The puffa jacket 15.06.15

crimes puffa

From UK high streets to the playgrounds of the international jet set, why does everyone want to get trussed up like a DayGlo Michelin Man, asks John Jervis?

Venice in winter has many pleasures: the comparative absence of tourists; the weather spinning rapidly from bright sunshine to low-hanging mists, guaranteeing dramatic backdrops. And it is, of course, Venice. But a visit comes with one certain peril – your eyes will be assaulted by a seemingly endless expanse of puffa jackets.

If you are unfamiliar with this particular item of winter clothing – essentially a sleeping bag with arms – a brief trip to Italy, the home of high fashion, will provide you with an over-complete education. Even as you arrive at Marco Polo airport, you are funnelled under a 20m-long advertisement displaying pert young Italians, all sporting shiny plastic that has been dyed myriad colours (with a bias to deep, fleshy maroons and cheap fluorescents) and sewn into tight, bursting horizontal sections or, occasionally, natty diamond patterns.

The intention, for those that choose to wear such garments, is that – at least in their own estimation – they appear as if fresh off a ski slope, glowing with the suggestion of healthy physical endeavour. Sadly, the fantasy is misplaced. The puffa jacket’s glossy shell is far from flattering to the human form, its taut bulk highlighting any hint of fleshy excess, particularly on the squatter amongst us, with results that recall the Michelin Man’s tyred frame. And the surface’s taut, stretched quality is inherently repellant, with a packaged appearance that makes wearers resemble tightly trussed pork joints, with fatty skins primed for roasting, a situation often exacerbated by thin crinkly belts and cinched waists.

I appreciate the pain this may cause to those of a certain age who cherish memories of Michael J Fox breaking hearts in his orange vest, which the bewildered inhabitants of small-town America in the 1950s could only suppose to be a sailor’s life jacket. Sadly, those innocent days are long gone – sports firm Moncler, which originally produced the puffa jacket for Alpine workers, has made a recent, unseemly scramble upmarket, hawking them instead to tanned oligarchs at surreal prices for ski and urban wear. And, in a pincer movement, puffa jackets have also become ubiquitous across the globe thanks to Uniqlo and the like, who peddle them as risk-free non-fashion to the world’s youth.

Individuality and interest, yet sadly not prestige, have been squeezed out of the style, but its hegemony remains intact – the fashion industry is cynical enough to traffic in anything we are tasteless enough to purchase. The streets of Venice – and London – are likely to remain despoiled by glistening clusters of human salami for the foreseeable future.



John Jervis

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The puffa jacket’s glossy shell is far from flattering to the human form, particularly on the squatter amongst us

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