Everything's coming up parkas Fashion: For the hottest fashions, young folk are piling on the coldwear items of outdoors clothing lines.


Never mind that the nearest fresh powder is miles away.

These days, you needn't travel farther than the local movie theater or shopping mall to see an avalanche of bold-logoed parkas, fleecy pullovers, retro-striped sweaters and down-filled vests.

Clothes designed for slicing down ski slopes and scaling mountaintops have taken urban fashion by storm.

Street kids are shelling out for North Face jackets and Timberland boots, and fashion editors are scooping up Patagonia parkas to wear with their Prada pants. Last fall, Bloomingdale's New York flagship opened an entire department devoted to authentic snowboarding clothes.

Not to be outdone, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani have launched ski collections of their own. Even mainstream London Fog this year introduced a "performance driven line," FOG, a k a. Functional Outer Gear, joining fashion retailers such as Banana Republic, the Gap and J. Crew in the rage for shiny, stretchy performance fabrics, racing stripes, storm flaps, zippers and color blocks.

All are taking advantage of a market that shows no signs of having reached a peak.

Retail sales of sports apparel hit $32 billion in 1995, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

Figures for '96 are certain to be even higher, with the biggest growth expected in outdoor and extreme categories such as in-line skating, mountain biking and snowboarding.

Tellingly, the SGMA also reports that among those who own sports apparel, a mere 8 percent wear it strictly for athletic activities.

The other 92 percent may not have a clue about the purpose of technical features like "multi-position pit-zips," "powder cuffs" and "articulated sleeves and knees."

What they do know is that the clothes keep them warm and dry and look radically cool in the bargain.

No matter what the sport is, athletic clothes make function a priority. Underarm zippers and grommets dispel heat. Taped seams and storm flaps over zippers and pockets add extra insurance against moisture and wind.

Fabrics are performance-oriented, too. The best known include Gore-Tex, which is waterproof but also "breathes," and Polartec, the lofty brushed-pile polyester used for everything from socks to stocking caps. Polartec and its fleecy relatives, in particular, have become as basic to many wardrobes as cotton, wool and denim.

But even performance-driven sport clothes aren't impervious to fashion trends.

At Extreme Clothing & Sports, a Plano store that sells skate- and snowboarding gear to a hip, young clientele, the look of the moment is baggy, not bright and slightly retro.

Snowproof jackets in matte-finish nylon twill come in murky, quirky colors like slate, light orange, cranberry and sage. Boarding pants feature insulated seat and knee patches, flared legs and edgy labels such as Bonfire, Quicksilver, Special Blend and Combine. Thrift-shop-style racing-stripe wool sweaters are further evidence of snowboarding's grungy, Gen X attitude.

Another trend: Several snowboard apparel companies have introduced special women's lines. Ton O'Wawa's women's line, dubbed Betty, was founded by designer Janet Freeman because her sister wanted more body-conscious snowboard clothes.

"I keep all the same technical features [as the menswear]," says Freeman, "but the fit is different. Some of the jackets have an hourglass shape. And the colors are more feminine. Like lavender was my biggest color this year ... also purple and baby yellow. Next year we've got a very intense, piercing ice blue."

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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