The main reason I started up this blog was to create a way to connect with like-minded people as I felt isolated when it comes to matters sartorial, in particular relating to Mod style. I love the discussion of the details. Like any ‘hobbyist’ – cars, sports, watches, antiques, dogs, films … it’s not much fun if you don’t have people to talk with about your hobby, so I welcome any thoughts, opinions and questions that provoke the discussion.
Recently Rob wrote in asking about my thoughts on parkas, and on checked shirts. I’ll address checked shirts soon but here are my thoughts on parkas …
Yeah I confess that I haven’t mentioned them much on here but there’s no denying they are part of the Mod culture. Maybe too much part of the culture! Unfortunately the image of ‘Mod’ to the general public is often encapsulated in someone wearing a parka, two-tone suit and Jam shoes! I’m sure I’m not alone in having been guilty of falling into the trap of wearing these sort of togs as a clueless teenager, upon first getting swept up in the revival era of the late seventies. This image is viewed with such disdain, even by Mods themselves and ex Mods, that they go to lengths to distance themselves from the entire shooting match. It’s quite typical for those of my vintage to discreetly sneak out the back door of Mod and enter through the door of Ivy League style which has a similar – even overlapping – aesthetic to classic Mod style, but seems to have a bit more of an ‘adult’ connotation and less ‘youth cult’, so it suits those of us advancing in age.
Anyway if we’re being honest, most of us involved in Mod style in our youth owned a parka at some time. Over the years I owned three – none of them for very long.
When my brother was in his early teens in the early seventies he had two. They were non-Mod olive green four-pocket versions something like in the pic below, except I think his had four rectangular front pockets with flaps secured by exposed silver press studs:
I remember his first one had an olive green quilted lining which when he grew out of it was replaced with a similar version with a red quilted lining.
A few years later when I asked my Mam to get me a parka she refused as the youth cult connection which had been absent during my brother’s era was not something she was going to condone or finance, so I had to pay for my own with milk round money!
Most of the lads who joined the revival in my town bought German Army parkas from the local military surplus shop.
I hated these things. They didn’t have fish tails like those of the original Mods. They were dirty and smelly, absorbed rain rather than repelled it and like many parka styles, due to the pocket placement they encouraged everyone to walk around in that gormless hands-in-pockets elbows-out manner!
The first parka I had was bought from ‘Jeremy Adam’ a long since defunct menswear shop in the town centre aimed at teens and young adults which, during the revival period, had a small selection of off-the-shelf Mod items. Aside from parkas they had skinny ties, button down shirts, boating blazers and three-button suits. None of them were great quality but at that time we weren’t very discerning. This parka was a replica with a fur-edged hood and fishtail but had no military provenance and was clearly knocked up in a factory somewhere to quickly take advantage of the revival bandwagon. I bought a Union flag from a mail order shop advertising in the back of the NME and my mate’s girlfriend did a sterling job of stitching it on (thanks Amanda!). I wore this when a bunch of us went to see Secret Affair at Newcastle City Hall and when we went backstage to meet the band after the gig we got them to sign our tickets and Ian Page also signed my parka alongside the zip.
I also wore this one when I went to see The Jam soon after. I didn’t get to meet the band but if you’re paying close attention to the Complete Jam video there’s a glimpse of me at the Newcastle City Hall gig during their performance of ‘David Watts’:
Me in parka, arm raised, bottom right
My mate Chad had a lighter-weight fishtail parka with a quilted lining. It was an olive green colour which was darker than the sage green of most of the other parkas we saw and I managed to pull off some sort of convoluted trade where I passed on my parka and ended up with his.
I don’t know what happened to this one but don’t remember having it for long. Some time later I acquired from a friend of a friend what was probably a decent replica of an M-65. He was a big fan of Keith Moon and had written ‘Mooney’ in ball point pen on the sleeve. I think I left it round my mate Gary’s house and never went to reclaim it. Gary was a scooter nut so he’s welcome to get some use out of it.
Parkas of course were very practical coats for keeping a suit clean and dry when riding a scooter during the long periods of inclement weather in Britain, and as such have been worn by scooterists from the early sixties to the present day. I never owned a scooter in my youth so the attraction of wearing an otherwise less than stylish coat which brought instant aggravation from rival youth cults became lost on me. My Dad gave me some money to get a beige trench coat for my birthday in November 1981 – an obvious copy of a Burberry with the same tan checked lining – and I never wore a parka again. Some of my mates who were among the more dedicated to the scene also started to move away from the ‘Identikit Mod’ look. Stu got one of those very stylish US Army gabardine trench coats in olive green as worn by Richard Crenna as Colonel Trautman in the ‘Rambo’ films, and Phil got the similar US military sateen version as worn by Gary Shail as Spider in ‘Quadrophenia’:
(Many years later I got an Air Force blue gabardine trench coat like Stu’s which was subsequently lost during a house move around 2003 and I’ve been trying to replace it ever since, but they seem to be very rare!)
Those of my mates who got involved with scooters and sustained their interest beyond the early eighties went for the authenticity of US Army M-51 or M-65 parkas – the style worn by original Mods.
Genuine US military versions in good condition are becoming increasingly difficult to find now decades after they were superseded by newer military versions, although there appear to be a variety of replicas available. I see some people getting hold of NB-3 parkas like the one pictured below:
I can’t get behind this trend. They are what we called ‘snorkel parkas’ when I was a young teen. I had one in navy to wear during winters when I worked on the milk round at age thirteen. They were as common as dirt among school kids and in my view they may be very practical in winter weather but they’re completely devoid of style.
The image of ‘identikit Mods’ wearing modern replica parkas festooned with patches, badges and the obligatory target on the back was ubiquitous for a brief time in the revival period around 1979-1980 but then was quickly abandoned. Sadly as mentioned this image remains front and centre for many in their impression of Mod style.
The peak period of Britpop in the nineties largely passed me by as I was already living in America, but the likes of Liam Gallagher made the wearing of parkas cool again for some people. He seems to be the biggest advocate for parkas since the revival. I still think it’s a hard look to pull off and I’m just happy that I live in a climate where I don’t have to think about wearing such a heavy coat.
I’ve written in here a few times that as we approach the extremes of weather, style starts to take a back seat to practicalities. For me right now parkas are over the boundary of style. If I was still living in England and regularly braving the wind and rain driving in off the North Sea at the Stadium of Light, or persevering through the English winters on a scooter there’s no doubt I’d think differently! I’m happy that these challenges aren’t something for me to be concerned about right now, so despite its historic association with Mod style, the likelihood of me getting back into a parka remains slim!