Peacoat? In July? Summer is in full swing right now in the Northern Hemisphere, but in the spirit of solidarity with our global society (and also the spirit of finding a great deal) consider planning your staples for the next season. Since the pandemic scrambled the world and time has since proven irrelevant, temperatures will surely turn chilly before you can finish ordering your margarita on the rocks. We’re here to help.
Whether you’re looking to make use of your extra time by learning a little more, or if you’re joining us in a later season (hello from the past, by the way!) we’re here to share everything you need to know about buying a pea coat before winter comes, from the garment’s storied history to crucial factors for consideration upon beginning your search. Get cozy, and get ready to make this military brat a part of your wardrobe, whether in homage to the pomp and circumstance of service or in reclaiming the aesthetic of that money suck most of our taxes go to.
The History of the Pea Coat
The pea coat originated in the 1800s, when the all-powerful Dutch navy began outfitting their officers in the style. As an object, the peacoat is defined by its double breasted design, apparent through the iconic double column of buttons innate to the look. However, material also plays a huge part. Longevity-minded shopping hub Heddels explains that “The name pea coat originated from the Dutch word ‘pije’…which was used in the Dutch language to describe a coat made from coarse wool fabric.”
The British army followed suit, adopting the peacoat design to fortify their own naval officers. The wool peacoat easily completed this cultural island hop because it was so desirable for the job–made of ultra-durable wool, every great peacoat stands ready to weather the elements. Its slim fit and signature buttons with flared hips kept warmth close to the body while allowing mobility for army officers scaling sails at sea.
Traditionally, the pea coat silhouette should be longer than your average puffer jacket, but not much longer than an overcoat.
Later, the American navy adopted the uniform for their navy too, this time adding cutting-edge new materials of their time–wool blended with acrylic, heat-fused to ensure maximum warmth. By this point an iconic silhouette of the army crowd, the pea coat had positively permeated popular culture. Designers began adapting the garment for everyday wear, drawn to the outerwear’s practicality, elegance, and maybe even nostalgia. Today’s consumer models lose the flair those soldiers once enjoyed, offering a streamlined, classic coat that keeps you warm without proving bulky or sloppy.
Note that the origin story we’ve offered only accounts for one version of the story. Other explanations exist for the peacoat’s beginnings, oftentimes tied back to tailors and men’s magazines. However, many people find this Dutch version the most likely, on account of substantial evidence based on that linguistic connection.
What to look for in a Peacoat
Traditionally, the pea coat silhouette should be longer than your average puffer jacket, but not much longer than an overcoat. That keeps its sleek shape grown up enough that you don’t look like a kid on their way to a baptism, but still tight enough that you don’t seem like a shaggy sailor swept in from sea wearing a formless bag. You can play with the length based on body shape and (more importantly) personal preference, but it’s helpful to bear these guidelines in mind.
Most peacoats are made to fit snug, but you still want a little room to move. Use your chest measurement to determine an appropriate size. To keep the garment at its most trim, subtract two inches from your chest measurement to find your size. If you like your peacoat roomier or anticipate wearing extra layers, then add more inches from that reduced figure. Word on the street also has it that vintage pea coats fit slimmer, so keep that in mind if you’re shopping secondhand.
The tradition of blending wool with new, synthetic fibers lives on, allowing for endless adaptations to the classic pea coat, each more scientifically advanced and ergonomically effective than the last. When looking for a pea coat to last more than one winter, make sure wool’s always included in the mix. Of all the varieties available for this robust, warm natural material, melton wool consistently ranks a fan favorite. Generally, you’ll find the more wool in a potential pea coat jacket, the higher its price tag.
This coat’s collar once proved one of its greatest draws, keeping naval officers safe from storms at sea. Modern pea coats sometimes offer similar benefits, depending on the model you choose. For a warmer, tighter coat, look for the iconic Ulster collar, which keeps flush to the neck. For something a little looser, keep your eyes out for a peacoat with cordage, or some other way to keep a looser collar snug wherever you see fit.
Don’t forget to consider the many ways your new winter peacoat can communicate your own aesthetic sensibilities. Details like color, pattern, buttons, and pockets provide additional features that suit everyday life. Given the pea coat’s timeless nature, rooted in utility, it’s best to err timeless when choosing details. Ideally, your new peacoat should suit several evolutions of you.
