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The anorak might be the best of yesterday and today, blended into one layer. (Illustration: T.J. Erny, Photos: Getty Images)

The Anorak Is Everything We Love About ’90s Ski Fashion

The ski jacket has gotten a major makeover, but don’t worry—it still comes with the same retro design and its signature kangaroo front pocket

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The first ski jacket I ever owned was an anorak, a pullover shell with a three-quarter zip down from the collar and a big kangaroo pocket on the front. I loved it. It was bright and two-toned and captured a specific period of ski fashion that can only be summarized as “loud and of questionable taste.” Ah, the early ’90s. 

Anoraks disappeared from the ski fashion landscape at some point later that decade. They were all the rage for a few years, and then suddenly they were gone, replaced by jackets that—get this—zipped all the way down. It’s as if the world collectively decided that anoraks weren’t the best option for performance. And the world was right. Pulling your shell over your head is a pain in the ass, especially if you’re wearing a helmet. Ditching one large pocket for several smaller pockets makes sense if you’re stashing a phone, wallet, a flask, and a burrito. Maybe the advent of the jacket was spurred by our need to carry more stuff. Who knows.

The author wearing his first anorak jacket. (Photo: Courtesy Graham Averill)

So I was shocked to see anoraks come back into vogue in the past few years. I lost count of the number of park rats and groms wearing the three-quarter-zip outer layer during a recent ski trip to Tahoe. But it’s not just kids; watch the latest Warren Miller film and you’ll spot Jonny Moseley rocking one. Most major ski brands offer at least one anorak in their lineups this season, and a handful of more freeski-oriented companies carry a few different options. Volcom outfitted the U.S. Snowboard Team in a pretty sick one this year. Picture Organic Clothing keeps adding more anoraks to its lineup: “It’s an interesting style, because its origin dates back to over a century ago, but we consider the anorak to be modern and young,” says Julien Durant, the brand’s co-founder. “We like the fact that it can be put on like a sweater and that they have a stylish look for après or winter days around town.”

Some of those new anoraks look a lot like the shell I loved back in the day: loud, built to stand out in a crowd. And I have to admit, I want one. More specifically, I want to wear my old anorak again. It’s long gone now—donated or lost in one of my moves across the country. 

Like all nostalgic urges, I’m not actually yearning for the thing itself; I’m yearning for the stage of life I was experiencing when I had that thing. Middle-aged men who buy the same convertible Mustang they drove during their senior year of high school don’t actually want the car itself—they want to be prom king again. They want to throw touchdowns and go to the state finals one more time. So do I really want that anorak back, or do I want a piece of my youth back? Sigh. 

For a minute, I convinced myself not to pursue my anorak urges because I don’t want to be that old guy wearing his high school letter jacket. But I was in Jackson Hole recently, and a friend, who’s in her forties, raved about her new Stio Pinion Pullover ($269), and there wasn’t a nostalgic sentiment in her reasoning. “It’s the kangaroo pocket,” she said. “I don’t want a layer without a kangaroo pocket.” 

There’s something special about being able to hold hands with yourself inside the warmth of a womb-like front pocket. It’s comforting. It’s not just nostalgia driving this resurgence—there is something to the design. 

Asbjørn Næss has been a pro freeskier for more than 20 years, so he’s seen a few ski trends come and go. This season, he’s rocking Norrona’s Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Anorak ($799). I asked him why, and he swears the anorak is a better layer for skiing than a jacket. “It has features for skiing I love, like the vent in the front with a long two-way zipper, full pit venting on both sides, and extra length in the back to cover your bum. Try this anorak on a harsh day outside and compare it to a normal jacket, and you will see why I choose it.” 

He’s on to something: the fewer seams and zippers there are for water to get through on the front of your jacket, the more likely you are to stay dry. And the anoraks made today are nothing like my shell from the ’90s. I don’t even think mine was waterproof. The kangaroo pocket didn’t even zip shut. Its Velcro closures never stuck. But Næss insists that today’s tops are loaded with the best tech. His enthusiasm convinced me to give the Norrona Lofoten Primaloft 80 Anorak ($399) a go. I like the retro two-tone design, the partial-zip front, hood, and kangaroo pocket. It’s everything I loved about my old one, only this layer has a ripstop Cordura face that’s windproof, water-resistant, and tough enough to handle tree skiing. The shoulders, cuffs, and lower torso have an extra waterproof layer, so it can handle a snowstorm or series of falls. The whole thing is insulated with Primaloft’s synthetic Gold Aerogel, which is crazy light and warm. In addition to the kangaroo pocket, you get one for your phone and two on your chest.

After wearing the Lofoten for a week in Tahoe and a few days around my local hills in the southern Appalachians, I’m convinced that the anorak is back, and it’s not just my overdeveloped sense of nostalgia. The anorak might be the best of yesterday and today blended into one layer. Is it perfect? No, you still have to pull the thing over your head. But I think the kangaroo pocket tips the scale in its favor.

Lead Illustration: T.J. Erny, Photos: Getty Images

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