The first puffer garment I can recall was that burnt umber number made famous by Marty McFly. A cool look, for Hill Valley circa 1985, though it seemed those hip cats from 1955 didn’t quite get it. I’m sure you remember all those Coast Guard jokes.
The original puffer though came from Seattle outdoor outfitter Eddie Bauer back in 1936, born from Bauer’s own personal experience when he nearly died of hypothermia on a fishing trip. He sought to create a jacket with loft that would insulate, even in nasty, wet conditions. But the trick with down was how to control its bulk. Bauer created the diamond quilted down jacket, which he called the Skyliner to try and maximize the magic of down, and allow for freedom of movement. Within a year, across the pond, British-born fashion designer Charles James would unveil in Paris an ostentatious women’s down fashion jacket that even caught the eye of Salvador Dali.
Through the ages, the puffer has gone from the equipment of serious outdoor enthusiasts, and of course time travelers, to the mainstream. New York fashion icon Norma Kamali’s sleeping bag coat hit the fashion runways in the early 1970s and the garment remains a staple of women’s fashion. Probably no single scene has done more for the ubiquity of the puffy down jacket than the east coast hip-hop community. Known as the “bubble goose,” down jackets became a New York City rap status symbol, making appearances in videos like the Nas classic “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” and Wu Tang Clan’s anthem “Protect Ya Neck.” Wyclef Jean of the Fugees released a song “Bubblegoose” on his solo album “The Carnival.” More recently, Drake’s video “Hotline Bling” led to a run on the high-end French-made Moncler puffer jackets. Not only were these down jackets a requisite part of the wardrobe, they became part of hip-hop culture, often immortalized in lyrics, like when The Notorious B.I.G. rapped that he had a “deuce deuce in my bubblegoose” on the track “Lean Back.”
For the most part, the jacket’s iconic status seems irrelevant to its overall effectiveness as a piece of must have technical wear. The construction of the puffer or puffy coat is what has made it the standard of outdoor brands of every stripe. As designers have honed in on saving weight and increasing packability, the puffs have gotten smaller and the fits have gotten snugger. It was probably only a matter of time before we saw a not-so-puffy puffer show up in some road kit. Cycling brands are turning toward the puffer design and look as part of technical wear for both on and off the bicycle.
Rapha Explore Down Jacket
Rapha’s Explore Down Jacket is part of the cycling lifestyle brand’s entrance into bikepacking. The Explore has all of the finer touches Rapha is known for. While mostly for post riding, it includes reflective details if you take it riding. And Rapha uses natural down treated with a water repellant finish—even going the extra step of working with Allied Feather to source their down responsibly. The navy version of the Explore sports what looks a bit like a nod to the French tri-color, and Rapha’s released two new colors for this winter.
Velocio Recon Vest
Velocio’s Recon Vest has been redesigned with the puffy look, for an on-the-bike piece of tech wear that has off-the-bike style. The Recon uses a lot of fancy new-fangled approaches to the classic puffer-style garment. The vest’s front is a “Pertex Quantum mini rip-stop ultralight windproof front shell” (say that four times fast) that extends back over the shoulders. Velocio uses the highly engineered, synthetic Polartec High Loft insulation in its tightly wound puffs. The vest is cut with an on-the-bike fit, with plenty of sharp looking accents, a super soft fleece neck lining and their Roubaix fleece on the back that offers a lot of breathability and stretch. In Velocio’s eyes, this is a vest that you can wear both on and off the bike, and I can vouch that it looks sharp with some quality denim and a lightweight sweater after a ride. Like everything Velocio, it’s made in Italy, looks stylish as hell and feels amazing.
GORE C5 1985 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY Insulated Jacket
For the cyclist not sold on the puffy look just yet (perhaps you’re afraid of being the butt of those Coast Guard jokes), the warmth of a puffer without the puffy aesthetic comes in the GORE C5 1985 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY insulated jacket. This high-tech garment uses Polartec Alpha, which is highly durable and more stable than other synthetic insulation products. A more open-construction woven face and back fabrics create an air permeable package. This small amount of airflow rapidly draws moisture away from the body. While the jacket’s name may not necessarily roll off the tongue, with the SHAKEDRY tech, that’s just what the rain will do. The lightweight and perfectly integrated insulation is quite the game changer and makes this jacket stand out from your standard high-end rain shell.