Turns out pea coats are not just loved by those white people on their Macbooks at Starbucks, but are dearly loved and have been adopted universally as the staple cold weather coat. Like all great trad clothes, the pea coat was cut from an utilitarian and military origin, where American and European sailors used the thick double-breasted coat as early as the 1700s.
The original was made from pilot cloth (which lead to the name “p-coat”), had wide lapels to protect the sailor’s neck and ears when turned up, and was so heavy that it featured a metal chain for sailors to hang it up to dry on dock.
Today’s U.S. Navy pea coats are contracted by Sterlingwear of Boston, which have been making the official naval coat for over 40 years. It has been family-owned for three generations and each coat is made in New England, with quality controlled by the U.S. government. So it is my unbiased opinion that if you’re going to buy one single coat that you want to last for ages, buy a pea coat from this company. At full price, their “classic pea coat” costs less than what designers would place them on sale, are a lot more warmer, and you get the satisfaction of buying authenticity and durability. Or alternatively you can earn the full pledged right by standard issue at the Great Lakes station 😉
How do you wear a pea coat? They are good for casual and semi-formal use. I do not recommend wearing one for formal occasions, especially with a suit or sportsjacket, as the pea coat will not be long enough to cover it and you do not want your suit jacket poking out from underneath. Overcoats and trench coats are a better option in that case. But other than that you can pair it with almost anything. A thermal for a quick car trip, or a chunky fisherman’s sweater when it gets below zero. Set yourself apart and get a dark navy coat.
The subtle difference is noticeable in a sea of black, pun intended.
Protip: I’ve always been a fan of what I call the “Harvard Boy” look…yes coined here first. It is my favorite winter outfit for heading to the library. What you need: pea coat, heather gray college or fraternity crewneck sweatshirt, OCBD, baseball cap, +1 point if naturally frayed, +2 points paired with glasses, +3 if you’re carrying a Jansport Right Pack, and you win at life if you have a yellow pencil sticking vertically from your cap (jk don’t do that unless you are a douche). It’s a hard look to describe, but it’s a Boston-disheveled-don’t-care aesthetic that reflects tradly academic types and their attitudes, as if to say Yes it is damn cold and I need my pea coat for the walk in the foot of snow across the courtyard to Kennedy School to review my cases. It has an early-1990s feel to it, like Brendan Fraser in With Honors (playing a Harvard boy…) No it is not fashionably correct and this is an instance where I don’t follow my own rules. Again, tough to describe and you’ll just have to try it one day.
I capped this from a recent Daily Show excerpt. Pretty much exactly what I’m talking about except I’d loose the hood and replace with a crewneck sweater and OCBD. But notice he has a bookbag – the look works best when you’re a grad student and it is an instant upgrade from your PJ wearing days when going in for a 12 hours cram session during finals week at the campus library.