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Earlier this fall, with the deep freeze of winter on the horizon, James Ralston took a radical step: He gave away his Canada Goose parka, a big-ticket item he’d purchased just three years earlier. “I was over it,” explained Mr. Ralston, 25, a merchandise coordinator in New York City. “I like to wear things that are unique, and the Canada Goose parka at this point is just extremely run-of-the-mill.”
Though Mr. Ralston’s relegation of his pricey parka to the donation bin might seem reckless, each year as the cold fronts rush in, so too do crowds of men and women in those dark, thigh-length Canada Goose parkas. We’ve all seen them, often in classic black, with a coyote-fur-trimmed hood and an unmistakable circular red badge on the arm or across the pocket, as ubiquitous as Filson bags.
While Canada Goose (originally known as Metro Sportswear) has been around since 1957, its sales have increased by a staggering 450% since 2011. Priced up to $1,500, the rugged-sleek parkas, which can make one feel a bit like Hillary ready to scale Everest, became a winter status symbol. Kate Upton wore one on Sports Illustrated’s cover in 2013, and celebs such as Andrew Garfield and Jimmy Fallon have been spotted with their hoods a-flying in Manhattan.
Mr. Ralston, though, has confidently moved on to an icy gray puffer jacket by British label J.W. Anderson. “It fills the same need as the Canada Goose,” he said, but with far more distinction. Mr. Ralston’s new jacket meets a set of stylish criteria: It’s noticeably inflated, some would say beefy; it’s cut sharply to waist-length; its quilting is deep and conspicuous; and its color is what you might call “interesting.”
Such showy puffers even made an appearance on rarefied Parisian catwalks for fall 2017, popping up at Raf Simons in massive, Michelin-Man proportions; at Dior Homme in a moody, monochrome floral motif; and at Ami, with stacked, bubbly quilts. The message is clear: When it comes to current fashion cred, an amped-up puffer jacket packs a level of panache that a see-it-coming-and-going knee-length parka can’t deliver. Rather than swallow you up from shoulders to shins, a lively puffer acts as an exclamation point atop a winter look, be it a navy wool suit or a cashmere cable knit and jeans.
“Canada Goose is more about function over fashion,” said Rob Sills, the buyer at Hirshleifers, a posh department store in Manhasset, N.Y. Mr. Sills sees no problem with Canada Goose parkas from a practical standpoint, but he steers style-minded customers toward lighter, sportier Moncler puffers in a range of poppy shades.
Justin Dean, the men’s buyer at Kith in New York City, favors similar styles. “A puffer is fun and feels youthful in a way that a traditional parka just doesn’t.” For this season, Mr. Dean is fond of the throwback look of a dusty yellow puffer (a la the Uniqlo number below), which harks back to the overstuffed Nautica coats of the 1990s. Some of the retro puffers even have a glossy texture. It’s not for everyone, but for a grown up Beastie Boy, it may be just the thing.
Mr. Ralston said he loves how the pumped-up look of his J.W. Anderson puffer ensures he’s not just another goose in the flock: “I’m sure I’m not going to see anybody with the same jacket.” All that style, of course, would be for naught if the puff were pure fluff. Not to worry, said Mr. Dean, “You don’t need to cover your entire body with a jacket to stay warm.” What you do need are those down feathers to keep your core toasty. As Mr. Ralston said of his jacket, “It’s literally stuffed to the gills.”
Illustration: Victoria Tentler-Krylov