So I sent my son off this morning on his first away-from-home-without-the-parents trip. The last I saw of him was the tip of his nose, as he had fully zipped up his beloved snorkel jacket.
Well before Kenny made it a South Park fashion statement, or for that matter appeared as the Sarah Jessica Parka, left, the snorkel was a fixture in late 70s lockers as the unisex overcoat du choix of schoolkids across the northern USA. It also happened to be the overcoat du nécessité, since Sears sold them, our moms bought them, and we didn't know enough to argue for anything better.
We also knew very little about the origins of the style, which is provided in detail on Wikipedia. Here's an extract:
The original Snorkel Parka . . . was developed in the USA during the early 1950s for military use, mainly for flight crews stationed in extremely cold areas, designed as it was for temperatures down to -60 deg. F. Originally made with a sage green DuPont flight silk nylon outer and lining it was padded with a wool blanket type material until the mid 70's when the padding was changed to polyester wadding making the jacket both lighter and warmer. The outer shell material also was changed to a sage green cotton-nylon blend . . . It gained the common name of "Snorkel Parka" because the hood can be zipped right up leaving only a small tunnel (or snorkel) for the wearer to look out of. This is particularly effective in very cold, windy weather although it has the added liability of seriously limiting the field of vision. Earlier (Vietnam-era) hoods had genuine fur ruffs on the hoods; later versions used synthetic furs. Older nylon-shell parkas have a tendency to exhibit a change in color from the original sage green to a shade of magenta due to long-term cumulative exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. To some in the military, this is personally desirable, as it lends to its wearer an aura of seasoned experience (referred to as salty by those in the US Navy and US Marine Corps). However, considered in a tactical environment, this is a liability, as it decreases one's ability to be camouflaged on the ground.
But wait, there's more. This army surplus site, in the UK, adds some interesting detail about how the parka was worn in the 70's:
Whilst the original N3B parka lining was un-quilted and the same colour as the outer shell, the school type parkas usually has quilted orange lining. The measure of a school parka quickly became how grubby the orange lining got through natural wear without washing and many schoolboy parkas ended their days with the lining more black than orange.
OK, fine, that was the boys. We washed ours at least once a season.
Interestingly, it is this very lining that is touted by vintage sellers on eBay (and presumably elsewhere) as a sign of an authentic 70s snorkel parka. So if, by chance, you have a sudden hankering to view the world through a furry personal periscope, an orange (not black!) lining is the retro way to go.