What’s the story with puffas?

May 27


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On four types of puffer and why the down jacket does not mean the same thing to all people.

WHAT’S THE STORY WITH G AND THE PUFFA JACKET? I ASKED MY FRIEND S.

She worked with G when we started dating back in 2011. S and I had immigrated from the same small town in Ireland to New Zealand that year.

They are all at it here. Puffa jacket to the shop. Puffa jacket on a night out. S said.

At the time I was working 20 hours a week in Kmart. One day, my co-worker, who I thought the height of glamour even in our uniform, came to my counter in a puffa jacket. S was right, they were all at it. I asked G about the puffa jacket.

Why are you wearing that jacket?

This? He tugged at his puffa jacket. He looked confused. It’s warm, goose-feather.

I’m allergic to feathers. I said after we looked at each other for a bit.

Is that why you don’t want me to wear it? No, I just think it’s manky.

“This is the puffa that will take you from mountain to office to night”

[manky (adj.): Dirty, filthy. Informal: Ireland, Cork. Use: His hair was manky.]

There was a hole in G’s puffa that he’d attempted to sew up. Some goose feathers poked out. I couldn’t handle that hole. There are all types of puffa jackets. This is the first type: ‘the puffa jacket I’ve had since I was 16 / my first puffa jacket’.

I am working-class, and from a working- class area. Working-class in West Cork often wears a puffa jacket. Working-class does not equal puffa jacket. I never wore a puffa jacket in Ireland. Unlike in New Zealand, the people in Ireland who wear puffa jackets are not usually the people climbing mountains. I look up Irish model Roz Purcell on Instagram. My friends in Ireland say she’s making walking sexy. No sign of a puffa jacket on her Instagram (@rozannapurcell). Lots of one-shoulder tops.

This is the second type: ‘the puffa-about- town’. In New Zealand, a practical puffa- wearer needs to protect against weather. The Irish puffa-about-town wearer most often wears the jacket open, hands stuffed in pockets, walking with purpose. Seeing a man about a dog. The second type might be called ‘chavs.’

[chav (noun). Informal: British. Derogatory. Loutish youth prone to anti-social behaviour. Known for wearing athletic casual clothing for fashion, not sport.]

Lynsey Hanley [. . .] locates the idea of ‘chavs’ within the complexities of working-class communities, where the word can be used to differentiate between ‘those who aim for “respectability” and those who disdain it’ [. . .] But these terms were localised, used within a community to delineate internal hierarchies, rather than to section off an entire community by those at one socio-economic remove from it. – ‘Is ‘Chav’ a Feminist Issue?’ Rhian E Jones, badreputation.org.uk

I have lived in New Zealand on and off for ten years and find little conversation about the complexities of class. Class is an essential intersection of consideration when thinking about mountain culture. Who are the mountains for? Accessibility obviously stems further than class or monetary inaccessibility. Eli Clare is a white, disabled, genderqueer writer and activist whose work focuses on queer, transgender and disability issues. Clare writes, “I will never find home on the mountains. This I know. Rather home starts here in my body, in all that lies imbedded beneath my skin.”

When I see a puffa jacket, I think of home not the mountains. I think of the essential impracticality of the puffa. The fact that the puffa, most often, does not have a hood. The puffa must be paired with something else. In Ireland, the puffa is mostly paired with a baseball hat. This pairing is essentially practical, the hat will protect you from the rain. The imminent rain.

In New Zealand, I see the beanie as the accessory of choice. A beanie with the furry bobble on top. Contrary to category, my father always pairs his puffa with a beanie, known as a wholly hat. My father is contrary for a lot of reasons, but stylistically there is one distinction, his puffa of choice is sleeveless. The third category: ‘the sleeveless’. My mother has forever extolled the virtues of the sleeveless puffa as they keep the kidneys warm. My mother dons her sleeveless to journey to her mountain of choice, down town. My father’s mountain stems the journey from our bungalow down the cul-de-sac to the last house and back with the dog, his sleeveless tucked into the sides of his electric wheelchair, wholly hat jammed on his head. The sleeveless in New Zealand seems to have followed a similar trajectory, as fodder for boomer wardrobes.

G used to laugh at the mountains in Ireland. Big hills, he called them. He missed mountains the most from the Irish landscape. Some people come to New Zealand and embrace the mountains. Embrace the puffa. This brings us to our fourth and final category: ‘the 2-in-1’. The 2-in-1 is the puffa that could on first glance be mistaken for a sleeping bag. If I was wont one day to become a mountaineer, then this is the puffa I could get on board with. I could lie down at a moment’s notice. This is the category of puffa most embraced by non-traditional wearers. This is the puffa that will take you from mountain to office to night, worn open to showcase the designer silks and high-heeled boots beneath. There is no cross-continental comparison in category four. The findings across both countries are similar.

I didn’t imagine when leaving Ireland that a puffa jacket would become a sustaining image of homelessness.

Only later did I understand what I lost by leaving. Loss of a daily sustaining connection to a landscape that I still carry with me as home. Loss of a rural, white, working-class culture that values neighbours rather than anonymity, that is both tremendously bigoted — particularly racist — and accepting of local eccentricity, that believes in self-sufficiency and depends on family — big extended families not necessarily created in the mold of the Christian right. Loss of a certain pace of life, a certain easy trust. – Eli Clare

I have climbed mountains here. I have worn a puffa jacket. I will never own one. Some losses cannot be categorised.

WORDS: EMER LYONS ART: LIZ BRESLIN


This article is even better in print.


1964: mountain culture / aotearoa is a reader-supported magazine that explores Aotearoa New Zealand’s remote places and the people who seek them out. Working with more than thirty artists, photographers, writers, woodworkers and welders, we advocate for and support Aotearoa’s creatives.

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