Parka the problem

Ask a hundred people what makes a good parka and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Maybe more. A parka, after all, to most people, is surely just a coat with a hood. But then, if every parka is a coat with a hood, then is every coat with a hood a parka? Surely not. Ubiquitous yet uncertain, then, the parka, the more you think about it.

Like anything, though, acclimatise yourself further with the subject — and with the parka there is a great deal of subject, from the heroic snow-capped mountaineering parka of the ’20s to the Quadrophenian combat parka revival of the ’60s to the high-tech dual-hooded multi-zip parka of today — and you soon get a sense of what does and what doesn’t belong.

The parka here is in most respects bold. It is considerable in length, sweeping in wrap — not double-breasted but not far off — and vertiginous of neck. The clunking buckle which simultaneously breaks things up and pulls them together around the middle is also uncompromisingly large. The flaps, adjoined to jetted envelope pockets, are considerable, too: not only are they very secure, they disguise the entry-point for the channel through which the belt runs. Below these flaps lie some deep warmer pockets. The first hands-on experience with these — and at frequent and regular times subsequent — is an epiphany: when the many elements of this all-enveloping chunk of outerwear coalesce into sense.

Sense, of course, should never be far from mind when the parka is concerned. It is more than most a coat of utility; of hard and fast frontline necessity. Must work, must a parka. The hood comes in very useful in this regard. It envelopes in tandem with the high neck of the parka the bulk of a good-sized head. It hugs the cheeks and temples, skims the crown: doesn’t cling, doesn’t collapse; doesn’t jut out at unflattering angles. The cloth also helps make things work. The canopy cotton, from Scotland, is thick and abrasion-proof, firm and hard but lightweight and quick to dry — and excellent in rain and wind. The fit of the parka also makes the situation an eminently workable one. It is intended to be the ultimate top-layer. Has some shape, sure, but there is plenty of room in the upper body and chest so any number of layers — shirts, jumpers, jackets, all three — may be piled high beneath, and with the belt serving as the cocktail-stick in the resulting fabric sandwich.

This is a coat with a hood, and a coat with a hood that incorporates not so much from homage but from first principle what it means to be a parka in this day and age. And that is why, in these times of hyper-specific outerwear definition — when a parka can seldom makes its way in the world without at least one outdoorsy noun or verb being prepended to it — it is, simply, the parka. (The upcoming short version for spring notwithstanding.)