What is a Parka?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A parka is a waist or hip-length cold weather jacket, usually featuring an attached hood lined with natural or synthetic fur. It may be filled with down, acrylic fibers, or another modern material for additional insulation. The outer surface of the jacket can also be treated with a waterproofing agent to prevent moisture penetration. The native tribes of Alaska and Canada were the first to construct a parka, also called an anorak in Great Britain.

A parka generally has a hood that's lined with natural or synthetic fur.
A parka generally has a hood that's lined with natural or synthetic fur.

Original parka styles used natural down and fur as insulating material. Waterproofing involve an application of fish oil on the external layer. The first design did not involve zippers or other fasteners — it was more of a single piece pulled over the wearer's head like a modern hooded poncho. Traditional styles also allowed for a summer version with a connected skirt.

The commercial version of the parka was first introduced in the 1930s. The ideal customers were those who lived in extremely cold climates and winter sports enthusiasts. A hood forms a windbreak which reduces the sensation of cold, and the fur or faux fur lining provides insulation. Parkas designed for hunters and outdoor workers often have several pockets sewn into the front for storage of goggles, ammunition and tools. Almost all styles feature large pockets that provide additional insulation for cold hands.

A modern parka may not have the fur linings or ruffs of the traditional model. Catalog stores which feature quality outdoor clothing feature many different styles to suit everyone from school children to skiers to outdoorsmen. A thinner version of the winter parka may also appear on store shelves as a spring jacket. This lighter jacket also features a fur-less hood and long sleeves. The effect is more of a windbreaker than an insulated coat.

Original, authentic parkas are considered collector's items, and examples can be viewed in museums with a native exhibition area.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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