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FEATURE

CULT ITEM: PARKA

By Matt Glazebrook, 17 November 2016

Living in the barren tundra of Nunavut, Canada's most northerly and remote region, it's not surprising that the Caribou Inuit knew a thing or two about a solid winter coat. The nomadic hunting people are credited with creating the basic template for the original parka jacket. And therefore, launching a perennial outerwear essential that's been adopted and adapted by everyone – from arctic explorers to hip-hop heroes; military personnel to indie kids.

cult item: parka

Picture: Getty

 

While the original materials of caribou or seal skin haven't made the transition to the modern streetwear staple, the basic shape of the parka remains the same: a big hood, big pockets and a roomy, cosily-lined body. All the better for achieving sleeping bag-levels of warmth. The coat was gradually westernised throughout the early 20th century, finding popularity with explorers like Eric Shipton (above) and the military. In terms of design, the N-3B (the snug ‘snorkel jacket’, with its fur-lined hood) and the M-51 (the more lightweight and longline ‘fishtail parka’), both passed from the 50s American armed forces into general use. 

cult item: parka

Picture: Rex

 

The parka's first major leap into pop cultural consciousness came in the 60s. Scooter-riding mods discovered that wearing the olive fishtail variety was an excellent way of keeping their slim-cut Italian suits sharp, while they zipped around on two wheels. Initially a purely utilitarian decision, the ultra-stylish tribe's adoption of the parka meant that it, in turn, became recognised as an icon of cool.

cult item: parka

Picture: Rex

 

Fast-forward 30 years and another gang of label-loving, working class rebels claimed the coat as a signature style: Oasis. Frontman Liam Gallagher was so fond of his, he often performed with it zipped all the way up to his chin – despite how hot he must have been under the stage lights. Numerous other musical collectives helped the parka along its path to classic status. Indie poppers latched onto its homespun geek chic (Belle and Sebastian even wrote a song about the Lord Anthony brand of snorkel jackets.) Then there were the 90s rappers, who saw the coat as a solution to the age-old problem of wanting to look cool, while repping the snowbound streets of New York and Chicago in winter. 

cult item: parka

Picture: Rex

 

Nowadays, the parka is a such a universal favourite that it's more or less transcended its roots to become one of the most versatile weapons in a man's outerwear arsenal. You can style it ruggedly with a checked shirt and blue jeans, smart with a sweatshirt and slim-cut black trousers or retro-suave with a roll-neck and cords. You can even be like Kanye West and throw a minimal and functional (albeit, super-longline) Rick Owens parka over a statement tie-dyed tee and ripped jeans. 

 

Vantage News

Picture: Vantage News

Or, you can reverse the classic mod-influenced style and keep your bottom layers simple and unshowy. That way, the parka does the peacocking for you – like Zayn Malik with his daringly embellished take on the outerwear staple. 

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