Puffer jackets were the characteristic clothing item that shaped the style of the eighties. Now they’re making a comeback, lighter and more brazen than ever before.
You’ll see it back on the streets when the wind starts leaving a chill: the puffer jacket with sectioned padding. Padded, quilted, puffer – there’s no getting around it, whether you’re in New York, Berlin or Tokyo. It’s now on the same level as gloves and scarves in being essential for any winter wardrobe, and is even worn on the runway. One interpretation by the brand Ienki Ienki sees it as a knee-length coat.
These pieces were originally produced as ski accoutrement and for a long time were considered a purely Italian phenomenon. They made their way into the fashion world for the first time in the middle of the eighties. During the autumn in Milan, teenagers would stroll about the city centre in colourful puffer jackets, jeans and suede boots. Their brands were Moncler, Levi’s and Timberland, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet their heroes. Usually they would study at private schools, reject Italian music culture and refuse to hold political views. In Germany, they would have been called superficial ‘poppers’, in England maybe snobs and, in Italy, the press called them the ‘Paninari’. Why? These kids preferred sandwiches, that is, American-style panini. The Pet Shop Boys dedicated a song to them, The New York Times wrote about them.
Yet the puffer jackets worn so readily by the Paninari on their Vespas had one disadvantage. The jackets sucked up the water when it rained and quickly transformed into dead weight. How could a Paninaro ever be seen as cool if their jacket had to be hung up to dry on arrival at the disco?!
Puffer jackets disappeared into the deep recesses of wardrobes far and wide as shoulder pad culture temporarily declined. Almost two decades passed before they appeared again. In Milan of all places. Moncler, a brand steeped in tradition, began with a reinterpretation of its flagship model. By that stage, the technology had become so advanced that new, water-repellent materials could improve wearer comfort. The company brought designers such as Thom Browne on board to appeal to trend-conscious customers. The age-old law of fashion proved itself once again as the jacket went from have-not to must-have.
The rearrival of the puffer jacket also saw its feminisation. Designs were given softer silhouettes. They no longer make as brash an image as they did before and shed the connotations of a potentially testosterone-fuelled revolution. The times of the jacket being an armour for the wearer have now passed. Puffer jackets now sit more tightly against the body and emphasise the wearer’s figure. This, in turn, makes for a nice side effect, appearing much more elegant.
Today there is absolute no one who can avoid it. Puffer jackets can be seen in all conceivable variations, from matte to glossy, from jet black to flashy neon yellow, with or without thick waistbands or piping. The puffer jacket has been democratised. Or, as the Paninari would say, it’s pop.