Peacoats to Consider Before Winter Comes
From the Army Navy Surplus: U.S. Made Navy Pea Coat
In the market for a peacoat that’s truly built to last? Look no further than your local military surplus store, where overstock garments and other goods are available for civilian consumption. This genuine GI Navy Peacoat is fit for a fighter at war with wind and rain on the high seas. On sale at the strikingly affordable rate of $89.95, this authentic peacoat keeps you warm with a melton wool and nylon blend. Here’s some advice from another surplus store: “If you see a coat with an official looking label or a label that says U.S. Navy it is NOT the military issue peacoat. The USN peacoat will have only the size or a label that reads made exclusively for DSCP who distributes items to the military.”
The Icon: Classic Melton Wool Navy Pea Coat by Schott NYC
If we may inquire a little further, what were all those rugged American naval men allegedly fighting for while wearing their pea coats on the open seas? Ideals of freedom, generally, although the country’s actual relationship to these values proves tenuous at best in retrospect. However, the story of the Schott brothers illustrates the rags to riches kind of tale that kept people coming to America throughout the 20th century. Always down to innovate, this NYC-based brotherly duo created the first jackets with zippers, the first leather motorcycle jackets, and the first pea coats for the US military (for about 60 years!) Their classic wool pea coat now comes in five timeless colors, and a full but simple shape to suit all occasions, ideals, and backgrounds.
Vintage Find: 1950’s – 60’s Marquis by Pacific Trail on Etsy
Timeless sartorial staples, rooted in history and designed for longevity like the classic wool peacoat, lend themselves to vintage treasures. If style ranks high on your list of pea coat priorities, definitely consider your vintage options. Online platform Etsy ranks amongst the most widely respected stores to secure high quality vintage goods. Seller PetesObsolete specializes in curating antique pieces with integrity. “In all the years of collecting, I’ve only found a few Marquis wool items,” reads the seller’s description. “This one is absolutely superb. It’s a heavy wool true double-breasted peacoat style coat, fully lined.” With a unique but versatile copper and olive green patchwork pattern, this peacoat stands apart from its peers with one of a kind style. Catch it while it lasts, or nose around to find something new.
For the Fashion: Polo Stretch Twill Peacoat by Ralph Lauren
This lightweight peacoat from iconic American brand Ralph Lauren might prove better for in-between seasons and layering on account of its cotton construction, but it’s a great choice for those seeking a fashionable fit. Crafted from twill, this fashion-forward navy pea coat includes heavy hitting signature details like corozo buttons engraved with “RL” and an anchor, in homage to the jacket’s nautical origins. You can pop the wide, notched lapels for an extra accent, or keep them down to add a nice touch that pairs well with the coat’s neat cuffs. Keep it for chilly days or anytime you need a little ice to finish off your fashion cake.
All Out Luxury: Bond Peacoat by Billy Reid
If you’re working as a double agent to pair function and form, this luxurious wool peacoat from high end retailer Billy Reid hits all the marks. This Alabama-based brand has earned awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), and for good reason–their clothes are built to last, and keep a hefty dose of attitude to the final hour. This Italian-made peacoat comes from 75% warm melton wool blended with 25% lightweight, durable nylon. Reid then trims the garment with 100% sumptuous calfskin. Fitted in the chest and sleeves with a slight taper in the waist and extensive pockets to accommodate your carry, the Bond Jacket sits fit for an international man of mystery with a great eye for quality.
Summertime Deal: Arlen Wool Blend Peacoat
As promised, there are excellent deals to be found by shopping for your new pea coat in the off-season. Arlen offers a full range of menswear basics to build your wardrobe on a firm foundation. Their take on the classic peacoat keeps the best of what’s made it big, with neutral tones, clean lines, and that iconic six-button front. Two pockets add a nice dimension for aesthetics, but please note they don’t actually function. Reliable for winter weather, this wool peacoat comes crafted from 80% virgin wool and 20% polyamide, providing a blend that keeps you feeling like a July evening all the way into January. Regularly priced at $270, you can snag this find at $189 for a limited time. It’s true what they say: early sailor snags the shark! Enjoy and get ready, because as they also say, “Winter Is Coming.”