Winter may have finally come to the Seven Kingdoms of Game of Thrones, but has been largely absent from the South African Highveld, with a month to go before it is officially Spring. With weather patterns as unpredictable as they are, we would be loath to predict that we are over the worst, and would suggest that if you have been contemplating a winter wardrobe investment, a Parka would do nicely.
Wikipedia – to the extent that we can believe some of its entries – informs us the the word parka is derived from the Nenets language (as spoken by The Nenets people of Northern Russia). In the Aleutian Islands, close to Alaska, the word means ‘animal skin’. Made from Seal skin by the Inuit people of the arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska, the original Parka was traditionally worn by women, replete with a pouch that could carry babies for miles on end as they trekked in the snow seeking food, while keeping out the cold with fur-lined hoods. It was an effective insulator, regularly treated with fish oil to keep it water resistant, which came in handy when kayaks capsized in the middle of icy lakes.
As with so many things created by indigenous people, the Parka was in time, appropriated. In WWII by the US military (cue the now iconic military green Parka) to repel the cold. It extended below the knee, was churned out quickly and extra cargo pockets for ammunition. It was equally effective, without the aroma of fish oil.
Various versions emerged later, like the version with the fishtail, a Korean War era response by the US to the Asian elements. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, British youth sub-cultures took to Parkas, aligning well with the burgeoning Mod movement, keeping their spiffy threads safe from harm as they cruised around in their scooters.
It was versatile, warm and practical then, as it is now, worn with casual jeans and sneakers or over a smarter ensemble with boots, a shirt and a jersey. The Parka – whether through army surplus, hospice stores, clothing chains or online stores – has become a staple in winter and in those in-between times when we are not quite sure which season we are in.