The Fishtail Parka
The fishtail parka was first used by the United States Army in 1950 to help protect soldiers from the elements in the Korean War. Following the end of the Second World War the US army recognized the need for a new cold weather system for fighting in as the existing kit was inadequate; the fishtail parka solution was the result of a concerted design effort.
There are four main styles of fishtail parkas: the EX-48, M-48, M-51 and the M-65. The M stands for military, and the number is the year it was standardized. The EX-48 model was the first prototype or “experimental” precursor to all of them. The M-48 then being the first actual production model fishtail parka after the pattern being standardised on December 24, 1948.
The name fishtail comes from the fish tail extension at the back that could be folded up between the legs, much like a Knochensack, and fixed using snap connectors to add wind-proofing. The fishtail was fixed at the front for warmth or folded away at the back to improve freedom of movement when needed.
The EX-48 parka is distinctive as it has a left sleeve pocket and is made of thin poplin, only the later production M-48 parkas are made of the heavier sateen canvas type cotton. The EX-48 also has a thin fibre glass based liner that is very light and warm, the M-48 has a thicker wool pile liner with an integral hood liner made of wool. Both are distinguishable from any other type of parka by having the sleeve pocket. This was dropped for the M-51 onward The fur ruff on the hood is also fixed to the shell of an EX-48/M-48 and is of wolf, coyote or often wolverine. The M-48 parka was costly to produce and therefore only in production for around one year. The pockets were wool lined both inside and out. The cuffs had two buttons for securing tightly around a wearer’s wrist. The later more mass-produced M-51 parka had just the one cuff button. The liner had a built in chest pocket which again was unique to the M-48 parka.
The next revision was the M-51, made because the M48 was so good and of such high quality it was just too expensive to mass-produce.
The outer hood of the M-51 Fishtail Parka is integral to the parka shell, an added hood liner as well as a button in main liner make the M-51 a versatile 3 piece parka. The idea behind this 3 part system was to enable a more customisable parka that allowed for easier cleaning of the shell as the hood fur was on the detachable hood liner, not fixed to the shell as in the M-48. It also allowed for both liners to be buttoned in or our depending on the temperature and hence warmth required. It was also cheaper than the M-48 to mass-produce The early M-51 was made of heavy sateen cotton, the same material as the M-48. Later revisions of the M-51 were poplin based. The later liners were also revised from the “heavy when wet” wool pile to a lighter woolen loop or frieze wool design that dried easier and were far lighter. The frieze liners were constructed of mohair and were designed using a double loop system which repelled cold weather.
The M-65 fishtail parka has a detachable hood and was the last revision. It features a removable quilted liner made of light nylon / polyester batting which are modern synthetic materials. The M-65 fishtail parka first came in to production in 1968. These parkas featured synthetic fur on the hoods after an outcry from the fur lobby. As a result, only hoods for these parkas made in 1972 and for one year later have real fur.
Designed primarily for combat arms forces such as infantry, they are to be worn over other layers of clothing; alone, the fishtail parka is insufficient to protect against “dry cold” conditions (i.e. below about -10 °C). As such all fishtail parkas are big as they were designed to be worn over battle dress and other layers.
In the 1960s UK, the fishtail parka became a symbol of the mod subculture. Because of their practicality, cheapness and availability from army surplus shops, the parka was seen as the ideal garment for fending off the elements and protecting smarter clothes underneath from grease and dirt when on the mod’s vehicle of choice, the scooter. Its place in popular culture was assured by newspaper pictures of parka-clad mods during the Bank Holiday riots of the 1960s.
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What is the reason for fur on hood jackets?
OK, this is super-interesting, because it’s non-trivial.
When a fluid moves around a body, the fluid flows around the body in a predictable manner. In particular, at the point where the fluid first encounters the body there is a phenomenon known as the bow wave effect. This is the tendency of the fluid to move outwards and around the body in advance of the leading edge of the body:
Now, here’s the important thing: Most of the fluid is in what is called laminar flow, meaning that it flows along the surface at more or less the speed of the fluid. But at the boundary layer, in particular the leading edge boundary, the turbulence causes the fluid to create a small vacuum. So in the area in green above, there is almost no flow at all.
Now, what does this have to do with parkas and fur trim? Well, it turns out that the bow wave effect is proportional to the area of the leading edge of the object that the flow is around. Or, to put this another way, the fur trim on a parka increases the effective area of the leading edge, leading to a larger bow wave effect and hence the creation of a zone of calm area right in front of your exposed face.
I myself have experienced the difference between parkas with and without fur trim many, many times, and the the difference is startling. Particularly when the wind is head-on, parkas with fur trim make the difference between relative comfort and rapid frostbite.
So, what’s super interesting is that while I know the exact answer to this question, and this was widespread knowlege of this in the arctic, there does not appear to be any literature on the subject. This would make a great Masters (or even PhD) thesis, and best of all you could do it in Engineering, Anthropology, Fashion… the possibilities are endless. I can even see the title now: Percieved and Actual Cooling As A Function Of Fur Trim-Induced Bow Wave Effects in Traditional Inuit Garments: An Empirical Approach.
Update to add: Viola Yee use
4 thoughts on “The parka Jacket”
This is a topic that is near to my heart… Best wishes! Exactly where are your contact details though?
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