The ‘parka’, a mod icon of days gone by. But is really have a role in today’s scene? David Walker has his views…you may not agree…
If you were watching ‘Family Fortunes’, and the question was asked:
‘We asked 100 people to name something you associate with a mod?’
What would be the top answer?
Scooters? Targets? No, it would be the humble parka.
The parka, an icon of the mod scene since it’s first popular rising, a symbol of it’s past. But should it be a part of mod’s present?
The rise of the ‘parka’ lay in it’s practicality, cheapness and availability. In the less affluent 60s, the army surplus coat was the ideal garment for ‘fending off’ the elements either on your scooter, or on the way to a club. It’s place in history was assured by the newspaper pictures of ‘parka clad’ mods during the Bank Holiday riots of the 60s. It was, and still is, a symbol of the popular mod scene.
This legacy was reinforced by The Who’s choice of a ‘mod in parka’ for their 1973 ‘mod’ concept album, ‘Quadrophenia’ (above).
The success of the film version of ‘Quadrophenia’ in 1979 threw the mod scene right back in the public eye. The ‘pill popping’, ‘scooter riding’ and ‘parka wearing’ stars of the film struck a chord once more with the nation’s youth. Mod was back, parka sales soared, this time complete with prerequisite ‘Jam’ and ‘Secret Affair’ pin badges. Like all popular youth fashions, it didn’t last, and as the revival died away, so did the humble parka.
Now, after a lengthy break, being a mod is suddenly cool again, you just need to walk down your High Street, watch a Sainsburys’ ad or look at the fashion house catwalks, for the evidence. And the ‘Army n Navy’ stores are doing brisk business. The parka, as in ’79, is no longer viewed as a practical item, but a ‘uniform’, a first step into the mod scene. Over 20 years later, the legacy and imagery of ‘Quadrophenia’ still lives on. ‘Jimmy the mod’ is still the quintessential role model for anyone new to the scene.
But here’s the irony – dig deeper into the mod scene and you’ll realise that in today’s vibrant mod scene, the parka just isn’t seen anymore.
The mod scene now has more in common with the 60s scene than the ’79 version. In clubs up and down the country, you will see smart, sharp, tailored clothes, an attention to detail and more importantly, individuality. If you pay £400 for a tailored mohair suit, would you really want to cover it up with army surplus? Exactly. The parka is now seen as a cliche by many, and is notable by it’s absence on the mod club and rally circuit (though still popular on the scooterist scene, but that’s another story…).
Today’s more affluent society doesn’t require the army’s reject supplies. More ‘fitted’ options are readily available in terms of raincoats, jackets and overcoats. Your ability to dress smartly, and as an individual does more to identify you as ‘mod’ than an old green coat ever will. If we turn our noses up at ‘off the peg’ suits, why do we readily accept military surplus?
You may disagree. You may like the parka. You may think I am being elitist. You may argue that that the mod scene is built on the traditions of the 60s scene, and the parka is very much a part of that. And I certainly wouldn’t criticise you for choosing to wear one. However, my belief is that history is the parka’s only connection to the mod scene, and perhaps that is where the parka should stay.
Update: In the 10 years+ since this article was written, the parka has made something of a comeback as a designer item. But the point still stands. There are more stylish garments for outerwear out there. Although it’s still down to a matter of taste and practicality.