The need for warmth and coverage from the elements has ensured that a cold-weather necessity such as the fleece blanket isn’t just for babies – hardened adventure enthusiasts have used fleece blankets and fleece towels during their outdoor excursions for more than two decades.
It’s been a long hard road evolving from the use of raw animal skin and furs to the use of refined natural material such as cotton and wool to the eventual use of synthetic fibers such as fleece fabric in the manufacture of apparel and other textile products.
The skin from wild animals such as bears, otters and beavers etc. has kept human beings warm since the Stone Age if we are to believe cartoons like the Flintstones. However, due to unsustainable hunting practices as well as the destruction of their natural habitats to make way for human communities, many of these natural sources of warm apparel are now endangered.
Another problem encountered by those using animal skins and furs was the need for heavy layering, especially during wet and winter seasons. If you have a companion of the furry variety then you have probably seen how long it takes for their fur or hair to dry when it gets soaked. Even human beings have seen the importance of inventions like the hair dryer to combat the cold weather.
Bigger animals also gave the best coverage but this meant that the fur gathered would be heavier and more cumbersome.
When the hunter-gatherer lifestyle gave way to farmers and ranchers, wool became a favorite for those living in colder climates. However, the coarseness of wool as well as the wool’s natural alcohols gave birth to a whole new host of problems – wool allergies. Now this wasn’t as widespread as, say, pollen allergies but sufferers of wool allergies still felt distracting itchiness which then manifested in rashes. Not fun.
However, in the 1980s a company called Malden Mills came up with the first synthetic fleece which was then called Polartec. It completely revolutionized cold weather fashion – in a good way. This man-made material was lighter, softer, dried faster and was infinitely warmer than its natural predecessors.
Because it came from polyester, it meant that it could easily be mass produced without needing to decimate the animal population or rid sheep of their natural covering. Soon after its introduction, it was incorporated in almost any style of clothing imaginable, like jackets, embroidered beanies, and gloves.
The wool industry’s answer to this new synthetic was merino wool, which actually has less insulation capabilities compared to polyester. This makes polyester fleece the most popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts and those living in colder climates.