Fashion History – the evolution to the best down coat

Down coats or vests are cut from light weight durable nylon that was developed in 1939. This fabric is tight enough to not let the feather stick thru the fabric like it often is found with cotton feather bedding. Furthermore, nylon is water repellent. This aspect is important as wet feathers take long to dry and would lead to evaporative cooling.

Down coats are filled with downs from geese and ducks. The insulation factor depends on the quality of the downs. Cheap down coats often are filled with recycled or low quality feather. Such down coats have a lower insulation factor than those produced just with new downs. Downs from ducks or geese who lived in cold climate provide the best insulation. Thus, when you look for top quality, go for Canada goose parkas. Good down coats have a conduction of 600-700 cuin.

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Down coat with additional cover layer and hood (back view). The sleeves have a closure as well as knit endings to avoid that body warmth get lost to the ambient air

Any seams are potential cold bridges as here the fabric has only the thickness of the two layers. Thus, while quilted down coats keep the downs from accumulating in the lower part of the coat, they also lead to lines of interruption in the insulation. Thus, the more fashionable “Michelin man” like body-conscious down coats that are favored by most women, are less suitable for real Arctic weather with below 40 temperatures (less than -40C). Under such conditions, those coats are best that have a chamber box construction plus and overcoat. This design serves to avoid these cold bridges.

In 1911, down vests and coats have been produced for the first time in the US. In 1940, Eddie Bauer made a goose-downs quilted jacket to protect him from hypothermia during winter fishing trips. Later during WWII, Eddie Bauer manufactured these jackets for pilots under contract of the Army Air Corps. Back then cockpits were not yet heated. After WWII, he used the freed up capacities to extend his production to women’s clothing.

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While down coats are not very fashionable or stylish they are crucial for any outdoor winter activities including camping, ice fishing, hiking, snow-machining, and dog mushing. Invest in a down coat when your climate region has temperatures of 40 below zero. I bought one 13 years ago and never looked back. It permitted me to watch the Iditarod and Yukon Quest starts on the Chena River for two hours without feeling uncomfortable at temperature in the double negative digits. But I admit I avoid wearing the down coat as it makes me look like a dumpling.

Posts of about the fashion history of pea coats, cable knit sweaters, and duffle coats can be read at the links.

Do you own a down coat? Do you like wearing it? How do you style your down coat? When do you wear it? Just curious.

Photos: N. Mölders

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