What to Look for When Buying a Parka

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What to Look for When Buying a Parka

As the days of autumn begin to lengthen the parkas start to come out of storage and before long they are everywhere. Parkas are warm, practical, and comfortable outerwear that can be worn by anyone. It is not uncommon to  see an entire family wearing matching parkas. They are available in a wide variety of weights, sizes, and colours; providing protection from a brisk wind or winter storm. A good parka has a hood to protect the head from wind and rain, and is long enough to ensure the wind does not come up inside the lining and chill the wearer to the bone. They are certainly popular, and seeing that there are so many different parkas to choose from, it can be difficult to find the right one. Luckily, with a little thought it becomes a simple matter to determine what kind of parka will best fit a prospective purchaser's needs.

History of the Parka

With the first mention of a parka recorded in 1625, parkas are a very old garment. Originally worn by Eskimos, the word means "animal skin" in the Nenets language of the Aleutian Islands. Living in arctic and subarctic climates, these people had a need for a very warm winter coat and the early parkas provided that need. Made of skin with the fur turned inward, these long hooded coats were a vital tool for survival in the long winter nights of the far north. Still, these garments did not come to Britain by way of seventeenth century arctic explorers, but much more recently.

The majority of parkas seen in Britain came from the US Army during the Korean War by way of  1960's Mods. The US Army's M-1951 Fishtail Parka was designed as a three-piece solution to the problem of equipping soldiers with adequate cold weather protection. The parka combined a detachable hood and liner with the fishtail, which could be fastened between the legs to provide additional protection in extreme cold. The question that comes from this is why would a garment suited for the extremes of winter on the Korean peninsula become so common in the milder winters of the UK?

The truth is that no one knows exactly why they became so popular. What is known is that by the early part of the 1960's, these parkas were readily available in surplus shops throughout the country, and by the middle part of the decade they were donned by Mods everywhere. One reason was economic, they were simultaneously inexpensive and warm, two important factors to relatively impoverished youths. Also, while Britain's climate may be less extreme than that of Korea, many of the Mods rode scooters, which would make the ownership of a warm coat that much more important. Whatever the circumstances, the results were obvious: parkas in one form or another quickly became an almost ubiquitous form of outerwear.

Parka Basics

Parkas moved into the mainstream just as the supply of military surplus began to vanish. This provided an opening for clothing manufacturers, who jumped on the opportunity. With the rules of the civilian economy in the mix, the nature of the parka began to change. The requirements of the military took a backseat to those of profit-driven concerns. One thing that did not change was the basic form of the garment, a hooded coat fitting to the top of the wearer's thighs. Almost everything else about the parka did change, from material, to cut, and even function. The shapelessness of army cold weather gear was replaced with a more stylish cut, as the basic form was applied to everything from raincoats to winter jackets. Many retain the drawstrings of the original pattern, but most do not have the same level of cold weather protection as they are intended for use in less extreme weather.

Different Kinds of Parkas

When looking to buy a parka, the first thing any potential buyer needs to consider is what they want from the garment.

  •     Are they looking for a light jacket to wear for only part of the season?
  •     Do they want a raincoat?
  •     Do they want a single parka that can be worn for every occasion, or will the person wear different parkas with different outfits?
  •     What kind of weather do they expect to face while wearing the parka?
  • The answers to these questions are what will determine the best parka for any specific buyer.

Parka Weight

One of the most important considerations when looking for a parka is the weight of the garment. As a general rule, heavier parkas are warmer than light-weight ones, and so are more suited for wear as a winter coat rather than something to throw on in the autumn. While most purchasers may not face the extremes of cold the original parkas were designed for, many do want a coat that is warm enough for the specific weather they face. Others, who spend less time outdoors in winter may prefer a lighter weight, not wanting to stifle in a coat that is too heavy for the conditions.

Waterproofing on Parkas

The presence of a hood is just one feature that makes wearing a parka attractive to those looking for rainwear. While most parkas are at least water repellent, many are fully waterproofed and therefore make excellent raincoats. Most rainwear tends to be on the lighter side, as wearing a heavy coat in the rain can often lead to the wearer getting more wet from the buildup of moisture inside the parka, as opposed to not wearing a jacket at all.

Parkas With Removable Liners

One choice for winter wear is a parka with a removable lining. This provides the option of tailoring the parka to meet the conditions; the wearer can include the lining during winter, and remove it for the spring or autumn. For many buyers, this option works brilliantly as it provides them with a single solution for all seasons. Without the liner they have a nice lightweight parka for walking to and from the car. With the liner it becomes a heavy coat that is well-suited for winter walks.

Surplus Style Parkas

Even though the original military surplus parkas are becoming harder to find, there are other options for those who want a classic mod-style parka. A number of makers have taken advantage of the popularity of the design and recreated it using modern fabrics and a few modern design tweaks.

Parka Decision Process

The decision process in determining what kind of parka best fits a person's needs is fairly simple. Once the buyer has identified their needs, the next few steps become easy. The intended use will let the buyer know what weight of parka they are looking for, whether they need a removable liner or not, and how waterproof they need their parka to be. For some buyers, style is also a factor, and so they will want to look at the different brands to see which ones best fit the rest of their wardrobe.

Where to Buy a Parka

Even though the surplus stores may no longer have the supplies of parkas they once did, that does not mean they have become hard to find. Those customers who want to shop the local high-street can find parkas in a wide variety of shops, including both local clothiers and retail chains. Those who prefer the wider variety that can be found on the web can look to various Internet retailers, as well as online auction sites such as eBay.

Buying a Parka on eBay

Whether you are looking for an original military surplus parka or a lightweight modern one, it is easy to find a parka to meet your needs on eBay. All you have to do is type the word in the search box that appears on every page. You can use the filters in the sidebar to narrow your results by everything from price to the presence or absence of a removable liner. With the results narrowed down, you can also use the sorting tools to make sure the parka you want appears at the top of the list.

Once you have the results you want, the next thing to do is check out the seller. The easiest way to do that is to visit their profile page where you can see everything from their location to their feedback. It also shows any special policies they may have, such as bundling a scarf or pair of gloves with a parka to reduce shipping costs.


Whether a person wants to recreate the Mod look or just find a comfortable coat to wear on a chilly evening, there is a parka for everyone. For those who are willing to look hard enough, the original US Army parkas can still be found, while others may prefer a modern lightweight parka. Whatever a person prefers, there is a parka that fits their needs. The key to determining what to look for in a parka is understanding the intended use. Knowing which features meet the needs of the wearer tells the buyer what they need to look for. Armed with that knowledge, the purchase decision becomes easy.

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