Assuming that you're an adherent to the principle of layered
clothing, midwear is that ubiquitous term which covers everything which
isn't a base layer or shell garment. Before the advent of pile and fleece
fabrics, that would have covered natural fibre garments made from wool
or cotton, but these days, synthetic rules supreme, with the vast majority
of midwear garments made from brushed polyester fleece.
So what kind of things do you need to bear in mind when browsing the
stores for a fleece top?
If you're after maximum efficiency, a close but
unconstricting fit is essential. Having said that, most people buy fleece
jackets and pullovers with an eye to fashionability as well as performance,
so they'll end up with a somewhat looser fit.
For general use, what you have at the end of your sleeves is really
down to personal preference. But if you're likely to be doing anything
serious on the receiving end of bad weather, it's best to opt for Lycra
bound or elasticated cuffs rather than rib knitted ones which tend to
hold the water and feel uncomfortable. Self-cuffing sleeves is another
option. Here the material is simply doubled over at the end to form
a soft and comfortable cuff which uses the natural stretch of the fabric,
and like the rest of the jacket, won't take up lots of water in rainy
Often use the same form of gathering as for the cuffs - either elasticated,
trimmed with stretch nylon, or with knitted cuffing. But quite a few
designs employ elasticated drawcord with cordlock adjusters. Getting
the gauge and elasticity of that drawcord right is something that a
good few manufacturers have failed at dismally. Spindly shock cord with
too soft a stretch ends up as yards of "tail" hanging either
from the sides of your jacket, or even more ridiculously, from the front.
Given that a fleece top is made to keep you warm, it follows that the
hip pockets should do that for your hands. Manufacturers have to balance
a line between using fabrics for pocket linings which don't add greatly
to the overall bulk around the hips - which is what can happen if the
main body fabric is used throughout - and using thin pocket lining fabrics
which don't perform well. The best compromise without doubt are the
thin single-sided microfleece fabrics, which feel warm and soft to the
touch without adding too much bulk to the garment.
The idea of zipping a fleece into your waterproof jacket is, I have
to say, nothing more than a gimmick. It doesn't make your clothing setup
any more effective than wearing the two layers separately, and it means
that you're paying extra for the second zip in your waterproof.
There are several varieties of windproof fleece around, including Polartec
Windbloc and Gore Windstopper, using a breathable windproof membrane
laminated between two layers of fleece. They're effective, but they
also have a downside in as much as they can be too efficient if you're
working up a sweat. My preferred option for windproof fleece is a separate
lightweight windshirt which can be removed when needed.
Fleece fabrics using polyester from recycled soft drinks bottles are
becoming more and more common, and a jolly good job too. The number
of these things getting buried in landfills each year is positively
staggering, and any efforts to minimise that have to be commended. Ironically
perhaps, the fact that those plastic bottles are made to withstand being
dropped on the floor means that the polyester from them is actually
of higher quality than virgin polyester.
Early recycled fleece fabrics tended to have a proportion of virgin
fibres in them - these days the proportion of recycled is much higher,
in some cases it's 100%. As the technology for extruding finer and finer
fibres progresses, the next development will be microfibre fleeces made
from recycled polyester.