Made in WA

Eddie Bauer's Original Down Jacket Is More Than Just a Puff Piece

How one outdoorsman's near-death experience spawned Seattle's favorite winter coat.

By Zoe Sayler August 23, 2022 Published in the Fall 2022 issue of Seattle Met

How’s this for cosmic irony: Puffer coatsthe preferred winter fashion statement of a city that’s always dressed like it’s ready for a hike—exist thanks to one Seattle man who, almost fatally, was not.

In January 1935, Eddie Bauer drove out to the remote Olympic Peninsula to fish with a friend, leaving his downtown Seattle sports shop shuttered. The pair had a wildly successful trip, and a sweaty Bauer ditched his mackinaw wool jacket to more comfortably drag his considerable haul of steelhead back to the car. 

Wearing nothing but long underwear and a wool shirt, Bauer stopped for a rest as his companion trudged onward in the snow. He felt himself getting sleepy. Then he felt the moisture on his back begin to freeze. Bauer shot his revolver twice into the sky, alerting his friend of his predicament. “If he was by himself, he definitely would not have survived,” says Kristen Elliott, vice president of marketing at Eddie Bauer.

It was a harrowing experience, but not harrowing enough to get Bauer to hang up the pole during Washington’s frigid winter months. He’d filed a patent application for his shuttlecock the year prior and had a hunch that goose feathers would work just as well to insulate outerwear as they did to improve the flight trajectory of a birdie. 

Bauer’s vision: a jacket, packed with down to make it both warm and breathable enough to wear during strenuous activities, made from high-thread-count cotton to prevent the fill from escaping, and quilted in a diamond pattern to keep the insulation even throughout. He started selling the Skyliner just a year after his brush with death and patented the design in 1940. 

Just about every cold-weather outfitter, from Outdoor Voices to Patagonia, makes a version of the quilted down jacket today (granted, with significant technical advancements). But Eddie Bauer—and, by extension, Seattle—can comfortably lay claim to the original. “That’s a big deal,” Elliott says. “We were here before everybody else.”

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