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July 09, 2021

While underwear is a standard term for the garments we wear underneath our clothes, outerwear is a far less used term. Is outerwear the clothing you wear outside, or is it the clothing you wear on top of your normal clothing? Can you only wear outerwear in the winter?

It’s time to clear the air by defining what outerwear truly is. Keep yourself in the know when it comes to fashion terms by learning how outerwear differs from regular clothes, and prevent yourself from letting the question confuse you ever again.

Outerwear: What Is It?

The easiest way to define outerwear is the layer of clothing that you wear on top of your regular clothing. However, it’s often not as simple as wearing one shirt on top of another shirt or layering a dress shirt over an undershirt—only specific articles of clothing count as outerwear. Outerwear’s entire purpose is for people to wear it as an outer layer of clothing; you can wear a shirt on its own, which prevents it from being outerwear—with some exceptions.

Common Qualities of Outerwear

While some outerwear forms are vastly different from each other, many pieces of outerwear share some common similarities. Outerwear will often:

  • Keep you warm.
  • Protect you from the elements.
  • Add layers to your look.
  • Cover your skin or clothes.
  • Protect you from hazards.

Some pieces of outerwear are mandatory for festivals or ceremonies. You may only wear them once, twice, or yearly depending on their use. Graduation gowns, for example, are outerwear that only graduates and members of school faculty wear—graduates wear one once per graduation, and faculty will often wear them once a year to ceremoniously celebrate each class’s graduation.

The Many Purposes of Outerwear

Because outerwear is such a broad term, it helps if you break it down into its own separate categories that its many pieces fall into. Consider the following categories as you learn the differences between regular clothes and outerwear:

Protective Outerwear

Protective outerwear is the category that most people have no difficulty identifying articles of clothing as outerwear. This gear keeps its wearer safe from freezing temperatures, rain, snow, or even bacon grease. Yes, a chef’s apron or coat counts as protective outerwear. Whenever you make plans to have fun in the snow or cold temperatures, your trusty coat is always there to keep you warm. Whether you choose a fashion coat or a more utility-based parka, this outerwear allows you to keep moving while outside.

One of the few exceptions to outerwear covering clothes is protective outerwear accessories, such as gloves, hats, and scarves. These accessories still function as outerwear even though they don’t cover any other clothing.

Active Outerwear

When you need protection from the weather while working out, you can’t wear a heavy, protective coat—you’ll overheat. Instead, you need active outerwear that helps prevent hypothermia while allowing your body to breathe underneath all the layers you’re wearing. Active outerwear wicks away sweat and ventilates heat to regulate your body temperature during outdoor winter workouts. By keeping moisture off of you and away from your body, you can work just as hard during the winter as you would during any other month.

Active outerwear often includes sweatpants that cover your athletic shorts, along with warm-up jackets.

Outerwear and Fashion

Fashion and outerwear go together like bread and butter. Blazers, cardigans, and sweaters can add an extra layer to an outfit and cause it to have an impact that it wouldn’t have otherwise. Some forms of fashionable outerwear also double as protective outerwear, such as luxury pea coats and long trench coats.

Fashionable outerwear can also help you accomplish a certain style—a stylish leather jacket can add just the right amount of punk or sass to your outfit and help you radiate your own characteristic fashion sense.

Summertime Outerwear

If you think summertime makes it too hot for some sensible outerwear, you’d be wrong. Summer is the perfect time to break out light workout jackets, ponchos, and wraps. During the late summer heading into fall, bring your flannel out for a cozy campfire look. Anything sheer and breathable makes a wonderful addition to your summer outerwear collection.

Formal Outerwear

Outerwear for fashion and outerwear for formality are two separate things—not all fashion is formal! No suit is complete without its blazer or jacket; a formal jacket, coat, or cardigan can improve the look of a dress with minimal effort. Gloves, hats, and shawls can also be formal outerwear additions to any runway-worthy outfit.

Can Regular Clothes Be Outerwear?

With all these types and traits of outerwear in consideration, we can now define how outerwear differs from regular clothes. But can regular clothing function as outerwear? Can outerwear function as regular clothing? The answer to either question depends on your intent when wearing the clothes. If you’re wearing them as an outer layer to your outfit with the intention of staying warm or covering up, such as with the earlier sweatpants example, your regular clothes can count as outerwear.

Ultimately, the strong definitions of what is and isn’t outerwear only matter when purchasing new clothing. If a hoodie isn’t protecting you from anything but is instead functioning as a layer underneath your actual outerwear, then it might not be outerwear to you. However, when you want to buy a new hoodie, you may find it in the outerwear section of the store. Everyone’s definition of outerwear may differ, but in the end, it’s the outer layer of clothing that keeps you warm during the winter and stylish during the summer.

Whether you prefer outdoorsy, active outerwear or formal, dashing outerwear, Escape Outdoors has a variety of brands, styles, and accessories to suit your fancy. Shop with us today to find your next piece of Arc’teryx clothing or outerwear to protect you in the mountains or during your next workout. Arc’teryx specializes in narrowing the gap between fashionable and active lifestyles—providing you with the gear you need for an evening winter stroll through the city or an intense, craggy climb.


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