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WHO’S YO PUFF DADDY?
THE HISTORY OF THE PUFFER JACKET

Think it began with Biggie Smalls and Balenciaga? Think again.

WORDS BY REBECCA RHYS-EVANS

From P Diddy to Princess Diana, puffer jackets have been donned by the biggest style icons for decades. Whilst yes, British and rap royalty may have styled theirs slightly differently, you could still consider it a wardrobe staple, much like a pair of Levi’s jeans, Ray Ban sunglasses or Converse sneakers. Like these other comparative ‘essentials,’ the puffer jacket in its various forms – ankle grazing and oversized, fitted and cropped – has peaked and troughed in popularity since its birth in the early 1930’s, reclaimed by different cultures and social classes.  

Like many outerwear garments, the puffer jacket was born out of necessity. And long before Biggie Smalls or Balenciaga reinvented it, the idea was first conjured up by Eddie Bauer, who had a near death experience with hypothermia after he nearly froze to death on a fishing trip wearing a waterlogged wool jacket. It then made its way to high society England, when in 1937 designer Charles James created an evening jacket with a cinched waist and topper-style padding, which now lives in the Victoria & Albert Museum. 

Where outdoor and extreme snow sports such as skiing and climbing had everyone from Lady Spencer to Cher in padded jackets in the name of warmth, it wasn’t for another five decades after Charles James before it appeared again in fashion. This time it was with Norma Kamali’s Sleeping Bag Coat, which was the result of needing to pee whilst on a post-divorce camping trip. A moment we can all relate to, if we’ve ever had the nerve to camp somewhere without toilet facilities, Kamali found herself draped in her sleeping bag as she darted from tent to trees. En route, she thought to herself ‘Oh my God, this is such a great coat.’ She then went home, cut up her sleeping bag to create the first pattern for her Sleeping Bag Coat, and the rest is history. The original prototype is the same one that is still used today, or so the story goes.

It wasn’t long before padded jackets were seen around the world, occasionally filled with drugs on the dancefloor by Studio 54 founder, Steve Rubell, and on the streets of Milan by the Paninari subculture. The inspiration to Pet Shop Boys song Paninaro, these 80s youths were known for their New Romantic musical taste, hanging out around fast food restaurants and wearing short Moncler puffer jackets. Appropriating these outerwear jackets that were made for outdoor pursuits to a ‘street’ aesthetic, caused a shift towards functional fashion.

By the late-80s and early-90s the New York hip hop and streetwear scene had caught on, and puffers, bubble coats and padded varsity jackets were worn by skaters and rappers, including Tupac, P Diddy (aka Puffy) and Salt-n-Pepa. But it was the AW99 catwalks that elevated the puffer when Maison Margiela and Alexander McQueen marched ‘duvet coats’ down the runway, marking the puffer jacket the fashionable winter staple it remains today.

So next time you double-tap on a pic of Bella or Rihanna in a XXL coat, or casually drape your larger-than-life jacket off the shoulders as if you’re Ariana Grande, you’ll be doing it all with thanks to Bauer’s near-death experience, and some.

Looking for your next puffer fix? Look no further – from print to plain, our selection of outerwear will take you from city strolls to slopes.  

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