The Pea Coat, definitely a hot number for the cold season

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A couple of weeks ago I predicted that the Deck Jacket would be a dead cert for the upcoming colder season. My reasoning was solid, in that if you stick to the classics you will always be golden, and even occasionally “in fashion”, whenever whatever spurious whims  decide what happens to be fashion. This time we have another classic on the table, the pea coat, and like the deck jacket this one also has naval connections.

A vintage photo of the pea coat as used by the navy boys in WW2.y

A vintage photo of the pea coat as used by the navy boys in WW2.

The earliest pea coats are said to be as far back as 1720’s, so I think I’m on safe ground when I describe it as an enduring classic. The basic style consists of a double-breasted wool jacket with 2 full rows of large buttons on the front, broad lapels and pockets that you can easily put a handful of frozen fingers in. And that’s basically it. It comes in three variants, where the actual pea coat is quite short, the bridge coat is the same but thigh lenght and the reefer jacket is basically the pea coat with fancy buttons and epaulets to put your officer distinctions on.

Where does the name “pea” coat come from? Well, certainly not from pod-grown green vegetables. The clue is the letter “P” which is variously said to come from the Dutch word “pijjekker” (a type of coarse twilled blue cloth with a nap on one of the sides), the English word “pilot” (from “pilot cloth”, a heavy, stout cloth that by it’s description sounds very like the Dutch cloth). Whichever is the true origin appears to not matter that much, as both refer to the fabric the coat is made of.

 

Pea coat is good, hat is optional.

Pea coat is good, hat is optional.

So what is available for the classically minded chap who feels a fancy for some big-buttoned, double-breasted, wooly goodness this season? Quite a lot really, the selection is huge, the variations few and you can get everything from deadstock originals to creative interpretations.

I can already predict that after looking at a few of these you will start wondering what might be the differences between them, apart from the most obvious one: the price. Mainly I think it comes down to fabric, where the type and content of wool varies. Keep in mind though that some synthetic in the mix will most likely make it more hard wearing. Others have more expensive buttons and leather trimming. And some are made in England, others made elsewhere.

Obligatory celebrity styling by Robert Redford.

Obligatory celebrity styling by Robert Redford.

The almost original variant – Alpha Industries

Alpha Industries pea coat.

Alpha Industries pea coat.

Alpha Industries are a contracted to the US Navy and Army, so they would know a thing or two about making jackets to an appropriate naval specification. The heavy weight wool melton is 75% wool and 25% synthetic, with a quilted lining and the 10 buttons are appropriately large and anchor-adorned. No mention of where it is made, but at 159 pounds it does seem competitively priced. Available from here.

The Japanese recreation – The Real McCoy

Pea coat by the Real McCoys.

Pea coat by the Real McCoys.

The Real McCoy variant is described as being made of heavy weight melton wool with cotton twill lining, 13 star urea buttons and with authentic looking US Navy labels inside. Given the dedication The Real McCoy put into their recreations this is quite likely as authentic as it gets without going for an original. Made in Japan and priced at 725 pounds it can be found here.

And a slightly cheaper Japanese recreation – Buzz Ricksons

Pea coat by Buzz Ricksons.

Pea coat by Buzz Ricksons.

Very similar to the Real McCoy variant and probably as authentic. Heavyweight 36oz melton wool, the same 13 star urea buttons, rayon satin lining and authentic style replica labels on the inside. Available direct from Buzz Ricksons at a hair under 700 pounds.

The first made in Britain variant – Grenfell Chatham

Pea coat by Grenfell.

Pea coat by Grenfell.

The Grenfell version is a clear example of their usual craftsmanship. Going for a more refined look and feel being made from merino wool, with leather reinforcement and fewer buttons. Made in London and available direct from Grenfell at 495 pounds.

The second made in Britain variant – Gloverall Churchill reefer coat

The Gloverall Churchill Reefer jacket.

The Gloverall Churchill Reefer jacket.

Gloverall chip in with a reefer coat without fancy buttons or epaulets, which to me indicates it’s a pea coat. It does have extra patch pockets and possibly a little extra length in the body. The wool melton is 80% wool and there is a satin lining for extra luxury. There appears to be 10 appropriately anchore-emblazoned buttons. Made in London and available direct from Gloverall at 330 pounds.

The third made in Britain variant – Harry Stedman pea coat

Pea coat by Harry Stedman.

Pea coat by Harry Stedman.

As a brand Harry Stedman make goods that adhere to the history of the forefather of the company owners, Harry himself, and they have them made by people that will make then properly. In this case this means we have a second jacket from Grenfell. This means 100% wool melton, eight buffalo horn buttons, vintage Japanese cotton lining and a throat latch. Available direct from Harry Stedman at 695 pounds.

A British entrant not made in Britiain – Real & Empire peacoat

Realm and Empire pea coat.

Realm and Empire pea coat.

The entry from Real & Empire appears not to be a wool melton variant, but wool cavalry twill, so maybe more Autumn than Atlantic. Fully lined, with a different pattern of wood buttons and an extra pair of pockets it provides a little added different, and even more so if you go for the green variety. Available direct from Real & Empire, on offer at 225 pounds.

