A Man’s Guide to the Pea Coat

Style is one aspect of life that seems to be ever-changing.  What is popular one day goes out of the style the next.  When it comes to men’s style, there are few articles of clothing that transcend generations. 

While top hats and spectacles are unlikely to make a stylistic comeback anytime soon, one clothing article that has survived throughout generations is the pea coat. 

Dating back almost three hundred years, the men’s pea coat is one fashion statement that continues to thrive more and more with time.  As we look back at the history of this fashion trend, we will also look at the contemporary style and how it has molded trends that we now see today.

What is a Pea Coat?

A pea coat is an outer coat that usually is composed of navy-colored heavy wool.  This style of fashion originated with European sailors and dates back as far as the 1720’s, nearly three hundred years ago. 

Some of the common characteristics of the pea coat include:

  • Short length
  • Broad lapels
  • Double-breasted fronts,
  • Large buttons that are made of wood, metal, or plastic

The pea coat is considered a classically-designed jacket that adds a sense of touch and class to almost any outfit.  It allows today’s modern man to go from casual to dressy with ease.  Although most pea coats retain similar styling, slight modifications have been added to reflect modern stylistic preferences.

As a classic garment with modern appeal, the pea coat is available from most retailers in a similar style.  The historical standards for pea coats meant that it contained thirty ounces of wool usually made from heavy Melton cloth up until the 1970’s.  After that point in time, the amount of wool used has fluctuated from twenty-two to thirty-two ounces.  The US Navy uses a dark blue color pea coat although retailers now have numerous coloring options available. 

Generally used as an outercoat that gives an extra layer of warmth in colder climates, the pea coat is now seen on every street corner in America as a timeless trend that speaks both class and style simultaneously.

The Origins of the Pea Coat

The pea coat has origins that date back nearly three hundred years to the 1720’s.  Early pea coats were mainly used as a military issue dress item but eventually made its way to the mainstream with the passage of time. 

Although the style has transformed slightly, all pea coats retain the same style and look.  The term pea coat comes from the Dutch word of “pjjakker” referring to the type of cloth that was originally used in production.  This cloth was a coarse material made with twilled blue cloth.  The portion of the word “Jakker” meant short, heavy coat.

pea coat

The US Navy claims that pea coat refers to “pilot cloth” which is a heavier material and the “P” in pea coat references the first letter of the word pilot, later giving way to the term pea coat.

The deep-rooted military influences of the pea coat were first worn in the 1800s by the Dutch Navy.  While the Dutch can be credited with the invention of the pea coat, the British are the ones that made the style popular.  Like the Dutch, the British also designed a version of the coat for petty officers. 

As popularity increased in Europe, the jacket eventually made its first appearance in the United States.  The US Navy initially used the coat for sailors that were known as “reefers.”  These sailors had the duty of climbing up the side portion of ships. 

The common thread throughout each military use was the essential need for durable outerwear that withstood all weather conditions including rain, wind, freezing temperatures, and volatile life at sea. 

Today, much of the original intentions of the pea coat still apply today.  People wearing pea coats in cold weather climates still seek a jacket that can withstand difficult weather conditions.  However, today’s modern man also wants a jacket that is stylish with a modern day twist.  Although much of the original pea coat remains unchanged, there are some changes the jacket has seen with time.

Different Styles of Pea Coats

Although most pea coats all maintain the same stylistic preferences, they do come in different variations with subtle differences.  A pea coat is a classic and timeless piece to be worn by men of all shapes and sizes, but this double-breasted jacket comes in a variety of different styles. 

The styles of pea coat include:

  • The Classic Pea Coat
  • The Bridge Coat
  • The Single Breasted Pea Coat

The Classic Pea Coat

The classic style of pea coat is the one that has existed for over three hundred years.  The look of the classic pea coat consists of a cropped, double-breasted cut that flairs out slightly.

This style allows the user to have additional room without the confinement that comes with some traditional jackets.  A large collar is also present which helps you stay warm in cooler temperatures. 

Generally, this style of jacket will also contain a notch lapel but sometimes may contain a version that gives an alternative look to the traditional styling.

The Bridge Coat

The bridge coat is different from its predecessor in that it is a substantially longer jacket that also has a slightly different appearance.

The bridge coat was created for officers that were stationed on the bridge of a ship.  The same large collar and double-breasted style remain largely the same as the classic pea coat.

Other potential differences that exist with this coat include occasional use of brass buttons.  This look tends to be considered a bit dressier compared to the original pea coat.

The Single-Breasted Pea Coat

Judging by the name you can most likely guess as to where the name of this coat originates.  The single-breasted pea coat is different from others because the flaps do not overlap in the same manner as it’s double-breasted brother. 

Also, there is only a single row of buttons giving it a style that more closely resembles a traditional style of jacket. 

This type of pea coat is considered to be more casual compared to the other styles and shares similar elements with a traditional jacket.

Men’s pea coat jackets are diverse and come in all different styles.  The manner in which you wear them is entirely up to you.

How to Choose a Pea Coat That’s Right for You

Now that you have some level of familiarity with the different types of pea coats that exist, you can be better informed of the different stylistic tendencies.  Choosing a pea coat that is best suited for you can take a bit of time and effort to determine the best fit.  Some factors to use in your decision-making process include:

  • Fabric
  • Ideal Fit
  • Color

What is the Best Fabric?

