A picture of a woman dressed in an expensive burgundy dress wearing a pair of generic hip waders caught my attention. The hip waders were folded over below the knee, overlapping to the ankles with additional straps wrapped like bohemian braids, a stylish and purpose-defying statement of beauty stranded helpless in a fishing stream. The dress, $389, the imported earrings, $198, the deconstructed hip waders, $7.99, the girl hooking a salmon and filling her boots with water before falling in the drink, dangerous.
The photos were themed to a world that doesn’t really exist: the hip dysfunctional outdoors. Creative backgrounds and props that place fashion models wearing expensive beaded halter dresses on horseback and chiffon ruffle tunic’s leaning against badly painted barns. While the reality would be closer to holding prom in a diesel shop, the clothes do look especially nice.
Back when I thought a Balaclava was a Grecian dessert, I had no idea I’d one day be dressing in layers and spreading Kenai River mud on my face to keep myself invisible to ducks. After a few seasons in the field, I’d acquired a new wardrobe, one that contained the three W’s: windproof, waterproof, and whiff proof (scent proof may be a better term, but it doesn’t start with “W” and wombats aren’t really a problem in Alaska).
It wasn’t long after I started duck hunting that I bought my first pair of chest waders. The bulk was unfamiliar, so I kept tightening my straps. With the straps as snug as a pair of Levis, I thought I looked alright. I took off across the duck flats, which are not, as the name would indicate, always flat. Getting down the first ravine was not a problem, even with a pack full of decoys, a full coffee thermos, and provisions. Getting back out of the slough with my straps tightened to the point that my knees wouldn’t bend, was not as easy. To make the ridge, I brought up my right foot, but I couldn’t make the final step, I fell strait back into the slough, my pack weighed me down like a turtle’s shell, my legs wiggling in the air.
My hunting partner was laughing from the top as the sky opened up and the rain came down. I rolled around in the mud, trying to get up with restricted movement. Finally un-strapping my pack and my waders, and learning that the first rule of waders is to be able to get out of them.
The world of camouflage poly-fibrous material was as foreign a subject to me as the outdoor experience itself. The fact clothing could make or break a hunting or fishing trip meant more than matching my shoes to my belt. The words “performance” and “adaptation” apply to the clothing itself. Clothing matters and, with brands like Prois and Haley Vines, gear specifically designed for women is putting the function in fashion.
One of my favorite Prois features is the hidden pockets designed to hold activated hand warmers. A friend had once suggested putting the warmers in a bra, which I did only to find out that I had strategically placed chemical burns that itched like crazy. There are more options available now for women’s gear than when I purchased my first coat that “flattered the female form.” This coat was indeed flattering, but the pockets were shallow, the zipper was as noisy as pocket full of quarters, and when I mounted my shotgun, the figure-flattering shoulders did not give me enough room, causing me to miss. That’s what I told everyone anyways.
As I pondered over the photograph of the vulnerable, fashion-forward fisher girl as much as tied to the railroad tracks with a river running through it, I wondered if outdoor-fitters would ever attempt to contrast their performance wear against unsuitable back drops: Mossy Oak Brush chest waders in the Oval Office; blaze orange hunting vests in the typing pool; Winter Seclusion parkas on the beach.
I turned the page to find a pair of imported Italian heels next to a pineapple in a refrigerator. I’d never refrigerated my foot wear, but maybe it was a good idea. Or maybe, I thought, the outdoor world was doing just fine without turning their models and merchandise into a visual art movement. Maybe the gear was good enough on its own. Actually, I can attest to the fact that it is. To the women of Prois, who work as hard as they play, thank you for saving me from chemical burns and everything else I wouldn’t have thought of.