A left field entry – Mister Freedom Caban pea coat

The Caban pea coat by Mister Freedom.

The Caban pea coat by Mister Freedom.

To provide even more added different I’m including the Caban pea coat from the “Saigon Cowboy” collection from Mister Freedom. Made from a 160z heavy cotton twill, it’s no melton wool, though it is lined with a cotton twill “lizard” camouflage. It has the appropriate design cues, 10 anchor buttons, 2 chest pockets, but also includes leather reinforcements and typical MF adornments. Made in Japan and available direct from Mister Freedom at 900 dollars.

A variant of more Nordic design – Norse Projects Birk pea coat

Pea coat by Norse Projects.

Pea coat by Norse Projects.

Norse Projects have their own variation of the pea coat, retaining most of the looks, but going with a lightweight wool outer with Primaloft wadding and a quilted nylon ripstop lining. The buttons are per usual layout, but plain Corozo, and added features include handy knitted storm cuffs and a neck tab. Available from Norse Store and on offer at 336 euro.

 

And finally, a couple of options you may not have though of…

Given the origins of this design, it should be possible to find original jackets. So I had a quick Google around for “pea coat surplus” and lo and behold, there are lots available. And they are very reasonably priced. The upside is that you will get the genuine specification and look, the possible downside may be that they have been stored for a while, with all that entails. For those of an adventourous nature, take a look at these two examples.

German Naval Pea Coat

germannavalpeacoat

Described only as “Double Breasted Wool Mix Metal Anchor Buttons” this should probably be more accurately described as a bridge coat, the officers variant, due to the extra length and fancier buttons. Available in a range of sizes from British Army Surplus at only 47.50 pounds.

Swedish army wool coat

swedishwoolgreatcoat

Another similar variant is the one described only as “Double Breasted Gold Coloured Buttons” this is again a bridge or reefer variant (notice the epaulets). Not sure about sizes and so forth, but it’s also available from British Army Surplus, at only 37.50 pounds.

So, as we can see there are pea coat options from 37.50 to 700 pounds, which I reckon means there is one available for everybody. Which one would you go for?

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6 Comments

  • Ian Haydock 01/10/2016 at 01:14

    I’ve been looking for the “right” peacoat for a while so this is very useful as always WDD and struck a chord with me. Of course being in Japan and able to access the good stuff from here (yen allowing) I immediately liked the Grenfell (as a loyal Brit)! I’ve tried a few genuine ex-US military spec ones at used shops, which are built like tanks but also weigh about the same. You’ll hate me for mentioning it but Uniqlo has a generic wool mix one for around $60 on sale here – if you don’t mind the same lack of character as their selvedge jeans you reviewed a while ago. In the meantime I’ve commandeered the reasonable (and not cheap) one we had to get my elder son as part of the winter uniform for his old high school! Interesting link between Japanese school uniforms and old naval styles.

    Reply
    • nick 01/10/2016 at 04:50

      Thanks for the feedback, Ian. I think you’re quite correct in linking the terms Uniqlo and generic, though 60 dollars for a peacoat seems impossibly cheap. Makes me wonder who is being screwed. No surprise really that the ex-Navy variants are solidly made, longevity comes first for those! As I recall from the excellent “Ametora” book at lot of Japanese clothing inspiration, and likely also in practical terms, comes from WW2 surplus, where the more traditional simple workwear was heavily influenced by army and naval styles. Maybe this is also the case for school uniforms? Interesting point, in any case.

      Reply
      • Ian 02/10/2016 at 10:32

        The Uniqlo coat was admittedly half the usual price but they must still be making money at that level, so it certainly makes you think what the upstream workers might be getting per garment. The whole Ametora thing really struck me when I first came here, very interesting roots as you say Nick. Another big influence on school uniforms is said to be early 1800s Prussian styles, which were apparently adopted given the power of that kingdom at the time!

        Reply
  • Brandon 02/10/2016 at 16:00

    Nice recommendations – something for everybody here. I would personally always choose the original or repro. Have you seen the 1913 version? Slightly longer body and has flap patch pockets, it’s nice too. I actually own an original USN peacoat from the early 40s/late 30s in basically flawless condition, but I learned the terrible lesson when I bought it of outside measurements don’t equal inside measurements on thick outerwear. So I have this beautiful, original peacoat that is too tight to button up. A tragedy, really. P.S. great site redesign, WDD.

    Reply
  • Scratch 05/10/2016 at 20:36

    For what it’s worth, I would totally recommend Saint James’ peacoats.

    I bought one for the missus last year and while it wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t super expensive either and the finish and materials and durability are premium as you would expect from a “working” sailing brand like Saint James.

    The men’s one is similarly pleasing for the price. Have a look son.

    Reply
    • Ian 06/10/2016 at 12:41

      Thanks for that, nice stuff indeed. Also came across another French maritime brand recently, Mousqueton, which do good canvas jackets.

      Reply

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