Boys In The Hood

I was walking through Berkeley Square the other day when I saw a gentleman wearing a full-length hooded mink coat. Not the most common of sights, I suppose, but then again Mayfair is probably home to the highest population of ridiculous fur coats outside of Inuit and Sami communities, so if you’re going to see one, then W1K makes for good hunting. Freezing as my face was at the time, this coat reminded me of the indubitable utility of the parka jacket.

The word ‘parka’ comes from the Nenets language used by natives of the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea, and simply means ‘animal skin’ – so etymologically speaking, this minked-up chap was wearing a parka, but it was nothing like what you and I have in mind when we think of this iconic jacket.

The History Of The Parka

Few pieces of clothing have undergone such a thorough transformation as the parka. Originally made from caribou or seal by the Canadian Inuits, this age-old outerwear staple began to evolve from its original fabrication with the development of the fishtail parka in 1950s America.

Facing severely cold Korean winters, the US Army invented the now renowned M-1947 (M48) and M-1951 (M51) fishtail parkas. Both crafted from wind-resistant olive drab-coloured cotton sateen (though the M51 was also made from nylon), they featured a large front pouch pocket, an upper sleeve patch for a box of cigarettes and a long skirt (or fishtail) that you could sit on. Finally, a removable wool-pile liner (attached beneath) formed the hood.

As with so many menswear staples, the parka became a civilian hit just a number of years after it first appeared on the battlefield. From the 1960s onwards, it was synonymous with British mod culture – arguably because its fishtail kept your backside dry on a Vespa.

While the parka has never really fallen from favour since the mod era, its enduring appeal could be attributed to its function rather than its – up until recent years – lacklustre form. Nor has its relatively lowly status on the scale of stylish outerwear been helped by menswear’s switch of focus to refined, tailored pieces over the past few years. Bulky, shapeless and comparatively nondescript, the parka found itself in the furthest recesses of the stylish wardrobe, hidden behind overcoats, pea coats, trench coats and macs.

Now, though, spurred on by womenswear brands’ immensely successful appropriation of the parka, menswear designers are re-inventing the military staple, giving it an all-new, much smarter lease of life in the process.

The Tailored Parka

This hybrid of winter utility and classic sartorial detailing is as smart and sophisticated as the parka gets. Brioni led the field in the autumn/winter 2014 collections with a formidable three-button zip-fronted lilac version replete with slanted front pockets for easy hand access and a fur-lined hood that fastens all the way up the neck. If there is a more luxurious way to fend off the elements on your walk to work this winter, I haven’t found it yet. The soft pastel shade of its wool makes it an excellent option against a light grey suit.

Interestingly, Brioni also produced a much lighter cotton check version for SS14. However, given that the tight-fitting Brioni suits of the 1960s were de rigeur for a flush mod on the Kings Road, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Italian house is breaching the fold in reinterpreting the parka.

Elsewhere, Ports 1961 produced a beautiful tailored version in exquisite midnight blue wool with a unique double lapel. Given that the hood wasn’t trimmed with fur, you could argue that it’s not strictly a parka, but it’s impressive enough to merit a mention and, as we’ve already established, the parka is pretty amorphous at any rate.

On The Runways

Men's Tailored Parkas On The AW14 Runways & Collections

brionibrionibrioniCornelianidior hommeports 1961
Modern Outfit Inspiration

Men's Tailored Parkas Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

zara 2014gant 2014zara october 2013joop aw14dunhill aw14brioni ss15florentino aw14massimo dutti aw13Aquascutum aw14
Current Styles
  • Topman Khaki Chambray Lined ParkaTopman Khaki Chambray Lined Parka
  • Allsaints Datton ParkaAllsaints Datton Parka
  • Ashkirk ParkaAshkirk Parka
  • Jack Wills Ashkirk ParkaJack Wills Ashkirk Parka
  • D Squared Neoprene Parka CoatD Squared Neoprene Parka Coat
  • Canada Goose Trento Coyote-trimmed Wool ParkaCanada Goose Trento Coyote-trimmed Wool Parka
  • John Lewis Hooded Wool Parka CharcoalJohn Lewis Hooded Wool Parka Charcoal
  • Valentino Wool ParkaValentino Wool Parka
  • Woolrich Techno Wool Arctic ParkaWoolrich Techno Wool Arctic Parka
The Olive Drab Classic

Sticklers for authenticity will no doubt refuse to deviate from the olive drab-coloured original, first designed by the US Army in the 1950s. But rather than heading to a military surplus store and risking a sub-par quality purchase, it’s worth looking to a number of luxury brands that have recently proffered a few styles in the same or similar hues.

