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      History of the N-3B Snorkel Parka

      History of the N-3B Snorkel Parka

      A parka is a popular, warm, functional and stylish hooded coat that’s often lined with faux fur. It was invented by the Caribou Inuits using caribou or sometimes seals skin and it kept the freezing winds and arctic temperatures from their faces as the Inuit’s hunted. These parkas often need to be coated with fish oil to retain their waterproof qualities which must have smelled disgusting! Thankfully, away from the arctic we don’t have to go to such extraordinary lengths but we can still look great and be warm in a fashionable parka. Although it was initially designed for men it became, and remains, hugely popular with women wearers.

      In 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force issued the Jacket, Aircrew, Heavy, Type N-3, the first of a long line of very successful N-3 style parkas. The N-3 evolved into the N-3B by 1958, described as "for aircrew members in extremely cold environments." The N-3B was a single breasted, four pocket, 3/4 length parka with an outer layer of nylon twill (typically sage green), insulated with a layer of wool pile fabric and lined with nylon cloth. The integrated parka hood was fur-trimmed, mouton lined. The N-3B is also known as a "Snorkel Parka" because the hood can be zipped up, leaving only a small opening (the snorkel) for looking out.

      The N-3 Parka evolved through a series of specification changes, starting with the original 1945 issue. The first model of "Jacket, Aircrew, Heavy, Attached Hood, Type N-3" was labeled "Specification No. 3110" and had an olive green nylon outer, wolf fur rim on beaver lined hood, and was wool mouton insulated with a nylon inner lining. Around 1950, after the U.S. Air Force separated from the Army, the model became N-3A, the specification became MIL-J-6279 and the nylon outer was USAF blue in color. By 1958 the parka was known as the N-3B, under specification MIL-J-6279A and was grey in color.

      The N-3 Parka evolved through a series of specification changes, starting with the original 1945 issue. The first model of "Jacket, Aircrew, Heavy, Attached Hood, Type N-3" was labeled "Specification No. 3110" and had an olive green nylon outer, wolf fur rim on beaver lined hood, and was wool mouton insulated with a nylon inner lining. Around 1950, after the U.S. Air Force separated from the Army, the model became N-3A, the specification became MIL-J-6279 and the nylon outer was USAF blue in color. By 1958 the parka was known as the N-3B, under specification MIL-J-6279A and was grey in color.


      The specification continued to evolve from MIL-J-6279B and by the 1970s the color changed to Sage Green under MIL-J-6279F. By then the insulating layer was changed to a warmer, lighter polyester padding. The nomenclature also evolved, becoming "Jacket, Flying, Man's Nylon Twill, Sage Green USAF 1511, Type N-3B" by the time of MIL-J-6279F in 1964. The FSN for this version was 8415-269-0421 in size Extra Large.

      The Jacket specification became a Parka specification, called MIL-P-6279, and continuing to evolve to MIL-P-6279J in the 1980s. The nomenclature was then "Parka, Extreme Cold Weather, Type N-3B." The hood fur had changed slowly from the original wolf and beaver, to coyote, and finally to synthetics. The NSN range appears to be 8415-00-376-1657 to -17xx. In size Large, the NSN is 8415-00-376-1710.

      As of 2009, the specification for Parka, Extreme Cold Weather, Type N-3B is MIL-DTL-6279M, published 9 Dec 2003, a very long run for an item of military clothing. For the Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS), the N3B Parka can be replaced with NSN 8415-01-228-13xx, the Gortex "Parka, Cold Weather, Camouflage" along with its liner.

      The N-3B Parka is usually worn with the matching F1B trousers, which evolved along with the parka. Later versions of the trousers are known as "Trousers, Extreme Cold Weather" (MIL-T-6284) with NSNs in the range 8415-00-394-3598 to 8415-00-394-3619.

      In the same period as the N-3B developed, the N-2B "Jacket, Flying, Man's Heavy" was also fielded, similar to the N-3B but waist length. Both jackets are worn by U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy aircrews as well as others who may acquire them for cold weather duty.

      As with many military garments the N-3B parka was copied and sold to civilian designers and manufacturers and they rose in popularity although the only colour that anyone could buy was sage green. If people opted to get their parka from ex-military clothing stores they had the benefit that they’d be really thick and combat ready, not that civilians needed the second feature but they enjoyed the extra warmth. During the 1970’s and into the 1980’s parkas often bore bright orange quilted padding which became synonymous with them (less so, the yellow, green and blue linings) and there was more choice for the exterior colour, people could choose bright orange, maroon, grey, black, brown, navy, sky blue or the sage green. In the late 1980’s the poor old snorkel parka became unfairly associated with nerdy people, geeks and the term “anorak” was used in a derogatory way. As the image took hold, there was a decline in the parka’s popularity. But that’s not the end of the story.

      Consider Oasis at the height of their music careers in the 1990’s and Liam Gallagher wearing parkas as part of their image of coolness, rock edginess and confidence. They brought the parka right back to where it belonged, at centre stage. Most of the parkas of the 1990’s harked back to the 1950’s designs and indie music fans jumped at the chance to wear their idol’s style of clothes and this added to their parent’s nostalgia for what they used to wear and younger children who wanted to fit in with the trends of the day meant that the glorious parka was an extremely popular fashion item again. The parka remains a firm favourite with designers, on the high street all over europe and north america.


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