You are currently viewing Fashion History – the evolution to the best down coat
Down coat that insulated me from the cold air when watching the Idiatarod start (front view)

Down clothing in the US

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. Later designers developed  slightly tailored down coats with vertical compartments for a slimming effect and more stylish look. In recent years, the choice of colors increased and down coats with floral or other prints became available.

Type and origin of filling matters for its insulation capacity

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.

Durable light-weight nylon made a break thru in 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.

example of an Arctic rated down coat
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. There is an inner “skirt” with elastic hem so air is hindered to reach your bum. The fur trim on the hood avoids freezing and ice build-up at the face.

Check the chamber structure and cold bridges

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 body-conscious down coats that are favored by most women, are less suitable for real Arctic weather with below 40 temperatures (less than -40C) than the “Michelin man” like style. Under such conditions, those coats are best that have a horizontal chamber box construction plus and an overcoat like the one shown in the photos. This design serves to reduce the impact of these cold bridges.


Down coats are a Must-have in the sub-Arctic and Arctic

While down coats are not very fashionable or stylish, they are crucial for any outdoor winter activities including camping, ice fishing, hiking, snow-machining, cross-country sking, sking, watching the aurora 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 cold protectionwise. 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 that down coat as it makes me look like a dumpling and it is pretty heavy.

Alaskan tip: When you move to Alaska, don’t buy a downcoat where you used to live. Buy it in Alaska to get what you really need.

Down coats in mid-latitude climate

When temperatures don’t tend to go below -40F (-40C) where you live, you won’t need such a heavy coat. There exist charts to check which downfilling weight is sufficient for various temperature ranges. Thus, before investing in a (wrong) downcoat for your lifestyle and/or climate, I recommend to read how to identify the best downcoat for your climate zone.

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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