Winter outerwear 101
Surviving the cold: A brief history of the parka and puffer winter coat
Words— Thomas Lafontaine
Everybody needs a good winter jacket. Not only do they protect you against the cold, but some have become real fashion statements. From parka to puffer, here are the origins of your iconic outerwear.
The parka jacket is a true icon in menswear history and a distinguished piece that embodies Canadian history. It is designed to withstand severe temperatures, because, let's face it, a denim or tweed jacket tend to fall short when it hits -25. Dating back to the 1400s and leading up to the 19th century, the parka finds its roots and traditions from the Caribou Inuit in Canada’s Eastern-Arctic, the pull-over style parka first served as a protective garment for mothers and their new-borns against extremely aggressive winter elements. This design brought about the idea that you can be warm in winter outerwear while having mobility and functionality to outperform the chilly days and frighteningly cold nights.
By the 20th century, the European-styled parka drastically modernized the design with a front zipper and was quickly adopted by the military as an innovative tool while serving in local and/or foreign climates. Built with extreme functionality, versatility and practicality in mind, parka manufacturers developed water-repellent and wind-resistant materials to maximize the jacket’s utility.
Similar to the beige chinos, the military quickly expanded their use of the parka for civilian lifestyle and eventually, birthed the contemporary parka we’ve grown to know and love—i.e. the contemporary design with a front-zipper and the form-fitting modern silhouette.
Shortly after an unfortunate hypothermia experience on a winter fishing trip, the American outdoorsman Eddie Bauer crafted the original puffer jacket in 1936 using quilted material with insulation of down feathers. While Mr. Bauer developed the puffer to withstand the great outdoors, American fashion icon Charles James introduced it to the fashion crowd by fabricating the puffy in a refined, white satin fabric and boldly crafted arms. The contrasting styles between the two designers both contribute to the puffer’s wide-stretching presence.
Dancing between fashion and function, and designed for both the urban and alpine climates, the puffer has become essential for surviving winter in style. To this day, you can find the puffer everywhere, from New York's upper west side to commuters in the remoter parts of Canada, making it without a doubt a winter staple.
Sustainability in winter outerwear
As the climate crisis continues to require our immediate attention, sustainably-made parkas and puffers are now a symbol of progress in the fashion industry and we’re seeing a spike in outerwear designers using cruelty-free production and recycled materials for outer-shells. Yes, our climate needs us to make changes to production methods and yes, we as humans need to keep our bodies toasty when necessary. Innovative minds have found a solution to this conundrum—as an alternative to using animals, many companies use PrimaLoft® as synthetic thermal insulation that outperforms winter obstacles whilst taking action against climate change. Taking it a step further, the jacket shells are produced with recycled plastic as opposed to virgin plastic.