How your winter puffer coat started out as a fishy tale

Can you imagine winter without a puffer buffer? Eddie Bauer, he of the eponymous clothing range and not Jack’s brother, didn’t have much choice back in 1935 when winter fishing with a friend in Washington State.

Puffy and fluffy didn’t exist back then, only woolly and weighty, so Mr Bauer left his heavy coat behind. But hauling 100 lbs of steelhead fish up a river canyon turned his shirt into an ice jacket, and it was only thanks to the presence of his friend that Mr Bauer escaped hypothermia. Almost sounds like an episode of ’24’.

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If you hate emerging from the duvet in the winter, why not take it with you?

Bauer’s brush with death started him thinking about a lighter alternative that would keep winter adventurers like himself warm and dry. He remembered an uncle’s stories of how Russian army officers in Manchuria wore goose down coats to keep them warm. And so the first quilted down jacket in America was born. Plus Mr Bauer knew his fluffy stuff after having patented his own American shuttlecock using a particular goose wing feather. An ingenious man, Mr Bauer.

I’m a recent blow-in to the Windy City, and I have to admit it took me a while to warm to the duvet coat. Or at least all of the first week of the polar vortex last year. The first stage was accepting that what had served as my cozy winter coat for the last umpteen years was only a fall coat – or a Defcon 3, as I now prefer to call it.

I realized why everyone was puffer-ed up and sought out a fashionable-enough version that fell above the knee. To celebrate my immersion, I decided to go for a walk by the lake. And then discovered this was merely the Defcon 2 version and I was only half-way there – I may have been chic but was certainly not Chicagoan. In fact I wasn’t ‘a-go-an’ anywhere. Because my legs had frozen.

And so the only option was the Defcon 1, the long, duck down coat. As in, it’s so long you have to duck down to find the zips at the bottom.

One thing I’m still flummoxed by is why you boys don’t go for a longer jacket. Even back in the 1930s, Mr Bauer could see the need for more down down there and offered the option of a nifty, zippable 8-inch extension to his original Skyliner jacket. When the wind chill makes it feel like 2 below, I can’t understand why you’re not thinking of the two below, if you know what I mean. Unless you can no longer feel the two below.

Perhaps it’s something to do with the word ‘puffer’? Does it sound too much like ‘puff(h)er’? Is there a market for a ‘puff(h)im’? Or how about a more manly-sounding ‘tuffer puffer’?

It’s fair to say things have moved on a bit since 1935, design-wise. There’s the stuffer puffers that come with those little bags you always end up losing so they never get stuffed up anyway. And ruffer puffers with huge collars that make your neck look bigger but direct attention from the rest of your cocooned body. And fluffer puffers with hoods so hairy and bushy it’s almost hard to see the human amongst the feathers and fur. Kind of the puffer world equivalent of ‘surf and turf’.

Come to think of it, why are they even called puffers anyway? I’m not saying Mr Bauer’s ‘Skyliner’ was the catchiest of names but are we really all wandering around wearing something normally associated with an inflatable fish?

Still, given it all began with a fishy story, I suppose it makes sense they’re named after one!

photo credit: chotda margiela duvet front via photopin (license)

Filed under: fashion, weather

Tags: winter

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  • I moved here in 1986 from Los Angeles and promptly bought a long, green down coat - long meaning to my ankles. It looks ridiculous, but when the weather is ridiculous, at least I'm warm.

  • Welcome to ChicagoNow! We, my wife and I, call our puffers "bubble coats." My wife's goes down to her shoe tops. Mine just below the knees. Maybe the lengths have something to do with skirts vs. trousers. I once had a very thick, houndstooth flannel coat that went almost to my ankles. Everyone thought I was a hood hiding a piece under the coat! Especially when I was out of town and said I was from Chicago.

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