Dig this Moncler black nylon parka with a fur hood.
Dig this Moncler black nylon parka with a fur hood. ( Bill Hogan )

Shackleton was nuts. The Anglo-Irish explorer should have been polishing his tan on some remote Bahamian cay, yet there he was slogging through the snow and ice of Antarctica headed for the South Pole.

Nuts, I tell you. But stylish. For Sir Ernest cut quite the dashing figure out in the bitter cold with his trusty parka.

In these softer times, when our most ambitious trek may be from office cubicle to a frosty martini at a bar, a parka remains the essential must-have whenever we confront winter's extremes. Global warming be damned, a parka is hot.

A parka is timeless. Shackleton would have no problem pulling a style off the rack that he'd be instantly comfortable in. But timeless doesn't mean unchanging. He'd likely have to muffle a gasp at today's super-thin, streamlined parkas (Japan's Uniqlo epitomizes the trend) that can be worn alone or layered.

And colors and features have gone way beyond basic olive drab; Moncler, the Euro-based luxury outwear brand, is turning heads with hot-hot-hot metallic jobs more defined than Batman's pumped abs.

Choice, however, holds peril as well as promise. To keep you from looking like the Michelin man, here are some parka answers from menswear style expert Tom Julian, author of "Nordstrom Guide to Men's Everyday Dressing" (Chronicle, $17.95).

How to wear it:

What do you look like? Larger men want to avoid coats with lots of quilting or stitching that makes for a puckering effect. Smaller frames should look for coats with horizontal channel stitching.

Where are you wearing that parka? The ski slopes require one kind of parka, a corporate office another. The outdoors allows for a more rugged model with more bells and whistles (hoods, flap pockets, quilting, decorative logos and patches).

The workplace parka should be plainer, with slit pockets for example. (Think Burberry or Prada with your business suit, Julian advises).

For the weekend, choose a hooded parka (Julian points to The North Face) because it's "roomy, waterproof, insulated."

Can I look cool and still be warm? In colder climes, look for details like gathered sleeves under the cuff or an extra elastic liner to keep wind and snow out. In warmer zones, choose a feather-light parka so thin it acts like a quilted shirt jacket (Julian gives a big thumbs up to Uniqlo).

Watch the details. Choose polyester fillings instead of down if you're buying a less-expensive model because you don't want feathers "escaping" from the lining and sticking to your clothes.