Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How I Learned To Stop Worshipping The Parka

I remember those hot, humid, sunny days, walking around my neighborhood in La Puente, CA, sniffing the roses and enjoying the smoggy air... all while wearing a parka! Yes, when I was younger, I wore a parka... rain or shine.

There was a time when my parka, or anorak, pretty much defined me... mainly, because I usually had 'M-O-D' spelled out somewhere on it, either in badge or patch form. I was proud of that parka. I felt like I was carrying on a tradition started by sixties Mods, popularized by Quadrophenia, and celebrated by bands like the Merton Parkas and The Sussed. But then, gradually, I phased the parka out of my wardrobe completely. Well, here today, I'll explain how I turned away from worshipping wearing a parka.

I was about 16 years old when I bought my first 'parka,' which was really just a short non-fishtail army jacket with a hood that you could zip up inside the jacket to hide it away. Sadly, I don't remember much about the patches and badges I stuck to this jacket, but I do remember what I did to the back of it. One evening, while watching an episode of Twin Peaks, I took up some fabric paint (red, white, and blue) and MOD-ified my anorak with a famous Mod song title, Mod symbology, and some 'Mod' band logos spanning the '60s-'80s. Since that jacket was lost during one of my family's moves and I have no pictures of it, allow me to re-create it here through the magic of Photoshop:
Recreation of my first high school parka.
Yup. I used to walk around my high school campus letting people know my butt was the Face. No joke. And, yeah, those were the bands I flaunted to the world. Uh-huh, The 2nd Generation.

I only wore this for about a year or so because my father soon handed down his own army parka to me. No, he didn't earn it fighting overseas... he picked it up at a surplus shop. But for me, this was the real deal! Now, I don't really know a whole lot about the different types of army jackets there are, but once, I walked into an army surplus shop while wearing this anorak, and it really impressed the Korean store owner. He told us it was pretty rare and offered to buy it from me. But I kept it. I had to... it was Mod.

Of course, there was no way I could walk around campus in a plain ol' army parka. No, I had to add the 'Mod' touch to it. So, I took my old Jam t-shirt, cut out the design, and sewed it on to the back. Now, everyone would know who my favorite band was! Then, I added a couple of rally patches, a Who target patch, some Mod badges to the front and voila! I was a walking Mod advertisement! The only thing missing was an "EAT AT MOD JOE'S" sign somewhere on the jacket.
My parka... today.
I wore this parka for a few years, from high school and into college. It kept me warm in the winter and smothered me in the summer, but I didn't care. In college, it kept my clothes clean during the Bay Area rains. It kept me warm when I rode on the back of someone's bike, especially across the Bay Bridge. Sometimes, it acted as a warm blanket when I partied too hard and had to spend the night over someone's house. I wore this thing even when it began to fall apart. But eventually, I phased the parka out of my wardrobe.

The older I got, the more I realized that I didn't want or need a parka to speak for me. I didn't care if the whole world knew I liked whatever Mod bands were on the parka. And as my wardrobe improved over those early years, I didn't want to cover it up with a beaten-up old army anorak. I started to see so much more value in a nice overcoat, something that looked sharp on the outside, while protecting the clothes underneath. I thought Paul Weller was on to something in those early Style Council photo shoots. And I saw other friends who demonstrated just how much more polished a sharp coat looked over the typical parka:
Photo from around 1994 of old pal, Jarrod L., of the Le Drugstore 1968 blog.
Really, after seeing a photo of the style gauntlet being thrown down like that, how do you go back to the parka?  I was ready to move in a different, more stylish direction. So, I hung my parka deep in the back of my closet, and replaced it with a variety of overcoats. At age 18, this was my preferred cold weather jacket:
These days, I prefer this look:
Fellow dapper-nisto Douglas Dillon, my wife Irene, and I, enjoying an evening out. Photo courtesy of Douglas's more stylin' half, Rosa Dillon.
Now, the thing to remember is that the parka has one main function: to keep your clothes clean while you ride your scooter from point A to point B. That's really it. But that same function can be accomplished with a nice, slick overcoat.

Oh sure, I understand how useful parkas can be in certain situations*. They're probably great for riding through a dirt storm on your scooter or protecting your clothes from all those bugs flying in to you. And I understand their use in the foggy weather conditions of London, the harsh winters of the American east coast, or the never-ending rains of the upper west coast. But why on Earth would you wear a parka in the warmer states, warmer countries, or, heck, south of the San Francisco Bay Area?

Heck, I live in the Bay Area and no matter how cold it gets here, I still don't toss on the ol' anorak! Why would I want to cover up a nice ensemble with an army parka or let the parka display what I'm about? I don't need a parka to announce to the world what I'm into. That's what my actual clothes underneath are for. I'd rather have a nice, sharp suit take precedent over a parka covered in patches and buttons.

