In case you hadn’t noticed, the Parka has made a huge resurgence this season…and we’ve moved a long way from the fluoro orange-lined types worn by my slightly geeky friends Derek & Robert at Primary School in the 70’s. I’ve been on the hunt for parkas for a couple of clients recently…one who had dark, cool colouring ended up with a beautiful one in Midnight from Mint Velvet (a bargain with my FrockChicks Press Discount!)..the other with a warmer (in weight and colour) one from Whistles. Now I too have been on a personal perennial search for the perfect stylish waterproof AND warm coat, I think my Parka purchase last week has managed to tick all of my boxes. You’ll have to keep reading to discover my absolute bargainous tip on where to find the best value Parka this year! ..or just jump to the end of this rather long post:-)
The Original Parka
So what actually defines a “Parka” ? Well, here is the dictionary definition:
par·ka (pärk) n. 1. A hooded fur outer garment worn in the Arctic, originally of pullover design but now generally having a front closure.
2. A coat or jacket with a hood and usually a warm lining for cold-weather wear.
The Functional Parka
In the 20th Century, the American military developed the parka concept, designing functional parkas to protect men in battle against the myriad of weather conditions to be faced..adapting the design to what became known as the “Snorkel Parka”.The original snorkel parka was khaki, 3/4 length with a full, attached hood; the similar N-2B parka was waist-length with an attached split hood, developed in the USA during the early 1950s for military use, mainly for flight crews stationed in extremely cold areas, designed for temperatures down to −60 °F (~−50 °C). Originally made with a sage green Dupont flight silk nylon outer and lining, it was padded with a wool blanket type material.It gained the common name of a “Snorkel Parka” because the hood could be zipped right up leaving only a small tunnel (or snorkel) for the wearer to look out of. This is particularly effective in very cold, windy weather although it has the added liabilities of seriously limiting the field of vision and hearing! Earlier (Vietnam-era) hoods had genuine fur ruffs on the hoods; later versions used synthetic furs.
Following the end of the Second World War the realisation was that the US army would need a more effective cold weather system for fighting in. Hence… along came the “Fishtail parka”. The fishtail parka was first used by the US Army in 1950 to help protect soldiers from the elements in the Korean War. This coat was shaped like a fish tail at the back in order that the coat could be tied around the upper legs for added wind proofing. The fishtail could be folded up using snap connectors, this enabled plenty of movement when most needed during combat.
Designed primarily for combat arms forces such as infantry, they are to be worn over other layers of clothing; on its own, the fishtail parka is insufficient to protect against “dry cold” as used in the US military. So consequently, all fishtail parkas are generally over-sized as they were designed to be worn over battle dress and other layers.
The Fashionable Parka: Mods, Geeks and Celebs
Parka-donning civilians has been an increasingly common fashion phenomenon since the 50’s, as they’ve adapted and developed to fit with current trends. In the 1960s, the fishtail parka became a symbol of the mod subculture. Due to their practicality, cheapness and availability from army surplus shops, the parka was seen as the ideal garment for fending off the elements and protecting smarter clothes underneath from grease and dirt when on a mod scooter! Its place in popular culture was assured by newspaper pictures of parka-clad mods during the Bank Holiday Riots of the 1960s.
In the mid-1970s, the padding was changed to polyester wadding (often bright orange!) making the jacket both lighter and warmer.
In the late 1980s the snorkel parka became unpopular and was associated with geeks and nerds, helping to create the UK term “Anorak“ for such people (because “trainspotter” types would supposedly wear anoraks whilst collecting numbers on cold railway platforms). As such it became highly unfashionable and for a time wearers became the subject of ridicule.
In Europe the snorkel parka started to regain popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, being worn by Liam Gallagher, Kenny McCormick (South Park and David Beckham. Around 2004, the traditional association with “Anoraks” had faded and the Snorkel Parka became a main-stream fashion jacket once more becoming particularly popular in the indie scene and with middle-aged people recapturing memories of their school snorkel parkas.
Most modern parkas more closely resemble the original 1950’s design and have lost the garish orange quilted lining of the 70’s and 80’s school parkas! However the “old school style” are now considered highly desirable and sell for vast sums in vintage clothing shops and on ebay.
The current intense trend for Parkas this year seems to be fuelled by Burberry Prorsum and other top designers finally designing something actually practical to wear for us mere mortals as we trudge around Britain’s rainy streets…
Practical Parka Tips
Most of us can’t afford the ridiculous prices for “designer” parkas. Mr and Mrs Furs Muransky and Lapin Parka, is selling for nearly £3000, lined with rabbbit fur and trimmed with racoon fur and might object on animal protection grounds!
So..the next level down: Gorgeous and I’m sure lovely with its attention to vintage detailing..but out of my realm is the beautiful Burberry offering, followed by Barbour, which given the upper end prices of Mr & Mrs Furs and the Barbour one now appears mid-range (crazy!)
This season, the newest Parka trends hitting our high streets, seem to be Fishtail Parkas, waxed cotton Parkas, and exciting types of new trim and detailing as well as new waist-cinching designs- all with the aim of keeping us interested, in what potentially could be seen as a fairly “boring” purchase. But oh so versatile…here’s why:-
- brilliant for all body shapes
- perfect for pear shapes – the oversized hoods and fur trim add bulk to your top half. Make sure you go for one that ends below your hipbone and style with skinny trousers!
- creates a comfy waist cinching effect for kiwis, apples and butternuts/hourglasses
- available in a range of colours: conventional khaki, an ideal colour for most skin types, especially warm toned/ paler toned skin. Also many are also available in Navy or Black for darker/ cooler toned skins.
- can be styled up or down, layered over other winter layers but adaptable enough to be trans – seasonal, seeing you through spring, summer and autumn as well. Many feature detachable linings.
- style with dresses, jeans, tunics
So, as I went in search of a parka this season, my criteria were:
- warm, including the arms (many have arms that are not lined with any warm wadding)
- waterproof, but not too shiny..ideally waxed
- khaki, being warm toned
- fur trim in grey/beige marl mix colour
- long enough to wear over tunics etc
- fishtail detail at the back – flatteringly lengthens your body
- well made with fashionable detailing
- under £50 (but not looking like it!)
- waist cinching detail
- plenty of pockets, inside and out
- not swamping
OK..so as I write them down, it makes me look a little obsessive. But, I can’t tell you how delighted I was, having tried on a few other High Street beauties (see below), to discover my Perfect Parka..at Matalan, who’d have thought??!
Matalan actually had a range of different styles to compare, but this Papaya Waxed Parka Jacket was my favourite meeting every single one of my criteria, plus being cheaper than any others I’d seen, extremely comfortable and …available in size 6 (so brilliant when you are little and the only alternative is kids clothes very often!). It also features a fantastic adjustable hood with a fur trim which is more of a collar than hood-trim so makes it a bit more quirky. You’ll see from the reviews what a glowing write up it’s received from delighted customers. So, get in quick before they sell out of 2013’s PERFECT PARKA. Given the history of the Parka and its practicality…it’s an investment piece that will see you through at least another decade in style! Style with an oversized scarf, skinny jeans and ankle boots or thick tights, shorts, a preppy blouse under a crew neck; vintage dresses and tunics; a boyfriend sweatshirt and leggings…the works!