You See This Coat is a deep dive into an exceptional or influential piece of outerwear. From the history behind each design to charting significant or noteworthy evolutions, this series should give a little more context to the iconic coats and jackets that have shifted the modern menswear space.

The North Face Mountain Jacket is one of the most tested and celebrated performance shell jackets.

In the 1980s, The North Face’s Director of Equipment was a woman named Sally McCoy. Accompanied by seasoned mountaineers, McCoy embarked on an expedition to Everest basecamp in 1987, nicknamed the “Snowbird Expedition”, which was partly sponsored by The North Face. While the group failed to reach the summit of the mountain, McCoy returned with a framework for the expedition system, a set of modular layering garments. This grouping of layering pieces was intended to be combined and zipped together, creating a performance system for mountain climates. The final result was a collection of pieces including the Nuptse (named after a glacier in Nepal) puffer, the Denali fleece, and the 1990 Mountain Jacket shell. The Chicago Tribune reported on McCoy’s voyage, describing the treacherous conditions; “At night, when subfreezing temperatures caused the ice to harden and expand, loud cracks resounded from the bowels of the glacier, sending shock waves through camp like an earthquake. During the day, large boulders would slide without warning.”

Designed for mountain ascension and ice climbing, the original Mountain Jacket, went on to become synonymous with waterproof, outdoor-performance shell jackets. The original Mountain Jacket was introduced in 1985, then updated by McCoy in 1990 to the more familiar model that we know today. Accompanying products like the Mountain Jacket Light and Mountain pant also derived from McCoy’s Everest expedition, and the collection has evolved and expanded over time, partially inspiring the brand’s Summit Series range.

The Mountain Jacket is perhaps most easily recognizable in its yellow and black incarnation, a color combination which has been imitated by more than a few other brands in the outerwear segment and elsewhere. Anecdotes suggest that The North Face’s Half Dome logo was added to the rear right shoulder and arm of the jacket to make the branding more visible from all angles. The silhouette’s technical details include adjustable Ladderlock straps on the hood, angled chest pockets, and an extra zipper that offers adaptability with The North Face’s Nuptse puffer and Denali fleece. The Mountain Jacket was produced with a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane until 2020, when a new edition was introduced featuring the brand’s proprietary Futurelight waterproofing.

The North Face’s Design Director Darren Shooter summarized this shift from function to fashion by noting to Dry Clean Only, “The Mountain Jacket was first launched in 1985 as The North Face’s most premium and pioneering outdoor jacket, created to give climbers gear that they could wear to comfortably explore challenging locations in extreme elements. But, despite its name, the Mountain Jacket has had an ongoing crossover over into street culture, starting on the streets of New York in the early ’90s.”

In the 1990s, rugged The North Face products like the Nuptse and Mountain Jacket found favour with an unexpected crowd, namely the borough-dwellers of New York City. In some cases, The North Face items like the Mountain Jacket became so desirable that retail theft became colloquially referred to as “racking,” when heists were planned to steal multiple jackets at a time. The North Face also became a status symbol in hip hop, and the Mountain Light notably appeared on the backs of numerous musicians, perhaps most notably in a fire-red colorway in LL Cool J’s 1993 music video for “How I’m Comin'.”

Original colors like red, blue and yellow are historically most associated with the Mountain Jacket, but the jacket’s offerings have expanded in recent years to include new versions in digital camouflage, orange, pink and tonal black.

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