The New Shell Fishtail


Written by: Aiya Madarang


From cold-weather necessity to spring fashion staple, the fishtail parka has endured far beyond its origins.

It was first designed in the 1950s during the Korean War. A country located directly beneath Russia and the northernmost parts of China, Korea is susceptible to the cold Siberian winds that can cause temperatures in the peninsula to drop far below freezing. As a result, winter in Korea in 1950 was deadly cold, with temperatures as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit. For the US troops stationed at the border between North and South Korea, their winter combat attire was suddenly inadequate.

As a response, the military went on to develop the M-51 parka-shell and parka-liner combination, built from designs of the EX-48 and M-48 and distributed in 1951, to protect combatants against the severe Korean winter. The fishtail on the back of the parka was made for the wearer to be able to tie each section around their legs, trapping body heat and allowing for better mobility. For rain and snow resistance, the M-51 was constructed of a waterproof nylon cotton blend, as opposed to the M-48, which was made of a heavier canvas cotton that was too expensive to mass produce.

Next came the M-65 fishtail parka, the M-51’s next iteration, which featured a detachable hood and synthetic instead of real fur. The M-65 began production in 1968. It was also around this time that the fishtail parka suddenly found itself on the streets of London.