And yes, I know plenty of Mods wore them in the sixties. They were probably affordable, accessible, and really useful in protecting your clothes in harsh weather or while fixing your scooter. But hey, as this photo shows, not all Mods wore parkas! Or at least they didn't wear them all the time.
Photo of Nottingham Mods, courtesy of the Jack That Cat Was Clean blog.
Yes, the parka has risen in prominence since then thanks to the 1970s revival.
During this time, the anorak became a canvas on which to display all of your Mod interests, just in case wearing slick Mod clothing underneath it wasn't enough. As noted previously, even I was guilty of this. Targets, Union Jacks, band logos... heck, I was a walking Modvertisement! These days, however, I follow the Booker T. and the M.G.'s school of thought: less is more. Remember, subtlety goes a really long way. These days, my parka is long retired. I believe this is its last reported public sighting, around 7 years ago:
Photo of Karen F., of the 97 Things To Do Before I Turn 97 blog, hi-jacking my parka. Photo courtesy of my wife, Irene (who says she never went through a parka phase).
Some of you out there still think the parka is a Mod gem, I know it. In fact, you're probably humming this in your head right now, while reading this post... in your parka. Well, alright then, let's take a trip in the Wayback Machine to see how the parka would have affected some classic, stylin' looks.

First up, let's check out Mr. Modfather himself, Paul Weller, back during his early Style Council days when he started wearing a beautiful white mac. This was probably one of my early non-parka influences:
Well, imagine if he was walking down the road, parka-fied!

Okay, remember this dapper little kid?
Now, let's see how he comes off with a parka covering up his threads:
Okay... the kid's got enough sass to almost pull it off...

Let's move on then to a sixties Mod icon. What about Steve Marriott? Here he is, sharp as ever.

Now, imagine if he time-traveled to today, visited Carnaby Street, and found the Pretty Green shop. OH NO!

Now, if all these arguments fail to convince you that it's time to trade in your parka for an overcoat, well then, think of this: remember Sting's 'Ace Face' character in Quadrophenia? Y'know, the guy with bad hair who Jimmy had a total bro crush on? Yeah, not even that guy wore a parka:
'Nuff said!
Obviously, these opinions are all my own and probably in the minority. 
For further info on parkas as a part of Mod history, please visit the following sites:
And, I'm happy to see I'm not the only one who thinks the parka has had its day. The ModCulture site was 10 years ahead with this opinion:

*The parka can also be used creatively as in the band name, The Merton Parkas, and in the name of one of my fave blogs, Parka Avenue.


  1. I have to say I parted with my parka maybe 15 or so years ago, but I occasionally rocked it when shoveling snow. It really is super warm. Aret and I still have ours in storage.

    1. Parkas in the snow are much approved! See, that's a good use for it.
      Living on the CA West Coast, the weather just never really calls for it. (Granted, that didn't stop me wearing one as a kid in the SUMMER.)

  2. I live in Washington. My parka is Functional Fashion when scooting in the Winter months!

  3. My first "parka" was actually a light beige London Fog overcoat from the 60s, that I found in a thrift store (I wore it with badges of course). But I soon found my army parka with fur-lined hood at a surplus store and stopped wearing the overcoat. I stopped wearing my parka in the mid-80s (after my Lambretta was stolen) and donated it to a thrift store so that maybe a young Mod would find it.

    1. Dean, now THAT was a nice thing to do... passing on the parka for the next gen. Even though, some hippy or metal kid probably bought it!

  4. BAHAHAHA!!! You were SO bummed when I wore that to breakfast that day... And somehow I knew just where you hid it. Hmmm...

    Another excellent post as always... But I'll admit, I had a soft spot for boys who wore parkas, but never girls. (THAT could be a post in itself.)

    1. Irene CLAIMS she never wore a parka... and I guess I believe her. When I was younger, girls in parkas weren't on my radar as much as girls in (yes) flight jackets... with ska patches!

  5. This is timely. Recently, my dad showed up with my old fishtail parka dug out of storage, and it made me recall all the experiences with it. I could fit a champagne bottle in the pocket. It's good for an impromptu picnic blanket, and for crashing out at airports and bus stations. And yes with the wool liner I made for it, I'd ride in the freezing fog on my Lambretta. They definitely had a purpose. I changed up to a German army parka because it had a boxy fit.

    1. Yeah, like I said, I remember using that parka often for sleepovers and such. It really was like a security blanket it for me, early on.
      And I can't tell you how bummed out I am that my first parka (with the fabric paint) was lost. I wish my parents kept it somewhere for me to find again.

  6. Great post.

    Someone gave me my only parka when I was about 13 and my mum had a fit. "You're not wearing that scruffy thing! I don't pay good money for your clothes to have you walk around like a tramp!" In retrospect she had a point but all it meant was I'd hide it in the woods behind our house and pick it up on my way to school and return it on my way home. Lasted for a few months until, for the first time in about fifty years, they cut the trees down and my parka was lost forever.