At Dior Homme, Kris Van Assche used a Japanese nylon to craft his AW14 fur-hooded parka. Worn over a natty pinstripe suit, the styling gave a clear nod to mod culture. There were also longer fishtail parkas in cotton, nylon and leather, with a more minimalist finish to the pocket detailing, as well as an interesting pinstripe version (above) that seemed to firmly instate the parka within the tailoring wardrobe.

Elsewhere, Junya Watanabe put a punk-flavoured spin on the olive drab with contrast shoulder panels, a tartan check fur-lined hood and contrast pocket, cuff and placket details. Worn with patchwork tailoring, it paid homage to that instantly recognisable 1970s punk aesthetic, while showing off the parka’s versatility at the same time.

If there’s one message to be gleaned from these looks, it’s that the contemporary parka can easily hold its own as an alternative overcoat for the suited and booted.

On The Runways

Men's Classic Olive Parkas On The AW14 Runways

dior hommedior hommeJunya Watanabe
Modern Outfit Inspiration

Men's Classic Olive Parkas Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

j crew aw14pepe jeans aw13halb aw14espionage aw14j crew aw14office shoes christmas 2014boohoo man aw14burton aw13bellfield aw14
Current Styles
  • Asos Fishtail Parka With ThinsulateAsos Fishtail Parka With Thinsulate
  • River Island Parka JacketRiver Island Parka Jacket
  • Schott Parka With Faux Fur TrimSchott Parka With Faux Fur Trim
  • Topman Khaki Heavyweight Hooded ParkaTopman Khaki Heavyweight Hooded Parka
  • Dickies Curtis Parka In GreenDickies Curtis Parka In Green
  • J. Crew Private White V.c. Ventile ParkaJ. Crew Private White V.c. Ventile Parka
  • Penfield Khaki Hoosac Hooded Down Parka JacketPenfield Khaki Hoosac Hooded Down Parka Jacket
  • Next Winter ParkaNext Winter Parka
  • J.crew Snorkel Faux Fur-trimmed Shell ParkaJ.crew Snorkel Faux Fur-trimmed Shell Parka
The Mixed Palette Parka

Several designers consciously moved away from the classic olive drab for autumn/winter 2014, creating a plethora of styles in a variety of colour ways.

Kim Jones put a particularly sporty spin on the parka at Louis Vuitton, showing a cropped burgundy nylon version complete with a drawstring waist. Combined with the claret suit underneath, as well as claret hiking boots and a monogrammed gym bag, it was clarification – if ever we needed it – that the parka is now seen as a ‘fashionable’ silhouette.

Todd Snyder stayed true to the image of the 1960s mod with his collection, showing an original fishtail parka that deviated from the classic version only in its colour. Rendered in polished copper and high sheen dark brown, this jacket came equipped with a drawstring waist and a shearling-lined oversized hood, providing an especially premium alternative to the original.

Elsewhere, the likes of Astrid Andersen, Tom Ford, Christopher Raeburn and Michael Kors produced parkas in everything from winter whites to statement yellows.

On The Runways

Men's Alternative Coloured Parkas On The AW14 Runways & Collections

tom fordMichael KorsTodd SnyderAstrid Andersenlouis vuittonMcQ Alexander McQueendior hommeCalvin Klein CollectionChristopher Raeburn
Modern Outfit Inspiration

Men's Alternative Colour Parkas Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

j lindeberg aw12Nigel Cabourn AW14pull & bear december 2013j crew aw13ti for men aw14Peak Performance aw13digel aw14bellfield aw14woolrich john rich bros aw14woolrich john rich bros aw13woolrich john rich bros aw12ben sherman aw12
Current Styles
  • Anerkjendt ParkaAnerkjendt Parka
  • Carhartt Anchorage ParkaCarhartt Anchorage Parka
  • Shore Leave Dane Parka In French BlueShore Leave Dane Parka In French Blue
  • Topman Orange Heavyweight ParkaTopman Orange Heavyweight Parka
  • Clwr Parka With InsulationClwr Parka With Insulation
  • Selected Homme Iconic Fishtail Parka In BlueSelected Homme Iconic Fishtail Parka In Blue
  • Original Penguin Hatch Cotton Blend Parka TanOriginal Penguin Hatch Cotton Blend Parka Tan
  • Canada Goose Chateau Coyote-trimmed Down-filled ParkaCanada Goose Chateau Coyote-trimmed Down-filled Parka
  • Alpha Explorer ParkaAlpha Explorer Parka
Final Word

With its utilitarian construction, rich military history and 1960s mod (and later Britpop) associations, the parka has all the makings of a versatile menswear classic.

Contemporary styles faithful to the original are readily available from a host of outdoor brands like Woolrich John Rich & Bros, Patagonia and Canada Goose, while many mid-priced (try J. Crew) and luxury labels are producing smart-casual hybrids that are perfect for wearing over a suit.

As the weather gets ever parkier, there’s never been a better time to turn to the parka.