Ask one hundred normal punters going about their normal daily business, on a normal everyday high street to describe a mod and I’d say 80% at least of them, would use the word ‘parka’ in the first few words of their reply.
Those who use the words ‘anorak’ and ‘moped’ should be avoided at all costs.
The garment has simply become synonymous with the youth cult, as scooters, The Who, Quadrophenia, and The Jam and in recent months, er ‘Wellends.’
So how come? First up, lets deal with the name. It comes from the world of the Caribou Inuit’s, and the Nenets language specifically, meaning ‘animal skin.’
Furthermore, it’s a word that has been recorded in English since 1625.
Reading through the frankly mind boggling, train spotter inhabited world of parkas, to do the research for this blog, informs me that what we know as the ‘mod fishtail parka’ is a hybrid coming from a US Army M1943, later crossed with a M1948 prototype. Hoods were lined with wolverine fur and when it went into production, it was constructed from wind resistant heavy cotton at first, with later versions using a more poplin-based construction. The ‘liners’ went from a heavy wool pile that had a tendency to remain wet, to a lighter wool mixture, which dried faster.
Later still, mohair was introduced to the mix, which to my tiny mind, would have got the mods attention if nothing else…
All that then develops into the M-1951 (M being for military), which was designed when it was noticed that US Soldiers were freezing their toffees off whilst serving during the Korean War in 1951. The mass production versions, complete with detachable fur lined hoods, were ¾ in body length and offered protection up to around minus 10C. The coat had a ‘split’ at the back with each side of that, having a draw string, meaning each ‘flap’ could then be pulled up and tied around the legs for a bit of extra warmth.
‘Hey Mack’ – someone is bound to have said – ‘looks like a fishtail ya got there’ and the term then stuck like mud to a parka, becoming known forever more as M51 fishtail parka.
Production of the coat in the States continued right up until 1956 and it was still supplied to those serving in Germany until 1958.
Then enter our beloved mods. Looking for a cheap, functional, but smart looking ‘coverall’ type garment to keep the cold out, and the dirt off their whistle whilst gliding about on their scooters, they discovered large piles of M-51’s in many of the Army Surplus stores that were once a popular sight on our high streets. Pre the days of the compulsory wearing helmets, the fur-lined hood also came in handy keeping your head warm and of course, they had the added bonus of looking tasty too.
If you then lost your B&B key whilst running amok on a beach one Bank Holiday, your parka could also be turned into a handy sleeping bag of sorts, for that clichéd kip under the pier on a bed of shingle.
The look of course has lasted and can still be seen wherever the clans gather at the many events up and down the UK, even though some are looking a little bit tighter on the wearer nowadays than they did on the battle fields of Korea.
The Mumper of SE5
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