Filson redux . . .

Early this year I posted an article titled “Et tu, Filson?” which detailed my concerns that Filson—long one of the most reliable suppliers of high-quality expedition gear and clothing—might be headed down the same diluted and fashionized path as so many other historic outfitters (read it here). 

The article produced a flurry of comments, and a surprise: a lengthy and obviously sincere interaction with a Filson customer service representative named Phil, who promised he was passing the dialogue along to marketing executives at the company, and who assured me there were many long-time employees who shared my concerns and were determined to keep serving Filson’s core customers.

My specific rant concerned Filson’s Feathercloth Shirt, which had long been my standard wear for both the Arizona desert and Africa. From a pricey but bearable $70 it morphed overnight into something called the Seattle Shirt—same item, only double the price, which made it untenable (for me, any way) as a working shirt subject to hard use and possible tears. I rued its loss, and wished aloud (and loudly) that Filson would designate some Feathercloth rendition as a real outdoor shirt, and drop the price.

And . . . voilá.

Last week I got an email from a fellow shirt wonk, Gary Haynes: “Have you seen this?” Included was a link, which, when opened, introduced me to the brand new Filson Expedition Shirt. Feathercloth, some interesting-looking features, and a sub-$100 price—right on the edge of finger-curling affordability (only given the astonishing lifespan of my earlier Feathercloth shirts). 

Wow, like, Power to the People

I called the long-time Filson public relations rep Amy Terai (a veteran in an industry that usually chews through personnel like gum), and asked for a sample.

So, let’s take a look at this thing.

First off is the Feathercloth fabric, a . . . feathery . . . but tightly woven poplin of just three ounces per square yard. At first it seems impossibly delicate, but the incredibly tight weave renders it as durable as heavier fabrics. It soaks up sweat instantly, and dries faster than you can imagine. Between May and October in Arizona, when I hang laundry out to dry I can quite literally take down the first Feathercloth shirts I put up by the time I finish hanging the rest of the load. Washed in a sink while traveling it dries nearly as quickly wrung out and hung in a window (although wringing also wrinkles it like crazy). Fans of synthetic fabrics boast about short drying times, but I’d put Feathercloth up against any of them. (Little-known practical advantage to cotton: If you stay at lodges anywhere in Africa and have your laundry done, your clothes will be ironed, quite possibly with an iron heated on a stove. Roseann has a couple of synthetic skirts with perfectly shaped iron scorch marks on them.)

So, on to other features. There are two large breast pockets, properly flapped and secured with buttons—which, unlike Velcro, will work just as well in three years as they do now. New to the Expedition Shirt are buttoned tabs for rolling up and securing the sleeves above one’s elbows—nice—and four gusseted vent holes under each arm—even nicer. The fabric under each forearm is doubled for abrasion resistance.

 The collar does not button down. I prefer button-down collars to keep them from flapping in the wind and to keep the shirt looking neater, but that’s a small gripe; I often simply sew on such buttons on myself. Speaking of buttons, they seem a bit more substantial than those on my earlier shirts. On the other hand, the shirt’s seam stitching has opened up a bit, from ten per inch to nine. I’ve never had a seam blow out on a Filson shirt so I’m not sure this matters, but I wonder how much they save by turning a dial on the sewing machine.

What distinguishes the Expedition Shirt in catalog photos are the epaulets. Epaulets—something of a misnomer, as an epaulet is properly the military shoulder decoration that was held on by what we now call the epaulet—are useful at times for securing camera or binocular straps when you don’t want them sliding off your shoulder. To work effectively, though, they must be sewn through about an inch inward from the shoulder seam, otherwise the strap of whatever it is you’re securing can drag the shirt off your shoulder.

A proper epaulet . . .

The Filson’s epaulets, I noted, are properly sewn through, so I lifted the collar to check the securing buttons and . . . um . . . huh? There are no securing buttons. The “epaulet” is sewn on at both ends, rendering it nothing but a fashion item.

 . . .but no!

Okay, so that’s a fail. On virtually every other count, however, the Expedition Shirt is not only a welcome new product, but an actual upgrade to the original Feathercloth Shirt, which helps make up for the price difference. Finally, it’s available in “small,” which fits me properly. I use quotation marks around “small” because I’m five nine and 150 pounds and used to be considered a solid medium. Now “medium”—which is the smallest size a great many companies offer any more—is tailored . . . no, wrong word! . . . constructed for 180-pound guys, and at the other end of the scale they just keep adding X after X to the L. If the world were fair I’d be able to buy two small shirts for the same price as an XXXXL since they probably take the same amount of fabric. And while we’re at it, the person next to me on an airline should have to pay for half my seat if he oozes over into my space. And furthermore . . .

Ah. Where was I? Oh, right: While I’m still trepidatious regarding the eventual fate of Filson, given the current ownership and the whole “lifestyle” movement (not to mention the tragic decline in so many field sports), it does seem that, indeed, there are people at Filson who want to continue the Filson tradition and serve the company’s core customers—people who actually spend time outdoors. Bravo.