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January 10, 2022

If you live in a colder region, chances are your wardrobe is stocked full of many types of jackets, sweaters, and coats, all made from a wide variety of materials. Wool, cotton, and synthetic fabrics dominate the outerwear industry and make up most of our warm layers.

There’s a unique, relatively new clothing material that changed how our winter gear was is made, and many people have it hanging in their closet at this moment—fleece! However, little is truly known about this fabric, leaving many out there wondering, “What is fleece and why is it used in outerwear?” Check out this guide on the history and implementation of fleece in mainstream winter clothing.

History of Fleece

Our earliest human ancestors were hunters and gatherers, living a nomadic lifestyle that lacked consistent shelter. These humans collected vast amounts of animal furs to survive harsh winters and fashioned them into the earliest known coats and jackets. The skins came from sheep, bears, goats, and other furry creatures.

As the dominant clothing fabric around the Middle Ages, wool remains one of the most popular materials for keeping in the warmth. Other fabrics such as cotton, silk, and leather have kept humanity sheltered from mother nature’s worst elements.

By the 1800s, scientists began creating synthetic materials made from natural items, such as silk composed of tree bark fibers. Rayon is an early synthetically manufactured material that’s still used today. In 1935, DuPont Chemicals invented nylon, a water-resistant, insulating fabric that was soft to the touch and easy to produce.

But what about Fleece? In 1979, a company named Malden Mills created the durable, light, and highly comfortable fabric that we wear today. The material was called “Polarfleece,” and in 1981, Patagonia was the first business to implement it into its clothing.

The discovery was so significant that Time Magazine declared fleece one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Flash forward to the present day, and nearly every winter clothing business utilizes this groundbreaking fabric in its products, as the creator—Aaron Feurstien—never got a patent for his invention.

What Is Fleece

Fleece is made from polyester, a fabric invented in the 1940s and comprised of threaded plastics. Yes, that cozy zip-up of yours most likely contains remnants of water bottles and plastic straws! A mixture of petroleum and petroleum derivatives (terephthalic acid, ethylene glycol) goes through a chemical reaction that creates polyester fibers, which are then spun into threads. These threads are dyed, knitted, napped, and sheared before being sprayed with waterproof material. The finished product is what we see when we purchase a new fleece jacket!

Benefits of Fleece

Enough with the history lessons—why is fleece used in outwear today? Truthfully, this fabric has tons of unique properties that make it perfect for protecting our bodies from cold, winter elements.


Like any good winter clothing material, fleece is exceptionally warm. The fabric has a raised “pile” surface that keeps body heat trapped between fibers and cold air blocked on the outside. Think of fleece-like an insulated window—the air pockets are the reason you stay toasty when the weather outside is frightful.


The fall and winter bring rain and overall moisture, which leaves us feeling damp and potentially sick. Synthetic-based materials provide our clothing with extra protection from water and snow, and fleece is among the best at doing so. Plastic is an excellent moisture deflector, and the material is known to dry quite quickly.


The coldest time of the year for many people means fun hikes, camping trips, and other outside activities. However, wool sweaters and oversized fur coats aren’t the best for moving and sweating. At Escape Outdoors, we believe in the importance of connecting with nature no matter the season.

That’s where fleece comes in. This fabric effectively wicks sweat, in addition to being lightweight and highly breathable. Your fleece jacket is totally suitable for cool to freezing temperatures, adapting to the change in degrees, and keeping you comfortable all day long. That’s why many adventurous individuals stock up on clothing made from this versatile material.


Natural fabrics are known for their soft touch and high quality, but unfortunately, they don’t last forever. Fleece is as smooth as any clothing material, but its synthetic makeup means it’ll stay durable for years to come! It’s far easier to clean fleece when compared to wool or cotton, as you can throw your jacket into a standard washing machine, and it’ll come out fresh and totally intact. Just make sure to turn it inside out before washing!

Fleece Products

Fleece is a historically significant clothing fabric with tons of great features, so it’s no surprise that many jackets on the market today implement these plastic threads into their products. In fact, almost all kinds of outwear have a fleece-insulated model, including hoodies, zip-ups, and puffer jackets.


A tremendous hooded sweater will never go out of style, and they’re super functional in cold weather conditions. Fleece-lined hoodies offer superior insulation to classic sweaters, and they offer a softer feeling on the inside. Some hoodies even have fleece inside the hood, making for a cozy wearing experience.


The classic clothing item where you’ll find fleece is the always trendy zip-up sweater! This classic silhouette is a versatile layer that’s both lightweight and cozy. Patagonia introduced fleece clothing in their Synchilla jackets, which were colorful outwear items that remained popular. Today, the Patagonia Better Sweater fleece coat continues to keep people warm and stylish thanks to advanced polyester technology.

Puffer Jackets

Puffer jackets use tight, geometrical stitching patterns to create a puffy surface that keeps warmth inside and breaks wind on the outside. Throw in a fleece-lining, and you have a stylish coat that’s warm in the coldest of situations! Hybrid puffer jackets are trendy, and they feature a mixture of fleece and coat material on the exterior of the item.

So, if you’ve ever wondered, “What is fleece and why is it used in outerwear,” now you know more information on the fabric than you could have ever imagined! In truth, fleece was an industry game-changer when it debuted in the ’80s, and it continues to insulate our society, allowing us to enjoy nature even in the winter. These winter gear advancements are extremely valuable to our species, and every year, our clothing gets better at protecting us all. Escape Outdoors carries many quality fleece products that will last you for many years and keep you outside even in the cold!

What Is Fleece and Why Is It Used in Outerwear

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