Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Parka

I have been trying to decide for some time how to begin this blog. I wanted to start with a classic, and what came to mind was the most classic of classics - the little black dress. However, after research I discovered that the history of the little black dress was impressively extensive and a little much for a beginning blog entry. After learning that I became a bit discouraged, but after mulling it over for a couple of months I realized I was overcomplicating things. I needed to focus on what I originally set out to do: bring the historic background of fashion pieces to fashionistas, history buffs and the general web-searching world. On that note, I give you my first entry:

The Parka

The parka jacket appeared in American popular menswear in the 1930s. It was an informal style that was modeled on the coats worn by the Eskimo Indians. In fact, the word parka originates with the Nenets of the Aleut Islands with the first known use in 1780.

The term "parka" is often used synonymously with "anorak"; however, there are differences that should be noted. The Parka is a heavy jacket with a hood that is often lined with fur used for hunting in the Arctic. It was originally made from seal or caribou skins and was coated with fish oil regularly to maintain it's water-resistance. The Anorak hails from Greenland where it was worn by brides in the 1930s. This garment is waterproof with drawstrings at the cuffs and waist. The Parka differs in that it is described as a stuffed or quilted garment which is lined by fur.
The Anorak began as a pull-over coat, but that distinction is lost today. The Parka has also been through something of an identity crisis. It has been adapted into such varieties as the fishtail and snorkel used by military forces in the 1950s.

The Snorkel (N-3B) Parka was created by the US military for use by flight crews operating in climates below -60 degrees F. It was originally made with sage green DuPont silk nylon outer shell and inner lining, and it was padded with wool until the 1970s when they switched over to the synthetic material, polyester. The term "snorkel" comes from the fact that the coat can be zipped up past the neck leaving a small opening around the face. This style gained widespread popularity in the 1960s and 1970s in England among schoolchildren, but lost this popularity in the 1980s and spawned the derogatory term "Anoraks" for nerds or geeks.

The Fishtail (M-51) Parka was created by the US Army in 1951 for wear during the Korean War. This coat was meant to be used for infantry. It tied around the knees and was used for wind-proofing, and it had a hood that could be taken down and folded into a standup collar. This garment was to be used either as a top layer or alone as protectant against dry-cold weather: below -14 degrees F. Again, England latched onto this garment and in the 1960s it became a part of the uniform of the mod subculture.

After Vogue featured the Parka with a poplin outer shell in 1959, the piece became an instant fashion sensation. This season, the Parka has enjoyed a great revival and graced the runway of a wide variety of high-end fashion houses. The Parka (or technically Anorak in some cases) this season also exhibited the plethora of colors, textures and patterns it can wear so well. These details make it a piece that can find a place in everyone's closet no matter your style or walk of life. I'll be moving to Seattle, WA this winter, and I know there's a spot in my closet for my very own parka!

Jacqueline Jones

information: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Survey of Historic Costume, Tortora and Eubank