamond; skis, boots etc. from Black Diamond, Fischer, SCARPA and Garmont. Keep in mind, having been in the industry (I sold my business a few months ago) for many years, we could have anything from any brand we want.

As an aside, I drive a Ford F350 Super Duty PowerStroke because Mercedes AMG doesn't do a truck. The rack system is from Thule - of course. ^_^

Let's talk Nordic skiing and snowshoeing sometime!

B. Girard said...

Oops, left this one the wrong article:

Late to the party, but I have to dispute that Mercedes doesn't make a truck, I learned to drive on an Unimog and they are still out there.

Happy New Year :D

Anonymous said...

Did someone say snowshoeing...?

Keith Baker said...

Wow, Muffy, thank you for thinking my comments were suitable for sharing with a wider audience! I banged it our very quickly while preparing for our ski trip and have since noticed several typos and other errors, and a couple of points I found have made more strongly, or at least clearer.

B Girard - yes on the Unimog - the key part of my remark about the Mercedes truck is the AMG part. AMG is Mercedes' in-house speed and performance shop.

Anonymous at 12:45 - Are you a snowshoer too?

Happy New Year from Colorado!

GLH said...

I agree with most of the recent post. I likely do not have the experience of the prior poster, but I did work as an outfitter for seven years and I would like to add a few points. Douglas Tompkins (founded of TNF) and Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) are old friends and knew each other as they developed their companies. TNF manufactures equipment that Patagonia doesn't, such as tents, but Patagonia was always intended to provide outdoor clothing not other equipment. The company was started as Chouinard Equipment and manufactured cutting edge climbing gear. Patagonia came later and therefore, there would be no reason for the company to produce equipment besides clothing. I would also add that the ethos of the companies are quite different or at least they were when I was in the business. To me, and many others, TNF seemed to stray far from their roots, especially in the mid- to late-1990s and was eventually bought by VF Corporation. Also worth noting, when many competing companies moved away from recycled materials and environmental stewardship, Patagonia increased their efforts at sustainability as evidenced by their policy to only use only organic cotton. I would also note that Patagonia makes some excellent fishing items including waders and recently released an innovative wading boot design. TNF does not outfit anglers. Finally, TDP readers might enjoy learning more about Yvon Chouinard in particular or the rock climbing scene in Yosemite Valley of the 1960s in general. While clearly not New England preps, to me the individuals that comprised the rock climbing scene of Yosemite at that time embodied some of the characteristics of prep that are applauded on this blog.

GLH said...

I do not mean to belabor this, but as I reflected on Patagonia a few stories I've heard about Chouinard from friends that have met him occurred to me. I was told that Patagonia did not use Gore-Tex materials in their garments because at that time Gore-Tex required that the their logo be visible on all items in which it was a material. Chouinard apparently did not like this and decided Patagonia would create its own waterproof, breathable membrane (H2Nostorm). Patagonia, and I think this has changed over the years, has always been cautious about plastering their logo on items. On my old Patagonia polos the stitching is the same color as the shirt to the point that the brand is not visible. Chouinard also strives to use patterns that will stand the test of time. As preps know, patterns that are not trendy and clothing that is well made can last a lifetime. Patagonia products have always emphasized simplicity over complication (see Mtn. Hardware) and the products were always built with purpose regardless if the items would truly be used for such purpose. Chouinard is a pioneer of equipment and I consider clothing to be equipment. This is the guy that invented the fleece jacket not for fashion, but to save lives (the idea supposedly came from a toilet seat cover). OK, I'll let this go now.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone suggest a good down jacket for New England area? I am tilting towards Patagonia Down Sweater but open to suggestions. Is there an equivalent product by TNF? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Yes, chiming in at this late date on this most interesting post.
I wear both Patagonia and North Face. Patagonia likely has the more preppy mantra and is certainly an environmentally conscious business. But, as far as usefulness and long wear, North Face wins hands down, but only when referencing the North Face Denali fleece jacket compared to fleece offerings by Patagonia. I have numerous Patagonia fleece jackets, but they really have to be babied. The fleece tends to separate and pill, making it most unattractive, aside from the bizarre color combinations.The North Face Denali on the other hand is much more durable.
My two cents.
Richard

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