It was long understood that fashion and function were mutually exclusive. Comfort and performance were seen as somehow uncool and there was an acceptance of the fact that sometimes looking good came with a side order of suffering.

Techwear has been the antidote to that antiquated school of thought. Approaching high-performance, technical, utilitarian clothing from a style-driven standpoint, the brands and designers behind the movement showed the world that fashion and function didn’t have to cancel each other out. In fact, they could elevate one another. Once designers caught up, it wasn’t long before we were seeing Arc’teryx shells being paraded down the runway by Virgil Abloh, and Prada making Gore-Tex jackets.

Techwear as a fashion trend has calmed down over the last couple of years, but its effects are still rippling through the industry. But what exactly is techwear? And why should it be on your radar? Allow us to explain.

What Is Techwear?

In short, techwear is performance gear filtered through a fashion lens. It’s rooted in technical fabrics, functional design and a forward-thinking aesthetic, but with urban environments in mind. That last bit is what separates it from regular old outdoor apparel.

At the core of it all is the fabric. Techwear is built on a foundation of textile innovation, with designers favouring materials for qualities such as waterproofness, breathability, stretch and durability. You’ll see engineered performance fabrics like Gore-Tex, nylon and Polartec cropping up again and again. In the case of some labels, most notably Stone Island, there’s an emphasis on pushing the envelope where fabrics are concerned and creating completely new materials that aren’t found anywhere else.

Another defining characteristic of techwear is its forward-thinking outlook. Where fashion designers often look to the past for inspiration, techwear takes its cues from what’s yet to come. Branding, design and even the cut of the clothing tend to feel futuristic. Some of the scene’s most notable labels, like Acronym, have built their entire brand around it.

Key Techwear Pieces

As complex as techwear is, there are a few key types of clothing that are integral to the look. If you’re thinking about dipping your toe into the world of futuristic, technical gear, the following garments would be a good place to start.

The Shell Jacket

Arc’teryx Veilance

Outerwear is central to techwear and is probably the first thing that springs to most people’s minds when they hear the term. The shell jacket is a waterproof and windproof outer layer that uses technical fabrics to aid breathability while blocking out adverse weather.

The Light Jacket

Arc’teryx Veilance

Light outerwear such as bomber jackets, field jackets and softshells also play an important role in the techwear universe. Layering is a key part of the techwear look and these pieces are fundamental to that. Again, the thing that separates these jackets from their everyday counterparts is the use of technical fabrics and futuristic styling.

The Cargo Pant

Goldwin

The legwear of choice in techwear circles is cargo pants. But these aren’t the baggy cotton pants your high-school geography teacher lived in. These are sharp, precision engineered and built using the latest fabric technology. Look out for brands like Arc’teryx Veilance and Goldwin, which take decades of experience making high-tech outdoor gear and reconstruct it with an emphasis on style.

The Technical Sneaker

Nike ACG

High-performance sneakers are the main footwear where techwear is concerned. Think technical running shoes, sporty hiking boots and trail-running sneakers. Again, technical materials like Gore-Tex, ripstop and mesh are commonplace, with brands like Salomon, Hoka One One and Nike producing some of the most notable examples.

Key Techwear Brands

Acronym

Originally set up as a boutique design agency in 1994, Acronym has become a leading force in the techwear movement. Fronted by now-legendary fashion designer Errolson Hugh, the German label eschews runway shows and advertising, with seasonal collections being small and highly limited.

This all adds up to create an air of mystery that complements the label’s otherworldly designs.

Buy now at SSENSE

Nike ACG

Nike’s outdoor-inspired ACG line has been a firm favourite in techwear circles for a long time now. Its style-focused designs are unlikely to win over hardcore mountaineers or outdoorsmen, but that’s OK. Nike ACG knows its place, and that is designing techy, outdoorsy garb that looks right at home in urban environments.

Buy now at Nike

Arc’teryx Veilance

Veilance is the fashion-forward offshoot of Arc’teryx, an outdoor brand renowned for making the best equipment in the game. The label takes the same technology that has made Arc’teryx famous and repurposes it for urban environments by shaping it into more lifestyle-orientated silhouettes.

There’s an overarching minimalist aesthetic that’s built upon clean lines, an absence of visible branding and a lack of detail. On the surface, it looks simple and understated, but there’s a lot going on under the hood.

Buy now at Arc’teryx

Goldwin

Japanese brand Goldwin is best known for its premium skiwear. However, its knack for fusing technical detail with a fashion-friendly aesthetic has seen it infiltrate the world of techwear too. The brand specialises in Gore-Tex outerwear and has even been responsible for producing coats for other labels, most notably The North Face.

Buy now at SSENSE

Stone Island Shadow Project

Shadow Project serves as a sort of exploratory outlet for a brand that’s already built around experimentation. It’s led by Errolson Hugh, of Acronym fame, and overseen by Stone Island boss, Carlo Rivetti. The designs take Stone Island’s signature innovation a step further, with the idea being that the project is a ‘shadow’ of the brand, but with a mind all of its own.

Expect to find weird and wonderful fabrics, forward-thinking designs and much more.

Buy now at Farfetch

7L (SEVEN LAYER)

Manchester-based label 7L (SEVEN LAYER) is a relative newcomer to the scene but is already making waves with its blend of fashion, functionality and utilitarian design. The concept of layering is at the core of the brand. It’s all about the idea that layers can be removed or added to cope with any type of weather.

There’s a real focus on fabrics too, with 7L’s garments all boasting highly technical materials that can shrug off rain, stop wind in its tracks and seal out the cold with ease.

Buy now at 7L