There’s an all-to-common attitude that leads people to believe they should “go big, or go home.” This attitude leads people to buy expensive fitness supplements when they want to burn a few pounds, or the same shoes as Roger Federer when they only want to play tennis on weekends. It also permeates nearly all clothing genres, but it’s especially prevalent with outdoor and expedition gear. Let’s face it: most of us don’t need this much science. Our parkas need not be Himalayan-ready; our sun hats don’t have to come equipped with ultra-high protection. Once upon a time, people journeyed into the great outdoors in everyday wool and cotton clothes. Recently, I came across a treasure trove of style inspiration from, of all places, my old summer camp.
North Country Camps is divided into two sections: Lincoln for boys and Whippoorwill for girls. They’re a back-to-basics summer camp organization that emphasizes a rustic attitude and getting back to nature. The bunks don’t have electricity, the campfires are plentiful, and the camps’ location in New York’s sky-high Adirondacks means there’s a heavy emphasis on mountaineering. Like many things during this past year, North Country Camps have been temporarily shut down due to the pandemic. To compensate, they have taken the camp spirit online with Zoom meet-ups, including some for alumni. Considering that North Country Camps has been operating for over a hundred years, there are many of us. So when I saw an Instagram post announcing a reunion of campers from the 1940s and ’50s — my god — I was immediately drawn to the vintage photos of young adventurers.
Look at these well-dressed boys of summer! Many would fit seamlessly into a fashion lookbook with their rugged camp shirts, cuffed jeans, straight-legged chinos, and wide-brimmed hats. It’s a great style snapshot of clothes at play. We often see vintage-styled images that have been carefully curated, featuring people at their most image-conscious moments. By contrast, here we have a photo collection of boys making about two duffels worth of clothes last through a full summer’s worth of camping, arts and crafts, and the occasional costume party (hence the photos below showing some goofy getups and shoe-polish stubble). These photos show what people really wore, and frankly, it’s pretty damn good.
You can check out the complete photo archive at North Country Camp’s alumni page. Included are some image collections from the 1970s and the ’90s (I think I’m in the latter!), both of which show very different kinds of camp style. The organization hopes to be up and running again this summer (assuming things are safe). If your kids want to be a part of the next wave of camp style, you can learn more about the adventurous Adirondack summer camp experience at North Country Camps’ website.