by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans


To quote the TV dub of The Big Lebowski, “This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps.” 

He’s been called Europe’s oldest celebrity. But a style icon? 

Why not? He’s been almost everything else. Shortly after the discovery in the Ötztal Alps 25 years ago of Oetzi the Iceman, a 5.300-year old naturally mummified wanderer from the late Neolithic, an Austrian tabloid even tried to make him a different sort of icon by asserting that prehistoric semen had been discovered in his behind. The research team working on preserving and examining his body were quick to say that was impossible, since Oetzi’s rectum had been destroyed in the course of jackhammering him out of the ice (likely story, scientists).

In fact, Oetzi’s wardrobe has given rise to my favorite piece of German humor, which thanks to its own entry on Wikipedia, I now know otherwise consists of bizarre farmer’s sayings and jokes about drivers of the Opel Manta:

After long study, scientists have finally figured out the nationality of Oetzi the Iceman.

He could not have been Austrian, because in his skull they detected traces of a brain.

Nor was he Italian, for he carried his own tools with him and they actually worked.

He might have been Swiss, because even a glacier could overtake him…

But he must have been German – who else would wear sandals in the winter to go hiking in the Alps?

In point of fact, Oetzi wore surprisingly functional boots made out of a piece of deerskin conically stitched around a bearskin leather sole, and stuffed with hay for insulation. After an academic tanned and made a replica, entrepreneurs vied to sell a reproduction. 

The entire outfit of the Iceman (sorry Val) was similarly sophisticated, upending decades of understanding about prehistoric European civilizations. He carried a very blingy copper-headed axe, literally the cutting edge (sorry) of technological advancement for his time – scientists are still unsure whether its main purpose was chopping or #sprezzing. As even his showiest accessory had a practical #workwear function, Oetzi could be the earliest paragon of #athleisure: his clothes were well chosen, surprisingly carefully made, and in comfort and functionality very well suited to travel in punishing conditions… while still being undeniably flashy: Secured to the boots were goatskin leggings, which clipped on to a sheepskin loincloth more or less like stockings to a garter belt (I believe Léon Philippe has a similar outfit for entertaining at home); they could be detached for hiking in warmer weather. A woven grass overgarment for keeping out precipitation covered a coat made out of alternating dark and light strips of fur. The coat, whose striped pattern appeared to be an esthetic choice, was carefully stitched, with an apparent repair. On top of this all he wore a bearskin hat, and mitten-like gloves for his hands.

I don’t single out Oetzi as a style icon for his clunky footwear or for anticipating the coming casualization of men’s formal clothing. Nor even for his demonstrable commitment to “make do and mend,” the attitude of keeping something going over the years with attentive repairs, knowing that it may be difficult to replace with something as good. Instead, he reminds us to wear clothing appropriate to the situation, in his case Alpine chill and cutting winds. I’m not a fan of fur, but turned inside out his garments are similar to shearling, deliciously warm and soft and a gleeful bulwark against winter chill. Choose wisely and judiciously, however – wear one garment of this kind at a time, and preferably not the undergarment, lest the academics of Bolzano claim you, too, as a prehistoric mascot.