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From Inuit to Oasis: The history of the parka coat
Teo van den Broeke recounts the story of the parka – from the frozen wilds to the navy and now Belstaff's AW17 collection.
If you're a Gallagher brother or an Inuit, you will already appreciate the value of a parka. For the uninitiated, the hooded long-line coat style is one of the most iconic in menswear history. Originally worn by the aforementioned Inuits in a bid to counter the bitter cold of their harsh northerly habitat, the first parkas were made from caribou or seal skin and coated with fish oil in order to provide extra insulation. The modern parka, in looks at least, has not veered too far from the original design. Defined by a fur-lined hood (the alternating lengths of the fur fibres helped to enclose heat and tackle the effect of cold Arctic cross winds), a knee-length body made from coated cotton or nylon and a fishtail vent at the back, the parka is the ultimate tool in your cold weather arsenal.
Though originally created by the Inuits, the endurance of the parka proves the point that in menswear, form follows function. Put to use in the navy during World War 2 to help protect serving sailors, boatswains and submariners from the harsh conditions, the parka was next adopted by the Mods in the 1960s, who wore them with drainpipe suits to ride their iconic Vespas and Lambrettas. The parka regained notoriety in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the Mod revival and Brit Pop. The Gallagher brothers, Richard Ashcroft and Damon Albarn are all, therefore, in part to thank for the return of the parka to our contemporary style vernacular.
Today the parka is no longer subject to the whims and fancies of the fashion world, rather it has graduated – much like blue jeans or white tennis shoes – to the status of wardrobe staple. One important change to note, however, is that today you're less likely to find fox or coyote fur on the hood of your parka and more likely to see fur-free hoods, or indeed hoods finished with increasingly high quality faux fur.
For Belstaff's AW17 collection, Naval + Submariner, the heritage British brand has introduced one of this season's best takes on the parka. Inspired by a coat Belstaff originally created for the British army in the 1960s, the new parka has been faithfully produced in hard-wearing, super-insulating down-filled ballistic nylon (a fabric which was originally developed for use in the flack jackets of World War 2 airmen). The style also comes complete with a down-filled hood liner. In addition, there's also a short-line waxed cotton parka, inspired by the submariner's two-piece suit first developed by one Captain George Philips in 1937. When it comes to actually wearing your parka, we'd recommend keeping everything high function and low fuss. Team with some heavy selvedge denim jeans, a dense wool fisherman's sweater and some heavy duty Belstaff boots for optimum high seas effect (pipe and fisherman's whiskers optional). Teo van den Broeke is style director of Esquire