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Style Archives: The Parka

An enduring icon of great British style, the parka coat has a distinguished legacy in the long history of menswear

words by Will HALBERT

This might come as a surprise to some, but the origins of the parka extend far beyond the pre-Mod phenomena of weekend train-spotting. In fact, the parka format was originally created by the Inuit people as a functional way to protect themselves from the freezing polar conditions. Traditionally worn by women, this practical cold weather coat included a baby pouch, as well as the fur-lined hood and longer-fitting body that are both retained in most modern designs.

Things have come a long way since then, however. In western culture, the parka gained prominence through the US military wear of the 1950s. Typically found in sage green with the snorkel-esque, fur-lined hood, the parka was both simple and practical. As is so often the case in the realm of military wear, further variations – such as the fishtail parka, developed during the Korean War – were created out of sheer climatic necessity. Adopted by British subcultures during the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly that of the Mod movement, the parka became a symbol of youthful rebellion. Due to a mix of originality, relative inexpensiveness and broad availability (thanks, in large part to army surplus stores), its position as a quintessential Mod staple was secured. From a practical point of
view, the parka was warm, robust and had a long design; making it
ideal for wearing over sharp suits whilst riding a scooter. All very relevant to the look of the time.

Iconic photographs of mods on scooters during the bank holiday riots of the 60s, The Who’s Quadrophenia album cover, the mod-inspired film of the same name and its adoption by the Britpop movement are just a few of the reasons the parka has cemented its place in pop culture history.

Fast forward to 2019 and the parka remains a seasonal wardrobe essential. Its timeless silhouette has been re-booted, re-worked and re-imagined up and down the high street and the catwalk alike. EJ