Updated: May 17, 2020
The Myth of the Parka
I do still own a fishtail Parka. It’s the M65 version, the one that has a detachable hood with the crappy-wired fur hood trim, not an M51 like I owned in the Sixties. (That didn’t come with a fur-trimmed hood). The weather would have to be Arctic for me to step out wearing it these days, which happens once or twice every few years. I wouldn’t be seen dead in it on a night out unless I was riding a scooter, or on a sled pulled by huskies. Would I wear it to go out to a Mod venue or to walk around town casually? No. Never, and not in one covered in loads of patches. That, by Sixties Mod standards, would have been considered uncool and definitely Scooterboy. (For Scooterboy – see the previous article Here).
My M56 remains my sole link to the last scooter I owned. This was a Vespa PX200 I had in Spain when I lived there a few years ago. (Yes, it does get cold there in winter, especially if you go for a ride in the mountains). I brought the Parka back to the UK in the forlorn hope of owning one last scooter someday. The two roundel patches were intended to catch the eye of any ex-pat Mod in Spain.
The important point to grasp is that for a Mod a Parka was protective weather wear, not a fashion statement. Usually, only the shell was worn to protect one’s going out finery from road dirt and the elements. It came off as soon as you reached where you were heading. Depending on the time of year you wore a coat underneath. Maybe a leather coat or a Crombie style one, or maybe just your suit. The Parka disappeared either into a cloakroom or an airline travel bag, preferably as soon as you got off your scooter. It was never a uniform worn religiously on every outing. (Let’s be honest, there really isn’t anything stylish about military gear).
So where did the myth of the Parka arise? Short answer, from the photographs revivalists found in the late Seventies and early Eighties. These usually showed Sixties Mods on scooters at weekend seaside venues as photographed by the press. Somehow this created the illusion that Parkas were de rigueur fashion wear for Mods. They weren’t. Real deal Mods would never wear them on Friday or Saturday nights out on the town. They might need to wear them going away for weekend at the seaside, but that would be it. Parkas simply did not cut it as smart and style-wise kit. Mod was about peacocking, not looking like a GI from the Korean War.
As Parka type coats began to appear in High Street shops by 1967, Joe and Josephine Public took to wearing them. That didn’t go down well. Anything that became ‘street’ became an instant fashion no-no. Halifax scooter owning Mods took to dyeing their Parka shells. I don’t know if this practice caught on elsewhere but it was the act of not wanting to be like everyone else. Almost any colour was preferable to the ‘street’ non-military, no cred copies of Parkas worn by adult oldies
To dye, or not to dye was not a question that took me long in answering. It came down to which tin of Dylon to choose. In my case, it had to be black because my Lambretta TV175 was tangerine and black. To be fair, tangerine would not have been a good look for a dyed Parka. Other guys dyed theirs in assorted colours, shades of blue, indigo, even burgundy, whatever took their fancy. It was like watching the Red Baron’s Scooter Circus riding into town as they arrived on a Saturday night.
When I switched to a brand new Vespa SS180 I got lucky. I sourced a blue nylon replica copy of an M51 that was both water and windproof. I would wear it over my grey Crombie style coat keeping it stowed in the front windshield toolbox until needed. As was par for the time I kept shtum and wouldn’t tell anyone where I bought it. Well, I didn’t want to look like everyone else, did I?