The Mountain Parka For Lightweight Layering

January 11, 2016

The Mountain Parka for Lightweight Layering

Back in the 1970s, some American college students were transitioning away from the more polished navy-blazer-oxford-button-down look of the previous decade and getting into something more rugged. The Japanese called it “Heavy Duty,” and while the name was a little tongue-in-cheek, it perfectly described the style. David Marx has a great chapter about it in his new book Ametora:

[Men’s Club columnist] Kobayashi believed that Heavy Duty and Ivy were two sides of the same coin. Both were “systems” of clothing – a wide set of traditional garments worn according to the time, place, and occasion. Inside the Ivy system, students wore blazers to class, duffle coats in the winter, three-button suits to weddings, tuxedos to parties, and school scarves to football games. Inside the Heavy Duty system, men wore LL Bean duck boots in bad weather, mountain boots when hiking, flannel shirts when canoeing, collegiate nylon windbreakers in spring, rugby shirts in fall, and cargo shirts when on the trail. In the introduction to his standalone Heavy Duty Book, Kobayashi wrote: “I call Heavy Duty ‘traditional’ because it’s the outdoor or country part of the trad clothing system. You could even say it’s the outdoor version of Ivy.”

One of my favorite items from that period is the mountain parka, which was often worn with Shetland sweaters, jeans, chinos, and five-pocket cords. Bean boots, hiking boots, sneakers, and penny loafers made up the accompanying footwear. The style was somewhat preppy, but – perhaps because of the mountain parka’s hippie, California roots – it never really made it into the prep canon. (After eight long years and over 1,000 posts, Ivy Style has yet to do a post about the jacket).

Given the mild winter this year, I’ve been relying more on light layering than heavy outerwear. A hooded mountain parka is not only a good way to keep dry on rainy days, but also use as an on-again, off-again layer when temperatures suddenly change. Some of my favorite models this season, from classic designs to things that are slightly more updated:

  • Traditional: If you’re looking for something traditional, start with Sierra Designs. Their 60/ 40 parka is iconic, although newer versions have changed over the years (mostly in pocket design and becoming a bit shorter). The 60% cotton and 40% nylon blend isn’t as showerproof as Gore-Tex, but it’s reasonably water resistant and much more affordable. Also worth looking into: vintage parkas from old heritage brands such as LL Bean, Woolrich, Eddie Bauer, REI, Holubar, Alpine Designs, and Wilderness Experience (search eBay and Etsy). Many of those will be longer than newer designs, which means they’ll be easier to wear over a tweed sport coat.
  • Updated: For something a bit more updated, check out Mt. Rainier Design or Battenwear. Theirs closely follow the traditional models, but come in slimmer, more modern silhouettes. I also really like Nanamica’s Cruiser, which is made from a breathable, weatherproof Gore-Tex shell, but it’s fairly expensive.
  • Rugged: For something that’s a bit more re-interpretative and workwear-ish, try Engineered Garments. Kapital also has a funky mountain parka in their usual Japanese upcycled style, while Free Rain makes some really nice waxed cotton models. My favorites in this category: these Monitaly parkas cut from vintage US Army tent fabrics (pretty awesome), and this old Barbour x To Ki To design that you can sometimes find on eBay.
  • Affordable: As usual, shopping on sale or buying vintage/ used is your best bet if you want something good at a low price, but if you want something that’s both affordable and easily had now, check out Penfield’s Kasson and Uniqlo. The Uniqlo one reportedly feels thin, and it’s not very water resistant, but it does the trick if you’re on a budget (maybe beef it up with a weatherproofer). There are a ton of reviews on Reddit.

How to wear the jacket? Pair one with chinos, prickly sweaters, oxford shirts, and Bean boots, like the 1970s students pictured above. For something less preppy, try one of the rugged, workwear versions with a grey sweatshirt, some jeans, and a pair of workboots, or use one of the updated, contemporary models with a textured sweater and some clean sneakers. My own parka, the royal blue Nanamica in the last photo, is pictured with a Stephen Schneider sweater, pair of faded 3sixteen jeans, and some Common Projects b-ball high-tops.

(photos via Porkys, Heavy Tweed Jacket, Jack Nicholls, J. Crew, Engineered Garments, Male Pattern Boldness, and me)