Fleece: The New Wool

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As a ‘90s kid in Massachusetts, fleece was my uniform. I had fleece pants, socks, coat linings, hats, scarfs, and the ubiquitous fleece zip-up jacket. I even had a fleece tie-dyed flare-sleeved pullover from the Gap. 

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But fleece wasn’t always the New England fabric king. It wasn’t invented until 1981, by a Massachusetts company that had specialized in war uniforms and baby bunting. Malden Mills Industry saw the rising dominance of plastic fabrics in the 1900s: nylon in the ‘30s, Spandex in the ‘50s. It trained its sights on wool – that itchy, absorbent winter staple – and decided spin plastic into something soft and warm. They called it Polar fleece, and rebranded themselves Polartec. A collaboration with Patagonia made the fleece pullover a New England icon. By the mid-90s, Gap, Old Navy, and L.L.Bean had replicated the fabric, and with the help of a catchy jingle, fleece rose to ubiquity. 

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