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4 Different Types of Parkas

Wearing a parka profile

When it is really cold out there and you really need to be warm, a parka is a great answer to this fashion problem. Parkas are made to be incredibly warm. In fact, it’s why they were invented in the first place. Explore the different types of parkas that are available to protect you from the cold and stay warm in the worst temperatures.

Inventing the Parka

The parka is a very old piece of clothing that was invented ten thousand years ago, give or take, by the Inuit people living way up in what’s now knowns as Canada and Alaska.

It gets pretty cold near the Arctic Circle and they needed something that would keep them warm. They started making heavy, warm outerwear using caribou hide and sealskin, most commonly. Polar bear hide, fox fur and salmon skin were also used. Leather in all forms is naturally moisture-resistant and highly durable. The Inuit would also add fur lining and trim to their parkas to add insulation and create even more warmth.

In modern times, it’s more common to find parkas made from polyester, wool, cotton, nylon and other more recognizable, and a little more animal-friendly, materials. The word parka is actually Russian and means “reindeer fur coat,” which pretty much sums it up.

Then as now, parkas were designed to be loose enough to accommodate for heavy winter clothing but still close-fitting enough to keep the cold air out. Parkas have hoods with drawstrings that can be cinched. The parka is about hip-length.

Reinventing the Parka

For a long, long, long, long time, the parka was really only worn by the Inuit as traditional clothing. But then a world war happened…and things changed everywhere. The U.S. Army needed something that could withstand even the coldest temperatures, so they made their own version of the parka for WWII.

The parka soon found its way into the civilian fashion world, and it’s been a part of the winter fashion scene ever since. The parka is firmly a part of modern fashion, this garment was invented back in prehistoric days. The parka is probably even older than the writing itself.

That’s one useful piece of fashion. But what makes the different types of parkas so appealing? Explore the different parkas you can wear and figure out which ones you’re going to love wearing the most.

Types of Insulation

Wearing a parka hood black and white

Because they’re made to take on the toughest winter conditions, parkas are usually designed with insulation. The different types of insulation create slight differences in the types of parkas you can wear.

Down

Real down is taken from ducks and geese, animals that are naturally adapted to watery environments. Down is warm even when it’s wet, which is exactly why it’s such a useful material for insulating heavy winter coats like the parka. Despite its warmth, down is lightweight, another huge benefit. Synthetic down, which is not taken from animals, is also used in parkas.

Fleece

Fleece is very quick-drying and moisture-wicking, so it’s a popular material in lining and insulation. It’s very soft and plushy to the touch and breathable. However, fleece is a little heavier than other options, and it doesn’t fold or compress as well as other insulation found in parkas.

Wearing a parka standing against wall

Synthetic

Many types of synthetic materials, including acrylic and polyester, are also used to insulate parkas. Synthetic materials are machine-washable and highly durable.

Wool

Wool harvested from sheep and other animals are also used to fill parkas. Wool is naturally moisture-absorbing and highly insulating, which is why it’s a common material used for all kinds of winter coats. Wool is a lightweight material as well, and it’s highly durable, so it makes a great filler for any parka.

Wool is also naturally odor-resistant, never a bad feature to have in an item of clothing.

Different Types of Parkas

From the early prehistoric parkas, the design of the parka has been refined and changed over the years.

New materials, new design techniques, and new people came along and put their own spin on the parka. So while the basic design has been the same for a few thousand years, at least there are several little variations and changes that create different types of parkas. Which ones are your favorites?

M1951

Rothco M-51 Fishtail Parka, Olive Drab, Large

The original U.S. Army parka was made in olive drab and white with a lining made of removable, insulating mohair (a type of wool). It had a snap-front closure, adjustable cuffs, and the traditional hip-length, hooded design. The insulation was quilted nylon material.

Puffer

The North Face Women's Metro III Parka Down Winter Long Hooded Puffer Coat, Tnf Black, X-Large

Puffer parka jackets are distinct for their unique style. These coats are puffy thanks to the insulation and the construction, which uses lines of stitching across the parka to create puffed-up sections.

The puffer coat feels like a modern style, but it has its origins in the 1930s. Eddie Bauer created the first puffy jacket in 1936. It was called the Skyliner, and it was filled with down feathers and made with quilted fabric. Bauer made the coat after nearly dying of hypothermia while on a winter fishing trip.

Today, puffer coat styles are on display every winter. Parka puffer coats blend traditional style with decades-old warm clothes tech.

Ski

Wantdo Women's Fleece Ski Jacket Winter Snow Coat Short Parka Anorak Casual Wear Wine Red S

The ski parka rose to popularity in the 1960s as skiing as a recreational activity became highly trendy. This was a modern take on the traditional parka that was made with nylon, one of the newest and most exciting materials on the fashion scene at the time. The nylon created a lightweight, waterproof shell for the parka that could be dyed in any color.

