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

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Anonymous

I realize it wouldn’t a vintage parka but did you consider purchasing a replica ?Then you would have been able to try on various sizes and pick the optimal.

Nick

Hi Simon,

Perhaps a ‘The vintage pieces I have known’ post would be helpful for readers in their vintage buying ventures?

Also, noticed in one go the pictures that the tweed jacket is unlined, having worn in would you still go for that option?

Nick

Chancellor

Out of curiosity, why did you opt for unlined with a, presumably, cooler weather jacket? I thought you liked unlined only with warm-weather jackets where the absence of the lining would minimize insulation and increase breathability.

Oli

Hi Simon,

Not sure if you’ve done it before, but a list of recommended vintage shops in London would be really great.

Cheers,

Oli

G Mitchell

It works, so you are cool with that. I have one old original in my car and it serves as my morning café coat (6am meeting every day at an outside café). These things are excellent as they cover all sins and the lining can be removed for the ‘not so cold’ days. OK not the most stylish thing in the world but when function conquers form its never a bad thing.

Philipp

Hi Simon,
this parka a lovely aged piece. But – and please don’t get me wrong, it’s in the end a matter of individual taste – I’m wondering, what’s the point of dressing up, when the next second you’re covering the all the elegance, the drape, the cut, the proportions of the tailoring under a tent.

DE

Hi Simon, when buying a coat like this should you consider the original purpose/wearer, particularly those with military provenance? I have read on the letters pages of national newspapers that servicemen particularly hate people wearing uniforms as ‘fashion wear’ – they say it belittles the effort/sacrifice made by the original wearer and the serious purpose of the garment. I guess this would only apply to re-makes if the wearer intended to pass themselves off as a veteran? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

G Mitchell

After 27 years in uniform, speaking as one who wore it for the designed purpose, I have zero issues with anyone wearing it for fashion; I do sometimes think ‘why’ but never had a problem with it so wear away all.
I’m wearing old US Army woodland camp pants (I was British Forces) today and I guess they are being worn for fashion, sort of. (That being said, they were given to me by a US Marine so does is count?)

Gary Mclean

On your recent discussion on camouflage, please can you indicate which post contains it. (It seems to be well hidden, camouflaged even, as the search function only checks your original post, and maybe not the later comments).

Yosef777

Maiden question, Paul Di’Anno or Bruce Dickinson?

Tineli

Do you have any issues with the military background of the M-47 (and likewise your M-65)? These garments were made to go to war, to kill. It’s this conotation that puts me off.

Alex

I have huge issues with western foreign policy and I am repulsed by the militaristic and imperialist aspects of our culture. I also love army surplus clothing. Yet I see no conflict in these two positions. On the contrary I see it as a positive thing that something created for war has found a new and more peaceful life. Repurposing something which once did harm is the very best sort of recycling.

I certainly don’t seek to look like a soldier and much of the army surplus that I wear isn’t even recognisable as such. And when something, such as Simon’s parka, is obviously from the military I don’t think anyone sees it as a celebration of the army, at least I hope not.

I use eBay to buy surplus clothing made for armies all around the world. It’s very cheap, mostly extremely well made and often comes in a far wider range of sizes than offered by high street rtw. Among my favourite finds are pale blue linen pyjamas from Italy, knee length wool socks from Slovakia, a 1950s navy denim suit from Sweden and highland brogues worn by Scottish regiments.

DE

That’s a nice argument Alex. Although I don’t have such strong views on militaristic aspects of western culture, I find your thoughts on repurposing army surplus for a more ‘peaceful life’ compelling

Ben

The sleeves on the coat’re way wide. Very good for shoplifting.

I grant that patina can be attractive, but there’s no way I’d buy vintage were it not for the lower price. Shopping takes too long, and the fit’s very rarely right.

Nicolas Stromback

I purchased a 1970s, belgian-made, vintage leather coat with shearling collar and lining about two years ago. Its a lovely piece with a full body, but, like you wrote, its too warm for anything above 0 degrees C. It has that lovely Sly Stallone in Rocky I vibe though, so it gets worn(!)

Michael

Is one permitted to inquire about the price?

Fredrik

Clive Burr or Nicko?

bast

I’m looking at commissioning a dinner suit but want to have something a bit different, what are some good options?

Craig

With you on the frustration of too-warm purchases. I bought a gorgeous vintage-style US sheepskin jacket: it had an 11mm pile, massive furry collar and goatskin panels to protect the arms etc. It felt great and looked fantastic but I discovered it couldn’t be worn in any temperature above 0C – though god knows I tried to – and eventually I felt so guilty/annoyed every time I saw it hanging unworn in my wardrobe, I traded it in for something lighter.

Chris

I fear this comes off as far too “homeless vet” for me. It seems out of character for you, which is maybe why I’m having trouble “seeing it” on you.

Anonymous

Vintage certainly has a place as it contains items that simply cannot be found within the normal retail environment. This is particularly so in relation to military wear (vs. militaria – that is collectibles). The issue is wearability, as many, without context verge on ‘cosplay’. For me the M47 is simply too scruffy to wear with tailoring (have you tried with jeans or workwear?), but it does avoid the cosplay trap as, in cut and design, it retains a modernity and is similar to items currently available.
https://www.rohan.co.uk/mens-travel-and-outdoor-waterproofs-globetrotter-mac?ocode=05399B94&cr=MensJackets

Matt

I have my own vintage shopping story, although it’s much less interesting but interestingly does involve an army surplus jacket.

I’ve always been a fan of army surplus clothing and used to wear a German parka which had a detachable cotton/moleskin lining.

I was recently on the lookout for a filed jacket/parka, now at the ripe old age of 44 for somewhat different reasons and best the influence of different style considerations.

On a recent trip to Japan I found myself in the Shimokitazawa district of Tokyo, well known for second hand and army surplus stores where I found an M49 French army field jacket, very similar to the one David Beckham has been photographed wearing.

It was new-old “deadstock” which I liked and was a snip at 7800JPY or around 55GBP which is about 550 HKD in my money.

Now I have another item of clothing I’m afraid to wear in case I fall in love with it, wear it out and may never be able to replace it.

KIRAN KATAGI

Is there any vintage shops in India. I believe Vintage is one of the best brand for Coat, Blazers and suits.

Anonymous

Just to give you a little background on the parka: it is a USMC issued item used extensively in the early stages of the Korean War. If you look at pictures of the battle around the Chosin Reservior, you will see the U.S. Marines wearing these parkas. They are rare to come across. Congrats on a great find.

Byron Givens

Hi Simon: great article, because I think the word thrift and vintage here are sometime confused by us here in the States sometimes. And that mistake is often made by us assuming something is of poor quality or just something know one else wanted.

mark ledwards

Hi Simon,
I was wondering if you had ever looked at the more ‘cold weather’ parka options – i.e. Canada Goose, Moncler etc.?
I know you lean more towards tailored overcoats but these parkas are quite useful for more casual dress and I am thinking of getting one. Would love to know if you’d come across any that would also work for pairing with smarter trousers, jackets etc.
Warm regards,
Mark

morinellus

A great parka, as I like it, with a metal zipper and true buttons. It’s just a pity that the model is wearing it all open on all pictures. I would prefer to see it all zipped and buttoned up or, which I find specially exciting, buttoned up over the open zipper