Down Vests and Jackets

Down is a natural fiber found on waterfowl such as ducks and geese. These birds have a layer of fluffy feathers known as down underneath their regular feathers that traps air and helps the animal keep warm, even in icy water. Plucked off the bird and sewn between layers of fabric, down becomes an excellent insulation in human clothing, mattresses, and sleeping bags.

An orange down vest. Since down is an insulation material, the fabric that covers it has been able to change with the style of the times. Reproduced by permission of © .

Many people have recognized and used the insulating quality of down. Even before the arrival of explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) in the New World in 1492, Native Americans were known to use a mixture of wool and down to make warm blankets, and down and feathers were used for centuries to make warm, soft mattresses. The first manufactured down garment was made by Seattle, Washington, outdoorsman Eddie Bauer (1899–1986) in 1936. After he almost died on a winter fishing expedition, Bauer designed and marketed the Skyliner, a down-insulated jacket. The jacket was so effective in combating cold weather that Bauer made flight jackets and other down clothing for the military during World War II (1939–45).

It was not until the late 1960s, however, that down jackets and vests first caught the public imagination. Skiers such as 1968 American Olympic bronze medallist Suzy Chaffee (1946–) had glamour and flamboyance, and they wore brightly colored down vests and jackets. These soon became widely popular, especially the vests, which were a very practical design for those who were active out in cold weather. The wild colors and bright designs fit in well with the styles of the 1970s. At first mainly popular in areas like Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, which were known for outdoor sports, down was soon seen everywhere.

Because of its practicality as an insulation material, down remained very much in fashion after the 1970s, changing with the style of the times. In 1985, for example, classic raincoat manufacturer London Fog introduced a down jacket. Synthetic, or man-made, alternatives to down were also invented, such as 3M's Thinsulate and DuPont's Hollofil.

The 1990s saw a new rise in popularity for down, as innercity youth began to buy "bubble jackets" or "fat jackets," nicknames for puffy down jackets. Noting the popularity of Eddie Bauer down jackets among urban young people, companies like Turbo Sportswear began to design hip down jackets with brand names like Triple F.A.T. Goose, South Pole, and First Down.


Allstetter, Billy. "Triple F.A.T Goose Heads to the Suburbs After Becoming a Hit on Inner-City Streets." Adweek's Marketing Week (February 12, 1990): 17–19.

Tierney, John. "Phat City Can't Last, Fashion Archaeologists Say." The New York Times (January 21, 1999): B1.

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