When the comeback of the 1920s is announced one day in the distant future, one item will certainly not go unmentioned - the fleece sweater. In, let's say, 20 or 25 years, there will probably be talk of reinterpreting this sweater in the Corona pandemic: people should stay at home and, if possible, work from there. From then on they wore fewer shirts, less business fashion and more fluff.

Jennifer Wiebking

Editor in the “Life” department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

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    Despite all their digital connectedness, they longed for true nature experiences. Long-distance travel was no longer possible; the mountains became a popular summer destination during this time and were to remain so as temperatures rose. The outdoor look also became common in big cities, especially the fleece sweater. The overarching trend was called Gorpcore, short for “Good old Raisins and Peanuts,” alluding to nutritious provisions for hiking.

    What could also be said about this fleece sweater in retrospect - estimated in the year 2050 - was that it fit into the time when gender boundaries in fashion were gradually disappearing. Girls wore pants suits to prom. The first boys ventured into ruffles. Male stars also occasionally appeared in skirts on the red carpets of this time, not least because it guaranteed them attention. Pink became the color for everyone.

    Patagonia company transferred to foundations

    The fleece sweater was so oversized that she and he could swap it with each other. Often it was from Patagonia, model Classic Retro-X, so you could say. Because the founder of the brand did something unusual in the 1920s: He didn't sell his company to a large corporation according to the rules of capitalism or consider going public, but instead transferred it to foundations set up for this purpose in the fight against climate change. This meant that the fleece sweater had finally arrived in urban areas with a green coat of paint.

    Finally, the comeback of the fleece sweater in the future could also be about this contradiction that disturbed the consciousness of a certain clientele, which was at least partially influenced by sustainability, in the 1920s. Because: Isn't fleece particularly harmful to the environment?

    Back to 2024. It's full of this brushed polyester fabric that loses microfibers with every wash. This is because the fibers are pulled out of the fabric during production. “They are then only loosely tied to the yarn,” says Michael Rauch, who researches and teaches on the properties of textiles at Hof University. “That provides the fluff.” It is irreplaceable for a fleece sweater. This trend piece therefore has two major image problems: polyester and microfibers.

    On closer inspection and, above all, in perspective, the fleece sweater is not as bad as its reputation. Kai Nebel from Texoversum at Reutlingen University also deals with textiles; his focus is sustainability and recycling. Anyone who demonizes the polyester in fleece sweaters, which is made from petroleum in refineries, should also look at where the supposedly better cotton, for example for sweatshirts, comes from: “Is it grown in a dry area that has to be heavily irrigated? or is it rain grown?” says Kai Nebel.

    “You can’t compare apples and oranges”

    “Was it mixed with pesticides?” Cotton production requires land and water, so soil salinization, land and water consumption are clear dampeners to sustainability. “You don’t have that with polyester.” From an ecological perspective, other points speak against it: the refineries mentioned, the fact that polyester is not biodegradable. It's just difficult to balance them against each other. “You can’t compare apples and oranges,” says Nebel.