Bright ski parkas appeared on U.S. and European slopes throughout the decade. Both longer and shorter versions of the ski parkas became popular. Ski parkas continue to be a trendy site at ski resorts the world over.

Traditional

chouyatou Men's Winter Warm Faux Leather Spliced Padded Long Down Alternative Parka Coat Fur Hood (Medium, Black)

Traditional parka designs are still made and sold online and in stores. Parkas made with a leather outer shell and fur-trimmed hoods are still the classic look for this traditional garment, and you can still buy these styles, though it’s a bit more common in modern fashion to see parkas made with a nylon outer shell. Traditional parkas are often made in shades of brown, black, and other natural color tones.

Some traditional parka designs may also be embellished with beadwork and extra details that honor Inuit styles.

Wearing Different Types of Parkas

There are different types of parkas made with different types of materials to try, but they are all made to accomplish one task: keeping you warm. Whether you’re skiing or ice fishing or just going into a cold climate for some other reason, the parka will help you stay a lot warmer than many other winter wear options. From the very beginning, this garment was made to provide warmth even in freezing, icy, snowy, and horrible weather.

The parka still does that, and we still need that. Maybe that’s why the parka has been around for thousands of years. It won’t take you quite that long to try all the different types of parkas you can wear.

FAQs

Two people wearing parkas

The lining, the filling, the shell, the hood. A lot of different components and a whole lot of years have gone into designing the parka. Do you know everything you need to know about wearing and caring for this garment?

We’ve got the answers to the most commonly asked questions about parkas so you can get the info you need to know and start wearing parkas with ease.

Are parkas waterproof?

Because they are specifically made to take on winter weather, and because they are so often used for skiwear and for staying warm even during snowy sports, most parkas are made to have some degree of water resistance. Even primitive parkas were made to provide water resistance and keep the wearer dry on wet, snowy, and icy days.

However, many parkas are not fully waterproof and will not stay dry when fully submerged in water or snow or when faced with a strong deluge of moisture. Parkas are made to be water-resistant, and many of them are made with materials that absorb moisture so that you, as the wearer of the parka will stay dry, but they are not waterproof and will not keep you fully dry in very wet conditions.

How should your parka fit?

Parkas are sort of confusing garments because they need to be somewhat loose so you can wear heavy clothes underneath them comfortably. However, parkas must also fit close enough to your body to create a warming shell of protection. Wear a very loose coat, and the cold air is going to get in there with you. No one wants that.

You’ll also be uncomfortable in a parka that doesn’t fit. You don’t want to be adjusting and feeling weird while you’re out and about in the cold, after all. So how do you know the parka fits you the right way?

First, check the fit through the shoulders and arms. You should be able to move your arms out in front of you, up over your head, and back behind you without feeling any pulling or restriction. The sleeves of the parka should cover your arms all the way to the wrists at all times.

Next, twist from side to side and bend over. You should be able to do this without restriction as well. Zip or button the parka all the way up and repeat these motions.

If you can move comfortably in your parka, it is not too tight. But…is it too big? Place one hand against your opposite shoulder and take hold of as much fabric as you can here. The shoulders of the parka should sit against your shoulders without a lot of excess fabric between the end of your shoulder and the shoulder seam of the parka.

You also shouldn’t feel as though the parka is floating around you. You should still be able to feel the parka all around your body, without any big pockets or air or looseness anywhere.

When you have a parka that fits well, you will have the warmth you need, even in the coldest conditions.

Can you machine wash a parka?

Parkas are meant to be worn in the cold and the snow and the ice. That means your parka is going to get dirty. Dry cleaning your winter coat can be sort of expensive. So can you wash your parkas at home, or is that going to ruin it?

The good news is, you don’t actually have to wash outerwear very often. It doesn’t get sweaty like your clothes do, and it doesn’t get exposed to dead skin cells the same way your clothing does. You might only need to wash your coat once or twice a year. But when you do wash it, you need to do it very carefully.

Spot clean when you can, using a damp cloth and mild soap to gently wash away stains. When that isn’t enough and your parka needs to e cleaned, start by reading the label first. There should be instructions for washing and drying your parka as recommended by the manufacturer. You want to pay attention to these instructions, as you can potentially shrink your parka if you wash and dry it temporarily.

Most of the time, you can wash parkas in the machine in cold water. Turn the parka inside-out and use the gentle cycle, along with a mild detergent. Dry the parka on the lowest heat setting possible. Heat can cause certain fabrics to shrink, including cotton and wool. Strong detergent could cause damage to the water-resistant coating on the parka.

Sources:

AnOther – A Brief History of the Puffer Jacket

CBC – How to machine wash your parka at home properly

Love to Know – Parka

Moosejaw – Insulated Jackets

REI Co-Op – How to Choose Insulated Outerwear