    1. I think this has become my favorite parka story! You had to hide it from your mom? I love that!

      My mother used to HATE that I walked around with a target on my back. In the area I grew up in, there was a gang problem, and my mother really worried that someone would make inappropriate use of that target.

  7. You figured it: WW2 surplus parkas were a good cheap way to keep your expensive clothes clean while riding a scooter in foggy, wet England. If you look at 60s photos, I don't think you see too many when they aren't riding or in walking outside in bad weather.

    BTW I have a theory that these parkas were also the origin of the "mod target" design. I think most of them were, as I wrote above, WW2 surplus Royal Air Force issue. The symbol of the RAF was (and still is) the mod target. The kids probably just left them on their parkas either from laziness or the comic book aesthetic or even patriotism. This target made its way to Keith Moon's shirts and the rest is history.

    1. Sorry to bash your logical theory, Agent00Soul, but fishtail parkas were U.S. Army, not RAF, made from 1951-56 (M51 model), thus easily available in surplus shops in Europe in the early 60s since there were a lot of US army troops stationed there in the 50s.

      The ones we found in surplus shops in the 80s were the later M65 model with a detachable hood.

    2. Oh well, it was just a theory based on an educated guess LOL

  8. First, thank you Carlos for the accolade.

    Even with a blog named Parka Avenue, some might be surprised to know that I agree with what you're saying. I must admit that I still own a M-51 and a M-65 that I only wear while riding the Vespa and it's devoid of any patches or badges. As you so eloquently say, I don't need to be "a walking Mod advertisement". I do have a newer replica of M-51 made by Lambretta that I wear in the winter as seen in this photo.

    It's very comfortable and I am from The Great White North after all! What I don't get is why someone would pay £500 for a M-51 Quadrophenia replica from Pretty Green. That is simply insane!

    The parka will remain for me an important "symbol" that I will probably never get ride of. But I do see myself wearing my parka less and less because I feel like it's the "grown up" thing to do. Like you, I'm moving towards a more mature style of Mod. Proof once again that Mod fashion is never static.

  9. Haha! That's why I had to call out the Upper East Coast... where you live, parkas would be a must, especially in the winter.

    It's interesting right now to see so many companies trying to come up with 'fashion' parkas. It's not a very 'stylish' look, after all. But I am with you on the maturing issue. The older I've gotten, the more I've left behind various symbols that were once a part of my look. And I like that!

  10. In Defense Of The Parka

    Well, first of all, sorry for coming up with this one so late. (And sorry for modifying the headline of your brilliant 3-button-jacket-entry.) And sorry if my English went a bit rusty in the last couple of years since my return to Hamburg...

    Basically I can agree with what you're saying, especially since you refer mainly to Californian climate. As stated by others earlier, if you happen to live in Washington, Quebec, foggy England or Hamburg like me, things look slightly different.

    But let me tell you what a parka can be good for too:
    I used to get into the Mod-thing in 1984 I think and OF COURSE I had my M65 fishtail-parka very soon (The Who-badge plus a flag of Scotland - why I wouldn't know). Of course I was very much a Ticket and when, after a year or so, I kind of reached the stage of what could be called a Number I somehow didn't go much further into the Mod-scene (which was in decline in Hamburg at that time). What stayed was the Parka (for a couple of years), the Vespa (up until today) and - I think - something like, how to put it, well, maybe a certain perception of things in terms of style?
    So all this is basically almost 30 years ago.
    Last autumn I was in need of a new winter jacket. I looked around in several shops for a couple of weeks and everywhere I would find these Parkas with furry hoods for 500 Euro and more. Then I remembered my M65 from the 80's and how good it always served me. So I ordered one online for 90 Euro.
    And - I'm almost embarrassed to confess this - it was an incredible flash-back. (Yes, I know, mid-life-crisis and all that.) But still. While, when ordering it, I didn't even think wether a man in his forties could wear a parka or not (everybody has one this winter anyway - no M65 of course) I found myself wearing this parka in the streets and thinking: I can't walk around as a Mod-cliché in my age... (Even though: Would anyone recognise it anyway?) So I found myself typing the letters M-O-D in Google search for the first time in my life. I browsed through all those pictures and YouTube-clips. I reviewed my wardrobe (and found that most of it fits in that frame, even though I haven't perceived myself as a Mod in the last decades). And I found your brilliant blog that deals with quite some issues that are of great interest to me these days as I seem to be going "back to my roots". (Even though I'm probably still at the Number-stage and couldn't possibly call myself Supermod... ;-)...)

    So, I think the Parka is very much what Patrick Foisy in his comment calls an "important symbol" of Mod. Certainly not the essence of Mod, but, at least in my case, a very strong element of (particularly emotional) identification.

    And it serves me very well in the lousy weather we are having over here for weeks now already...!

  11. i like parkas. don´t like badges. im small my parka is big. sod it all I just happen to like the thing and `m not really into the mod world. fair enough!!