Contrary to popular belief, pea coats are not always made of wool.  Although original pea coats were almost entirely made of wool, today’s coats have a variety of different options available.  In the military today, the US Navy issues a men’s peacoat that is 80% wool and 20% artificial fibers in the 24-ounce variety. 

Today peacoats can be found in materials such as canvas, cotton, or nylon.  The difference is that once the fabric of a pea coat is changed drastically from its original wool roots, it no longer is considered a pea coat.  Although the styling may still be the same, it does not necessarily garner the same type of classification. 

The percentage of wool that is used in each pea coat may vary slightly.  Wool tends to be the warmest fabric if warmth is the most important factor you are searching for.

Finding Your Ideal Fit

Pea coats are partially unique from other jackets because they are warm while maintaining a valid sense of mobility.  A pea coat allows the body to move freely regardless of whether you are strolling through Central Park or moving through crowds at your favorite concert. 

To get a sense of how a pea coat should fit, first think about your intended purpose for the jacket.  Will it simply be a jacket you throw over a light shirt or do you plan on wearing a vest or blazer underneath it? 

The pea coat can be tailored after purchase, but the most important factor to first consider in fit is the shoulders.  When trying on a potential purchase option, make sure that the shoulder seams of the coat to end where your shoulders end.  The shoulders should neither be too small where wrinkles are visibly seen nor too big where they simply sag out too wide. 

The next item to consider in fit is the sleeves themselves.  Place your arms straight down, bend the wrist with palms facing downwards, and the sleeves should slightly touch the top portion of your hand. 

The fit on the body is often difficult to perfect.  The coat should not be too roomy, or it will look too large for your body.  On the other hand, it should not constrict the midsection or be difficult to move around in.  If you are wearing another jacket(s) underneath the pea coat, consider going slightly larger to accommodate those circumstances. 

The last part of a pea coat that will vary is the length.  There are three lengths including:

  • Upper-thigh
  • Mid-thigh
  • Knee high

A pea coat should never go past the knee, or it just ends up looking odd regardless of the person wearing it.  You must visually balance the proportions of your body and consider receiving an outside opinion from a salesman or significant other before purchasing.  The jacket doesn’t make the man, but the man can definitely make the jacket.

Discovering the Best Color

The most common color variety of the pea coat is Navy blue.  Because the jacket was first popularized by military use, it is no coincidence that this color is still the most popular option today.  Although pea coats traditionally are Navy blue, other options include tan, black, or dark grey. 

If this is the first pea coat you are purchasing, it is always the safest bet to choose the traditional Navy styling.  The appeal of navy is that it can be used in a casual setting alongside jeans and a pair of Converse.  A button up does not need to be worn underneath, and a simple turtleneck or knit sweater can be worn instead.

A black pea coat is a valid option that is best used for casual days and can be paired with colors such as red or white.  A sweater may be worn underneath on relaxed, casual days.  A black pea coat may also be used in the business type setting to offset a grey suit underneath.

A grey pea coat is a popular way to switch it up from black or navy.  Grey can be teamed up with other color combinations such as navy, burgundy, or certain varieties of green. 

A tan or camel color pea coat is a neutral color choice that can be combined with beige or khaki color pants. 

No matter which color option you choose, be sure to use color combinations that fit your skin tones and individual stylistic preferences.  Ask for a second opinion to determine which color gives you the best look possible.  Each of the color choices can be dressed up or dressed down; the decision is up to you.

The Best Way to Wear a Pea Coat

Purchasing the perfect pea coat was the easy part.  After days of research, you finally found the look, style, and color that best fits your personality.  Now comes the difficult part.  Knowing when, where, and how to wear a pea coat can be one of the most difficult parts of the pea coat ownership process.

Dress Up vs. Dress Down

People can often become confused by pea coats because they are traditionally seen as classy attire best served for date nights at only the city’s finest establishments.  That’s where you might be mistaken.  The length is an essential element in this process.  Too long of a pea coat may give the appearance of being shorter, while a pea coat that is too short may just look plain awkward.

Men can wear pea coats on different occasions.  Although dress shoes are a necessity when it comes to a classy date night, slipping on a pair of converse can be pulled off in a more casual setting. 

More casual settings call for a nice pair of jeans while slacks are a must in the business world.  Striking the perfect balance between class and comfort is a fine line that should be walked tightly.

The Perfect Fit

The pea coat should sit at the bottom of your hips and slightly touch the buttocks area of your pants.  If the pea coat is too long, it may be mistaken for a simple overcoat.  The buttons play a key role in the fit of the coat and should give your body a slimming appearance regardless of weight or height. 

Finding the perfect fit for the right occasion can take a bit of time, effort, and outside assistance, but will be well worth it in the end.  The fit can make all the difference when it comes wearing the pea coat.

To Button or Not to Button

A pea coat may be worn buttoned or unbuttoned but if buttoned, be sure to leave the bottom one undone.  This goes in line with the traditional saying that applies to suits as well when it comes to buttons.  Sometimes, always, never.  The never rule applying to the fact that the bottom button should never be done.  It is simply there for stylistic preferences. 

Another factor to consider when wearing a pea coat is quality.  Quality should never be sacrificed for price because the last thing you need is a cheap looking jacket.  That will entirely defeat the purpose of purchasing a pea coat, to begin with.

Conclusion

Pea coats are one of the few clothing options that have stood the test of time.  In all likelihood, the coats you may be wearing today are very similar to those worn by your great-great grandparent’s several generations ago.  Choose a coat that is right for you, and it may just last a lifetime.

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