This is HARD TO GET, a weekly newsletter about awesome stuff that’s (almost) impossible to find online.
Our guest today, John Swansburg, is no dirtbag — the nickname at Patagonia for through-and-through outdoorsmen — but, as he puts it, "at least I was wearing Patagonia before it was cool." A senior editor at The Atlantic, John caught the bug in the early '90s, amassing a collection now deep enough to include Patagonia clip-in suspenders; "five or six fleece ski hats"; an organic-denim jacket; fly-fishing vest; and five different Glissades. (John once wrote about the cult of Patagonia, for Slate.) He hunts for garments mostly via eBay alerts, but loves a good IRL chase, too: "I once bought a 1991 Nitro Shell from a small mountaineering store in Driggs, Idaho, which had a bunch of lightly damaged deadstock from a fire. A Patagonia employee tipped me off. I was in Maine, so I called Driggs from a payphone." Here, John tells us about his 5 favorite pieces:
1. REVERSIBLE GLISSADE, CIRCA 1992:
"The most sought-after vintage Patagonias are old heavy-pile fleeces sometimes called sherpa jackets. (Founder Yvon Chouindard's wife Malinda sourced the company's earliest fleeces from polyester toilet-seat covers.) Original sherpas are rare; the ones that tend to trade on eBay are mid-'90s reissues. To my mind, though, the ne plus ultra of vintage Patagonia fleece is a more evolved descendant: the Reversible Glissade, whose pile fleece has less nap, making it more wearable off-mountain. (The obverse is nylon ripstop.) A stalwart of the early '90s catalog, the Glissade was produced at the height of Patagonia’s experiments with bold color-mixing. The heather-gray fleece, aubergine nylon, and turquoise piping are still electric, decades later."
2. SPORT COAT, CIRCA 1988:
"My affection for Patagonia was nurtured at a New England prep school in the early '90s, where one venerable English instructor wore a blue blazer to class each day: The buttons featured a subtle snowflake motif and were finished not in the standard gold but in a subdued gunmetal. One day, mid-semester, he set it on his chair, revealing the iconic outline of Mt. Fitzroy stitched inside. I spent the next two decades looking for the short-lived blazer in my size; a couple years ago, one popped up on eBay and I got it for a song."
3. SYNCHILLA SNAP-T, 1980s:
"A catalog mainstay for decades, the Snap-T has undergone subtle evolutions during its long run. This is what I consider the Mark 1. Whereas later versions featured a breast pocket and interior piping, this one's much simpler: Fleece + piping + a narrower nylon placket than the MK2 examples (which retained the nylon placket) and later iterations (which replaced the nylon placket with fleece and larger snaps). The sea-foam and putty colorway is typical of the era: somehow it works."
4. BARN JACKET, CIRCA 1990:
"The most common Patagonia chore coat on the secondary market is a mid-'90s model with Aztec-pattern fleece lining. This one is slightly older; I got it in a cash deal with the older brother of a prep-school classmate (he gets credit for the honest wear to the hem and cuffs). A DeLorean-steel exterior hides a bright purple interior with red piping. A snap-out liner allows the jacket to function from fall to early winter, then again in spring. A rear marsupial pocket could in theory hold fowl, but I think this was cut more with aesthetics than function in mind. The short length and roomy arms create a very late-'80s feel. I believe this jacket was in the catalog for a single season — I’ve only seen one on eBay, ever, and it popped up this week." (Linked below.)
5. ICE NINE MOUNTAINEERING SUIT, CIRCA 1996:
"The most technical piece I own, and the most absurd given my limited opportunities for mountaineering. Named for the apocalyptic compound from Vonnegut’s Cat Cradle, it retailed for over seven hundred 1996 dollars. The exterior is heavy-duty ripstop — with a pleasing graph-paper design — with state of the art Gore-Tex lamination. The greatest test this piece has faced in my possession was an expedition from my base camp in South Brooklyn to the summit of Mt. Sinai, the Manhattan hospital where my son was born in the midst of heavy snow."
Purple reversible Glissade pullover currently on eBay, here.
Weird blue-and-green snap-button fleece here.
Technical yet extremely sick fly-fishing vest here.
Same super-rare chore-coat model as John's here.