The first use of the fishtail parka came around in 1951. It was utilised by the U.S. Army who provided the parka to soldiers who were engaged in combat in the Korean War. The nature of the parka was sufficient enough to provide protection from the elements while not being restrictive with regards to movement. Obviously this would need to be a major factor in providing clothing for soldiers but there was a high level of functionality with these parka coats.
There are three main types of fishtail parka produced by the U.S. Army in relation to mod culture. The initial being the M-1948, followed by the M-1951 and the M-1965 versions. The M stands for Military and the number symbolises the year that the coat was made and standardised.
The style of the coat gave the coat its name
With respect to the fishtail element of the name, this is down to the fact that the coat is notably longer in the back than it is in the front. The coat was designed in this fashion to allow it to be tied around the wearer’s upper legs to provide added protection from the elements. It is commonly believed that they are waterproof but this is not the case, especially not in some of the more extreme weather conditions that soldiers were exposed to in the Korean War.
There is a notable difference in the style of the hoods. The M-1951 has a hood which is permanently attached to the outer shell. A separate wool-lined real fur hood attachment buttons into the (shell) hood. The latter M-1965 has a hood that can be detached from the rest of the parka. A similarity that both parka coats share is a warm removable lining.
The coat was designed to be worn with layers
One of the most important elements of the parka’s was that they were designed and created to be worn over clothing layers. This means that in themselves, the coats do not provide a great level of protection against the colder elements. While some would view this is an issue, the flexibility in being able to add or subtract layers underneath the coat depending on the conditions ensured that whatever weather conditions were prevalent, the soldiers would be able to wear the parka in a variety of conditions. Given that the U.S. Army provided other garments that could provide insulation to a great number of degrees below zero, the fishtail parka could be worn in all sorts of conditions. It has since been discontinued for use by the U.S. military but its style and benefits made it a big favourite with many soldiers.
It is easy to see why the elements that made the fishtail parka a big hit with soldiers in varying conditions would blend well with the needs of mods. Riding on scooters would expose mods to changeable weather conditions and the length of the coat would provide an added element of protection for their fine clothing. Given how important appearance was to mods, there was a desire to arrive for a night out in pristine condition. The length of the fishtail parka ensured that suits and clothing underneath the parka would be properly protected from splashes and the weather.
Another huge factor in the popularity of the fishtail parka lay in its wide availability. These coats were available in great numbers and at an affordable price from army surplus stores across the country, providing mods with the perfect garment to complete their look. The issue of functionality was always close to the decision making process for many mods, and the fishtail parka managed to tick every box of what a mod was looking for. These days of course, authentic fishtail parka’s are rare and very sought after. This is hardly surprising when you consider the poor imitation copies found on every High Street.