How the puffer jacket came to dominate the world

Views: 220     Author: Lydia     Publish Time: 2023-11-09      Origin: Site


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How the puffer jacket came to dominate the world

Some fashions can be intimidating, but the padded coat can be worn by anyone, from new dads to students, Theresa May to Alan Partridge.

It's become a cliche that if you wait long enough, something unfashionable will become fashionable.

Tracksuits, socialism, and Céline Dion have all suffered as a result. And, for better or worse, it's happened to puffer jackets - you know, the catch-all phrase for those water-resistant, ultrapractical "technical" coats you could wear to climb Everest. Or, at the very least, Storm Erik.

Winter has given way to spring, but we still seem to be no more than 6 feet away from a puffer. They're on your father, but they're also in Whitehall (Theresa May often arrives from Downing Street - looking shattered - in one of two variants of the same £750 padded jacket, and wore a more generic black version to church last weekend). They're also on TV: in the United States, Alan from Russian Dolls wears a Uniqlo one under his coat; in the United Kingdom, antihero Alan Partridge's amazing - or "ludicrous," if you ask the Daily Telegraph - yellow padded coat is uncannily similar to what Balenciaga exhibited last season.

At first, it was a trickle. Demna Gvsalia's first Balenciaga collection in 2016 had a crimson padded jacket worn off the shoulder in the style of Brigitte Bardot. Although eyebrows were raised, puffers resurfaced on the Balenciaga catwalk a year later and again the following year. They could also be found in Topshop and Urban Outfitters. Lyst, a search engine that tracks what individuals buy based on clicks, reported a 59% year-on-year increase in searches late last year. The rubicon was crossed in February 2019 when two puffers, one by the US outdoor brand The North Face and the other by the Italian business Moncler, were named the world's second and sixth most wanted products, respectively. In this case, the most coveted item was a pair of Nike sneakers.

In Russian Doll, Charlie Barnett plays Alan Zaveri. Photograph courtesy of Universal Television/Getty Images

Lyst claimed it had something to do with "urban hiking," a 2018 trend that saw fleeces and Gore-Tex make an appearance at Tom Ford, Burberry, Givenchy, and Gucci. Even M&S was offering hiking boots by Christmas 2018. Puffers were seen on the runways again at Sacai, Chanel, Versace, and Sportmax (for women), as well as Fendi, Iceberg, Off-White, and Cottweiler (for men). According to a representative for Patagonia, sales have doubled in the last ten years.

The fact that this winter's unexpected hit garment was a pretty mundane, large, padded coat by Orolay, a brand that sells on Amazon, and that the bestselling item at Uniqlo for the last season has been a "ultra-light down" packable jacket, could be due to the weather. However, it could also be about something more intangible.

"A puffer's shape and look are powerful, but also plain and almost spartan - and there's power in riding that line," says Andrew Luecke, co-author of Cool: Style, Sound, and Subversion, a history of teenage subcultures. To be honest, it's less about who wears a puffer and more about who doesn't.

Sacai's autumn/winter 2018/2019 collection includes this puffer.


Sacai's autumn/winter 2018/2019 collection includes this puffer. Image credit: Victor Virgile/Getty Images

If the value of hikingwear is its nicheness, puffers have become a more wearable byproduct, the embodiment of one of those few occasions when fashion and function collide. Take, for example, May's padded coat. She may have had a cold during the disastrous week of no-deal negotiations, but it wasn't cold enough for her Herno coat, which is designed for "protective warmth," especially as she only wore it from No 10 to her car. It's about enclothed cognition, according to Patrick Fagan, a consumer psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the premise that "what we wear has a profound psychological impact on how we behave." These coats are genderless and serve as armour against the elements - or the mood of the day.

The padded jacket is new, although it has a long history. After battling hypothermia on a winter fishing expedition in Washington in 1936, Eddie Bauer designed a quilted jacket insulated by goose down, laying the groundwork for technicalwear. Charles James, the couturier, designed an evening jacket that resembled a truncated quilt two years later. He dubbed it the "pneumatic jacket" and prophesied it would be a one-off, according to fashion legend. These were not the identical coats and spoke to two different classes - the puffer/padded/quilted nomenclature is a little hazy - but they share DNA.

The trend is referred described as "outleisure" by Michael Horsch, product director of The North Face. "It's not like athleisure," he says. This is gear built for survival in high mountains or challenging terrains, so it's more about utility than fashion." He focuses on the Nuptse jacket, which is one of the most well-known jackets in fashion, comparable to Max Mara's camel coat. According to Horsch, this large and cropped jacket has transcended trends to become a "cultural piece," similar to Levi's 501s or Timberland boots.

Horsch claims that the Nuptse jacket, which was intended for mountaineering in 1992, began moonlighting as "urban kit" in New York. When lower-income families moved to Queens housing developments, he continues, they were packed into compact rooms that could accommodate several generations. "Imagine being a teenager in that environment," Horsch suggests. He claims that the only places to socialize were the communal areas outside, which required a good coat, as anyone who has experienced a New York winter knows. The Nuptse jacket became the uniform of a distinct New York aesthetic, the forefather of what we now term streetwear; it was the piece of clothing that subsequently connected this Queens subculture with the mainstream. By the end of the 1990s, it was being worn by numerous US rappers, including in Method Man and LL Cool J videos.

The puffer's retaliation is now evident. 

After all, it is a coat popular among wealthy winter sports aficionados. "The function attracts the wealthy, who imbue the puffer with lifestyle status, then other subcultures pick up on that," Luecke said. Padded jackets have origins in the 1990s, streetwear, rap, and New York, but they are also timeless. One could be seen on a woman driving a Chelsea tractor, a new father, or a fashion student.

Of course, this means ignoring the irony that an industry that has been repeatedly accused of being one of the most polluting in the world - one that burns unneeded clothing - is pushing a trend that sends the opposite message. Patagonia even created a "Don't buy this jacket" advertisement to encourage buyers to ponder before they buy.

It's understandable if this all sounds bogus. You probably wear a puffer for practical reasons. Furthermore, a lot of it comes down to what psychologists call "exposure": the more you see something, the more acceptable it gets. My puffer is red and huge - too hot for the UK even in winter - but I've been wearing it nonstop since November. I get swaddled when I put it on. Puffers may be considered anti-fashion or unintentionally fashionable, but if some trends might feel alienating, this is the polar opposite.

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