Collage of ski clothing style from the 1970s to today

The evolution of ski style

There’s a stack of old MEC catalogues in our office and online, and I’ve mined through the pages to find gems from the 1970s onwards. Here’s a look back at the evolution of style for ski outfits over the last four decades – we’ve come a long way.

Ski pants and jackets

Evolution: lighter, stronger, stretchier

When it comes to outer layers, one of the biggest changes over the years involves the fabrics. When neon ruled, ski suits were padded and oddly stiff. In the past few decades, ski jackets and pants have become more lightweight with lots of stretch for easy movement, and are also more durable. “The whole point of good gear is that you don’t feel like you’re wearing it,” says MEC Production Coordinator Nicholas L.

MEC ski outerwear from 1992, plus modern MEC ski jackets and pants

Left to right: Water-repellent and windproof Nyldown and Supermicroft gear, circa 1992 MEC winter catalogue, alongside some layers from this year, including the MEC Steepside Jacket and Khione Jacket.

Another obvious change? The cuts and designs themselves. “Today’s jackets have built-in snow skirts so you don’t have to wear bib pants or a one-piece suit,” says Nicholas. The colours have also evolved since the classic royal blue/jade/red palette (but solid turns never go out of style).

MEC Co-op Powder Fiend Wind Suit and The Extreme Fiend, both for skiing

Left to right: The “Co-op Powder Fiend Wind Suit” made its debut in 1987, and “The Extreme Fiend” followed shortly after. Both were lightweight for their era, with lots of zipper options for ventilation, and were made to “break the breeze during spring and fall, and shed powder in winter.” Fast-forward 25 years to the jackets like the Patagonia Reconnaissance.

Skier turning down ski run, wearing blue Patagonia Renaissance Jacket

Patagonia Reconnaissance jacket hunting steep slopes.

Base layers

Evolution: performance plus patterns

While you can’t ignore how badass past styles were – along with the photoshoots – it’s intriguing to see how base layers have changed over the years. Wool, nylon, cotton and polypropylene were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, our catalogue said that “technology has hit lowly long johns in a big way” with Lycra added to the fabric “for a smooth and comfortable fit.”

MEC base layers from 1993, plus two skiers in modern MEC base layers

Left to right: MEC Light-Weight Underwear in classic ivory or purple from 1993. Today’s patterned base layers, the MEC T2 Long-Sleeved Crew and the T1 Long Johns.

MEC base layers from the 1980s and 90s

Left to right: More classics from the archives, including silk layers that were “truly unsurpassed in this age of synthetics in its divine feel” (1992/93 MEC winter catalogue), and some made with wool, cotton and polyester blends and polypropylene (1982-83 winter catalogue).

Today’s base layer fabrics include recycled polyester and merino wool that’s soft and itch-free. “Back then, wool was thicker and not necessarily oriented toward performance,” says Nicholas.  Modern fabrics wick moisture away from your body, plus many feature anti-microbial treatments to help keep them smelling fresh after ski weekends, and some even have UV protection. Another bonus? They come in prints as well as solids.

Three skiers in base layers hanging out inside a ski cabin

Above: MEC base layers come in a 3-tiered system to categorize them from coolest to warmest (T1, T2 and T3), and give you the choice of synthetic or merino wool.

Headwear

Evolution: more cozy, less cowl

From balaclavas to toques, headwear basics haven’t changed too much over the decades. You could even argue that some of the prints and colours from the past are showing up again today. Some things that have changed? Well, we no longer carry cowls (below, bottom right)…

Balaclavas and toques from 1981/82 MEC winter catalogue, and 1992 catalogue

Left to right: Balaclavas and toques from the 1981/82 MEC winter catalogue, and a round-up of headwear from the 1992 catalogue.

… and we’ve become a lot more strategic about the placement of certain fabrics. For example, today you’ll find wool beanies lined with soft fleece around the ears, which increases the cozy factor. There are even goggle compatible facemasks that attach with magnets, so you don’t look like a lobster at après.

Skiers in a lodge wearing toques

Right: Some retro style showing up in today’s toques, like the classic-looking MEC Pom Pom Hat and the Patagonia Powder Town Beanie.

Kids’ wear

Evolution: over two decades of little rippers in MEC Toaster Suits

If you can believe it, kids who wore the first one-piece MEC Toaster Suits are now in their twenties… which means they may very well have their own kids in Toaster Suits. It’s like a child’s rite of passage signifying the start of an epic snow season. While there have been plenty of tweaks and improvements to the design over the years, it’s quite timeless and keeps kids so comfortable they’ll fall asleep wearing it in the stroller or on the ride home.

If only they came in adult sizes.

Child skiing from MEC archives, and MEC Toaster Suit from 2009

Left to right: Some classic kids’ ski style from the back page of our 1981/82 winter catalogue, and the MEC Toaster Suit as seen in our 2009 winter catalogue.

The MEC Toaster Suit is still going strong (along with the Toaster Parka and Toaster Bib Pants) and ready to get handed down to the next generation of little rippers.

Skiers meeting up in the lift line, some in retro one-piece ski suits

New school vs. old school. Which do you prefer? In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you’re wearing, as long as you’re warm and comfortable, have a good crew and are set for a day on the hill.

Missy Shana
Missy Shana

A social media specialist, Seinfeld-quoter who repeatedly travels vast distances for good food. Has probably creeped your Instagram profile.