An Ode to the Adventure Dress

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Saturday dawned cool and cloudy. With tights on under my dress, a fleece over the top and my rain jacket under my arm, I was ready to go tree planting at the Te Waihou Walkway near the Blue Springs in Southern Waikato. A quick drive over the Kaimai Ranges and we were helping to turn old farmland into a native reserve, tucking little trees into freshly turned soil with handful of compost for good measure. Standing on the top of the hill, a thick layer of dirt under my fingernails and muddy boots, I felt free from the hustle and bustle of the city life I’d left behind only hours ago.

A late night packing — where half my clothes were displaced by a fresh loaf of sourdough and homemade biscuits — followed by a busy Friday in the office and a whirlwind flight to Tauranga at 6:45 pm on a surprisingly little Air NZ plane, I’d committed to wearing the same dress for the entirety of my four day trip. Light and versatile, I knew the Mica’s chameleon-like qualities would serve me well in town and on the trails in the Bay of Plenty.

When I’m heading into the hills, a dress isn’t usually my first outfit of choice — usually its shorts and a merino tee — but our Sunday trip into the Kaimai Ranges caused me rethink my opinions. A mild morning with plenty of dew and the promise of sun, I strolled into the bush with a pair of bike shorts on under my dress — to alleviate any annoying chafing — and off we went!

With the freedom to move and increased airflow, I enjoyed the lightness of the fast-drying, stretch fabric which inconspicuously dealt with the sweaty uphills. It didn’t bunch or ride up in an unflattering way, nor did I overheat or get chilled by sweat-soaked fabric — plus, I enjoyed the simple, feminine cut and its modest coverage when needing a discreet pee off the track. The zipped pocket in the side seam not only hides the waist cinch, but it held my lip balm safe and secure, while the deeper hand pockets were ideal for stashing items temporarily when required. It was a wonderful combination you don’t often find in women’s outdoor apparel — practical, pretty and pocketed!

We went from wading through rivers in the bush to curling up with a good book in the hammock to having dinner with friends back in town, and I didn’t change my clothes once. Easy to layer when the temperature drops, the convenience of wearing one garment that’s both practical in the outdoors and presentable indoors was undeniable. No longer would the Mica just be my work uniform, it was about to become my take-anywhere-do-everything-dress.

It got me thinking, why don’t more women embrace the ‘adventure dress’ in the great outdoors? I knew of a couple of exceptions, but by and large, most of my friends wear shorts or pants when tramping or scrambling up the sides of mountains in New Zealand. Was it because we still view dresses as something pretty yet impractical? Do we feel less capable in a dress, fearful of being shunned by our peers for wearing something different? Is there still a need to fit in and wear what the boys wear to be seen as skillful or experienced? Perhaps so, but I also wonder if it’s because many of us haven’t been exposed a really good adventure dress yet. The idea of hiking or climbing in a dress may still conjure images of Emmeline Freda Du Faur — the first woman to climb Aoraki Mount Cook in December 1910 — in her long skirt, knickerbockers and long puttees, but lucky for us today’s modern designs and technical fabrics offer a greater variety of options when it comes to outdoor clothing…and the dresses a worth investigating.

With dresses like the Mica, you no longer have to choose between practical and feminine — you can experience both. There’s a lightness, a freedom to move and an almost magical ability not to get crumpled in your bag, which ultimately means you get to live in the moment, unrestricted by what you wear. It also means you can go from the trail head to airport transit with ease — for my flight back to Christchurch, I simply brushed off the horse hair and dust from Monday’s trip to visit some local equine residents and drew back on my black office tights and boots for a slightly more sophisticated appearance. Back in Christchurch and four days after slipping on the Mica, I pulled it off, threw it in the washing machine and pulled on another in a different colour for work.

Imogen, Technical Writer at Macpac