Remember when the weather was just a way to make small talk? That time in history may be over. The Polar Vortex has plunged the United States into record-breaking subarctic temperatures, making the simple act of stepping outside your door scary and, at worst, life-threatening. The bottom line is that we’ve never needed good outerwear more than we do right now.
Ralph Lauren is here to help. This week, the company is dropping $899 heated jackets in some of its stores–a consumer-facing version of the heated jackets Ralph Lauren developed for the U.S. Olympic team and debuted at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang a year ago.
On the surface, the new jackets look like a typical puffer. The technology is well-hidden–on the interior, there’s a little pocket where you can insert a Mophie ultra-compact battery pack. When plugged in by USB to a wire embedded in the jacket, the battery powers a system that radiates heat from the back of the body to the front via featherweight carbon and silver ink. The jacket can also be connected to a Bluetooth-enabled app that allows you to adjust the heat settings. (But given that it was 8 degrees Fahrenheit the day our tester took it for a spin in Boston, there was no question that he was going to set it to the highest possible heat setting.)
Ralph Lauren’s new jacket is part of a wave of innovation in high-end outerwear. Last year, Fast Company awarded Ministry of Supply’s $495 voice-enabled heated jacket an Innovation by Design Award; unlike Ralph Lauren’s jacket, which requires you to manually adjust the heat setting, Ministry of Supply’s version uses machine learning to calculate your optimal setting by taking into account the speed you’re moving, your body temperature, and the outside temperature. This means that the jacket will automatically reduce the temperature when you go from the freezing outdoors into a warm, crowded subway, for example. There are less expensive e-heated jackets on the market as well, signaling that this kind of technology will soon become mainstream. Smaller brands like Kelvin, Ravean, and Ororo all offer heated jackets that cost under $350 but don’t allow you to easily adjust the temperature.
Ralph Lauren’s version seems designed not just to provide high-tech functionality, but an air of luxury: Each jacket sports a gigantic patch of the American flag on the left arm, a core part of Ralph Lauren’s visual language, and a signal to passersby that you’re wearing a designer jacket. The jackets are stuffed with 750-fill-power white duck down, and the white and silver versions are meant to look futuristic. The navy version allows you to blend in a bit more, if that’s your preference.
Our tester reported that the jacket provided a valuable level of warmth while he walked outside by the Charles River in Boston, where the windchill factor was higher. He says the heat on his back made him feel extra cosy and comfortable. The heat was less noticeable in the arms, but that didn’t bother him much, since his core was so toasty. Once you set the heat setting on your app, it will stay at that temperature whenever you plug in the battery, which he found useful because it meant that he didn’t have to bother with his phone after the initial setup. When the weather gets warmer, he can adjust the jacket accordingly. The battery pack that comes with the jacket can last 11 hours on a single charge, which could potentially last weeks, depending on how often you activate it. It can also be swapped for any other standard battery pack with a USB connection.
Ralph Lauren’s jacket is a nice addition to the new world of heated jackets and, like its counterparts, helps take the edge off the extreme cold weather that experts say will be increasingly part of our future.
It’s also part of the company’s effort to pitch itself as one of the more tech-forward luxury brands on the market. In recent years, Ralph Lauren has tinkered with other initiatives blending tech with fashion, including on-demand customization of button-downs, sweaters, and T-shirts, as well as a snazzy workout shirt that can be paired with an app to deliver biometric data. Right now, Ralph Lauren seems to be dipping its toe into a wide range of new fashion tech, and it will take time to weave these features into its wider collection.
But one thing’s for sure: Our tester certainly looked like a visitor from the future, clad in a silver, spacesuit-like puffer that generated its own warmth.