A vintage shopping story: M47 Parka

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This week is vintage week. You didn't know that, but it is.

We're starting today with an article on a vintage piece of mine; we continue on Wednesday with the advice of three experts on buying vintage; and we finish on Friday with an interview about the industry of vintage. I hope you like it.

This vintage coat was an iffy buying decision that could have gone either way. 

I was very excited when I saw it, on a mannequin in The Vintage Showroom. But I've been excited by big, dramatic pieces before, and they haven’t always turned out well.

A Nigel Cabourn shearling jacket springs to mind. It was absolutely beautiful, but so heavy and bulky the weather needed to be -5 or below to wear it. 

The reason I was so excited about this trench coat was that I had seen men I admire (including Taka at Liverano) wearing vintage fishtail parkas over their tailoring, and it looked great. 

There's obviously the link to mods doing the same thing to protect their suits, but even without an awareness of the history I think it would look good. It’s an easy example of high/low dressing. (Which is generally easier with outerwear.) 

This piece - which I'm told is a variation on the M-47 Korean parka - seemed like a good way to do the same look, but without copying directly. 

The only question in my mind was, would it be too much? 

Will it swamp me? It's longer than a fishtail parka, and is one length all the way round, unlike the fishtail.

And there was only one size. This often happens with vintage, either because the store only has the one piece or because it was only ever made in one size. But it means the choice is hugely restricted.

I thought I could pull off the length, given my height, but the sheer bulk of the body might be too much. 

I remember showing it to James (Girdwood) and Douglas (Cordeaux) during our pop-up once. They loved it as an item too, but were unsure about how easy it would be to wear.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.

I wore it regularly last winter, and look forward to doing so this winter. 

I moved the buttons at the waist a little, which helped. It allowed the coat to be cinched a bit more than originally intended, reducing the bulk.

I did try three different variations on the button position before settling on one - sewing them loosely each time.

It was tempting to cinch a lot - as it is often is with things that cinch - but that made the coat look too waisted, and disproportionate.

I’ve found the coat looks good as pictured, over casual tailoring like tweed, boots and flannels. Incorporating another casual or worn piece - such as this western shirt - also helps. 

And it looks great with denim and a roll neck, but not with a smarter suit (at least for me: Taka might make that look great). 

In terms of dealing with the bulk, it's best if the coat is largely left undone, so you’re not wrapped in it head to toe. 

If it’s cold, I do up two or three of the buttons around the neck and chest, but leave the rest open. (There’s also a full-length synthetic liner, which is incredibly warm.)

And the hood is of course great in the rain, though given the cotton isn’t anything more than water resistant, I wouldn’t wear it for a long walk. 

As with all vintage clothing, the coat has the appeal of being heavily worn in, and showing it: fading, creases, the odd little nick or small patch. 

And in this case, of being unusual. You’re highly unlikely to see someone walking towards you wearing the same thing, unlike a Barbour. 

Those have always been the key attractions of vintage for me, with price and sustainability coming some way down the list.

I completely understand guys that buy vintage for those reasons, but for me I like the patina and uniqueness, and tend to buy things like vintage denim, leather jackets and other outerwear for that reason, but not shirts, shoes or knitwear. 

On Wednesday there will be a post from three experts giving more advice on buying vintage, so I won’t go into that here. 

I’ll just say that I think this story had a happy ending because I thought it through in the same way I’d consider any other large purchase. 

One: it was inspired by seeing someone else, so I knew exactly how I wanted to wear it. 

Two: I had considered how it would fit specifically with my wardrobe and lifestyle. I already had the other clothes to go with it, so no issues there; and I thought I wouldn’t wear it to a smart office, but would to most other occasions.

And three: I gave myself time to think about it. I wore it around the store for a while, asked everyone else’s opinion, and forced myself to leave it for a day and think about it overnight. Then came back the next day. 

This might sound like overkill, but few things frustrate me more than buying something and never wearing it - which is one reason I’ve liked selling a few things to readers recently. 

Pictured with:

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man