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Hot off the review of the Alpha Industries M-65, I knew that the M-59 Fishtail Parka would be my next review. While not as iconic at the M-65, the original design in which the M-59 is based on has quite the story to tell.
- Price $180 on alphaindustries.com
- Material 60% cotton/40% polyester (outer), 100% poplin cotton (lining)
- Made in China
Overview and History of the Alpha Industries M-59 Fishtail Parka
Being one of the longest-running military contractor for the US Army, there is a reason why most of Alpha Industries' products carries a distinct military style. The M-59 is no difference, especially since it's based on the legendary US Army M-51 Fishtail Parka.
It was the Korean War that made the US Army realized that their standard combat uniforms weren't going to work in the brutal cold. This led to the development of four models of cold weather combat garments; EX-48, M-48, M-51 and the M-65.
The “M” in the models stand for “military” and the “EX” stands for “experimental”. The number refers to the year in which the models were produced. The EX-48 was the first prototype piece that led to the other three models.
The M-51 came about because the M-48 was too expensive to mass produce due to the use of wolf, coyote or wolverine fur on the ruff on the hood. The sleeve pocket was also removed on the M-51.
After the M-51, the jacket did see one last revision, the M-65. This version comes with a detachable hood. However, it didn't get the time it needs as the war soon ended after its introduction.
The M-59 is Alpha Industries' own version that's based on the M-51 model with a few upgrades for modern times. The 59 here refers to 1959, the year that Alpha Industries first begun their business as a contractor for the US Army.
The idea for the parka was that it would be able to keep soldiers warm without hindering their movement. The fishtail parka was three-quarter in length to keep them warm, while the split in the back of the jacket allowed them to move freely.
The real innovation was how the split allowed the wearer to tie half of the split around each leg with the drawstring, for more warmth and wind resistance. Many thought that the split looked like the tail of a fish, hence the name “fishtail” parka.
The fishtail parka came into the consumer market with the rise of mod culture in the UK. Mod is a music and fashion-focused subculture, with interests in slim-cut, tailor-made suits with narrow lapels, Vespa scooters, modern jazz music, and of course, fishtail parkas.
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Mods ride scooters, mostly Vespas, because they were a symbol of Italian style. At the same time, this puts their immaculate suits at risk, susceptible to oil and road dust. The fishtail parkas were used to keep those suits clean while riding, largely chosen because of their practicality, cheapness and availability from military surplus shops.
The M-59 from Alpha Industries is based on the US Army's M-51. The overall silhouette is similar, but Alpha Industries have made some changes to the design to make it their own.
The US Army actually removed the sleeve pocket when transiting from the M-48 to the M-51. But, the Alpha Industries M-59 comes with a sleeve pocket on the left arm. However, this sleeve pocket isn't a replicated from the M-48. Instead, it's based on one of Alpha Industries most popular designs, the Alpha Industries MA-1.
At 6'0″ and 205 lbs, I got a size large. Large is the size I get for most American clothing brands. Based on my experience with the M-65, I suspected that Alpha Industries outerwear tend to fit large. However, the (unhelpful) fit description listed for M-65 is “core”, while it's “standard” for the M-59. This makes me think there is a possibility that it might not be as oversized and I was right.
The size large for the M-59 is close to the fit you get on most American clothing brands, like The North Face or Patagonia. The M-65 is oversized so these two will fit differently. Rather than being smaller all around, the M-59 is notably slimmer, especially when zipped up. However, unless the M-65 was too slim or tight for you, I will suggest going for your usual size with the M-59. For me, the size was a “just” size with the shoulders fitting exactly and sleeves ending perfectly at my wrists like it was tailored for me.
If you want the jacket to be slimmer, you can choose to bring it in with the drawstrings around the waist. However, I prefer the fit without doing so. The fit can look and feel a little deceptive. It feels and look large when unzipped but is actually true to size when zipped.
