How Did a Puffer Jacket, the Traveller’s Essential, Become Cool?

Puffer jacket with padded sections as seen at Marques' Almeida, Warehouse and Uniqlo

When I reluctantly bought a chunky red puffer jacket to travel with in 2013, I was pretty embarrassed and filed it under ‘style sacrifices made in the name of adventure’, along with mosquito-proof trousers and walking boots. The thing is, few pieces of attractive clothing are travel-ready, and not much of the contents of your average outdoor shop is fashion-friendly. My jacket had suede elbow patches as a hilarious extra detail, for goodness’ sake.

Though it was really useful for visiting Iceland and Peru, I didn’t feel confident in my bright red monstrosity at all and would’ve preferred something that didn’t remind me of my style mistakes in the late 90s and early Noughties (read: huge Adidas blue and yellow boys’ padded coat, worn circa 1999-2001 and alternated with a lime green fleece. It’s a wonder I wasn’t put up for adoption).

Padded red coat for winter travel used in Iceland
Even the wooden bloke outside this Reykjavik souvenir shop was embarrassed to be seen with me.

Imagine my shock, then, to find padded jackets and coats appearing in fashion magazines for Autumn/Winter 2016, having found their way from outdoor clothing outlets to the high street.

Marques’ Almeida, a Portuguese-British designer label du jour, is best known for designing playful denim pieces. However, its deconstructed version of the classic puffer jacket has gone down a storm (pardon the winter weather pun) with the fashion crowd and seemed to kick-start the trend.

Portuguese British coat with asymmetric hem, padding and gingham ribbon, for Autumn/Winter 2016
The nonchalant cooler cousin of the hiking shop coat, by Marques’ Almeida. Credit: marquesalmeida.com.

Its cropped version hangs in a haphazard way, resembling the airport look of someone who’s very jetlagged, harassed by fellow passengers and not quite sure if they’ll make their flight connection. The longer version is more recognisable, but both are tied with gingham ribbon, in that makeshift sort of way that often happens when you’re on the road and don’t have spare buttons, safety pins or much sanity left.

Whilst a few luxury brands have long been selling similar products (such as Moncler), and Maison Martin Margiela made a ‘duvet’ coat in the same vein for a 2012 H&M diffusion line, the demand for the puffer style has been surprisingly strong this season. For those who can’t face the price tag or the unusual silhouette, more wearable padded jackets are all over the high street and they won’t leave you looking like the Michelin Man.

Uniqlo padded jacket with ultra light down and Liberty print in cornflower blue
It’s not exactly a sexy purchase, but this Uniqlo coat will serve you well. Credit: uniqlo.com.

Ultra-Light Down by Uniqlo: The Gateway Drug of Puffer Jackets

The super-practical Uniqlo is an obvious place to start, as it’s long been singing the praises of ultra-light packable jackets. However, I’ve always hated its customer service: most of the staff are disinterested, bordering on downright rude, and the sizing means anyone above a size 10 (which I definitely am) is considered huge.

Despite these annoyances, Uniqlo does sell a vast range of colours and a few different styles (I own the black bomber jacket, which makes me look a tiny bit like a chav bouncer, but is incredibly useful). They’re genuinely packable, too; each coat has a tiny drawstring bag tucked inside so you can fold it all away.

Padded puffer or puffa jacket as seen on the British high street for aw16
This trend definitely reminds me of the 90s-00s. Credits, L-R: Topshop, Warehouse, ASOS.

Other Padded Puffer Jacket Options

  • Warehouse stocks a sleek longline coat (£99) with an asymmetrically placed zip, and a faux fur collar for extra warmth. Great if you’re not comfortable with the bulky look.
  • I’m also a fan of the satin pieces at Topshop (£69, in Rust or Khaki) but they’re best kept out of the rain, which kind of defeats the point when you’re travelling in winter and likely facing rain/snow/sleet.
  • If you’re in the mood for print, Gudrun Sjoden has a leaf-print padded jacket in eco cotton and recycled down, at £349. Pricey but ethical.
  • My mum still has an original Puffa brand jacket from the 80s – it’s a thin navy and white stripe design. Find branded Puffa jackets at ASOS, including a very 90s/00s silver number for £95, or try your luck at TKMaxx.

Would you brave a classic traveller’s puffer jacket, or are you more tempted by the fashion alternatives? I’m intrigued to find out.

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