Parka History

The Fishtail Parka, from war coat to fashion icon...

The fishtail parka started life in service to the US army in 1951 to help the American soldiers cope with the freezing conditions in the Korean War. 

It was known as the M1951 parka and those wanting the full history on this please see Article©: M1951 Fishtail Parka, history of the vintage M51 parka. 

However, in 1960’s Britain the Fishtail Parka took on a whole new life and came to represent an entire era, a lifestyle and a statement of intent. 

You were a Mod !!

By 1963 the mods were here, they had their own style, their own dress codes, their own transport and indeed their own language.

In a fashion culture that changed on a weekly basis forcing mods to work overtime to keep up with the changes, everything from colour to length of jacket side vents, to width of trouser bottoms and style of shoes only one item of clothing managed to stay a constant throughout the life of Mod.

This was the Fishtail Parka (US Army only).

The truth is that exactly how this came about no one really knows, it’s as much a mystery and it is a phenomena. The influencing factors can readily be drawn, fishtail parkas were cheap, warm, relatively water proof and great for riding scooters in a pre-helmet era as one could tie the fur hood right up around your face. Plus, no one else was wearing them on the street and that was important to the mods.

However, no one really knows who started it and how it caught on so quickly. It’s not like anyone can say oh that was Dave, he got one in Whitechapel for a bob and we all thought; “fuck it!…. let’s all get one”. Therefore, one is left thinking, why not any other warm coat of that time…why that parka and why ONLY that particular parka ??

Yes we all know mods wore other jackets and coats but only one coat kept its place as the first choice for scooter riding and only one coat became the most prolific symbol of Mod and that was the Fishtail Parka.

For me, it is not hard to imagine the early 60’s and a small group of early mods, or maybe even “Coffee Bar Cats” seeking out a warm coat and stumbling across a US Army M1951 Fishtail Parka in the local Army Stores. And seeing the price, seeing the quality, seeing the benefits of warmth, head protection and durability, and the fact that no one was wearing them, made the choice that this was the coat to wear.

They rode back into town adorned in their new gear, espousing the benefits of being warm and dry, the next day 4 more mods went back to that same army store and got themselves kitted out. Within a week, you a one gang of 12 mods all riding around wearing the same Fishtail Parkas.

The same processes took place as they chatted with the mod gang in the next block, and Mr Army Stores was having a good month with lots of new visitors. These early mods, being the trendsetters and likely to be looked up to by new and aspiring mods, were soon copied. By 1964 Mod was in full swing and thousands of mods were now springing up all over London and all needed to complete their uniform.

And by 1965, Mr Army Stores had retired to a small condo in St Lucia and every mod in London had a M1951 Fishtail Parka…


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