If you are thinking of heading into the office, zipping it all the way up in additional to bringing the waist in with the drawstrings, can result in a much cleaner look.
While the entire jacket is black, the hardware like the zippers and snap-on buttons are a dull silver. It isn't the most tactical of choices, but still manages to stay subtle as part of parka. Despite the leather tabs on the waist drawstring showing as brown on the product images, the one I got was in black, contributing to the stealthy all-black look.
I designed a thing.
I found a 100 year old company that would create these heirloom quality canisters for me. They are handmade and will keep your tea leaves, coffee beans or anything that you need dry for years to come.
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The parka comes with minimal branding. There is Alpha Industries' signature red “Remove Before Flight” flag attached to the zipper of the sleeve pocket and it is, thankfully, removable. I removed it the moment I got it. The only other bit of a branding is a barely-noticeable tab with the icon logo attached to the sleeve pocket.
As expected from a fishtail parka, it is long that the front will run about a quarter down your thighs, where the back of the parka will go down about two-thirds down your thighs. The silhouette of the piece is classic, and hard to go wrong.
If, for some reason, you prefer a more regular jacket styling, you can also choose to button up the fishtail to muffle that detail. Note that this does not make the jacket shorter, but simply conceals the fishtail.
While I always prefer drawing as little attention as possible, having it buttoned up somehow makes me think that it will draw more attention. This is because the fishtail suits the length of the jacket and removing it makes it look odd, especially in context of the two prominent silver button tabs above it.
Unlike the M-65, the hood is generous and will cover your head well. It extends slightly out to protect your face from rainfall.
The material of the fishtail parka is 60% cotton/40% polyester. The polyester is usually blended in to provide more durability. The interior is made of 100% cotton poplin for comfort and warmth.
These are clearly not as high tech as fabrics like GORETEX or Cordura. While the fabrics have not been tested in world-class laboratories, they have been tested by soldiers and have stood the test of the warzones.
Even though Alpha Industries were contractors for the US Army back in the day, their current line of products are mostly made in China. Some might think made-in-China equals to low quality, but this is no longer the case in recent times. Even brands like Outlier use Chinese factories to produce some of their best products, like the Outlier Ecstasy in the Rain. I've found that it comes down to quality control and finding the right partner, which I believe Alpha Industries did a fantastic job of.
The pockets of the M-59, unlike the M-65, are slanted for easy hand-insertion. It was very natural for me to slide my hands in whenever I had idle hands. It is spacious enough to contain your everyday-carry accessories like a mobile charger alongside your hands.
The angle of pocket opening wasn't one that would have made easy for its contents fall out. The pockets come with a flap closure with snap buttons. I usually just leave them unbuttoned since I didn't feel like the contents were prone to theft or falling out. It is also interesting to note how to pocket extends out into the flap so that it can cinch down on the opening when closed for added security.
Apart from the two pockets for your hands, the only other pocket is the sleeve pocket. The pocket unzips from one side and there are four pen slots on top of the pocket. I'm not one who would use a pocket that's in an awkward position like this. While the pocket can barely fit my NOMAD Shell Cordovan Wallet, removing it isn't a smooth operation. If I would put anything in here, it would be my Apple AirPods with NOMAD Active Rugged Case.
The cuffs also come with two tightness setting controlled two buttons. However, unlike the M-65 that has wide cuff openings, I didn't feel the need to adjust the cuff on my M-59. The opening was just the right size for me.
Since the fit is rather slim, there is limited range of movement of your arms. Lifting your arms up, you will feel substantial tension pulling the rest of the jacket up. This issue is present whether you leave it unzipped or not, although obviously more severe with it zipped up.
Like most military jackets, the M-59 is highly utilitarian—purpose-driven without any compromise on style. It is hard to go wrong with something based on a piece of military classic. It's built to last, versatile and looks great. These combination of factors makes it extremely easy to put on and hard to go wrong with.