The Immortal Pea Coat

I have an admission to make. For someone who is about to extol the virtues of the classic pea coat, I had never actually owned one or even tried one on until this time last year. I know. Shoot me.

The funny thing is I can’t really begin to explain why. Cognitive dissonance? Perhaps it was something to do with my height: I stand a centimetre shy of 6’3″ and the pea coat, being short in stature, would only elongate my decidedly Giacometti frame, which also might explain why I have always subconsciously favoured full-length coats over hip-cutters.

At any rate, hungover and uninspired by a wardrobe of long coats in various gradations of black through light grey, I went out on a limb one morning in September last year and purchased a midnight blue pea coat. Admittedly, I chose the longest one I could find, but make no mistake, it was a pea coat.

Fast forward twelve months and somewhat predictably, the pea coat has been the most worn outerwear garment I own, and by a distance. Far from being boxy as I had always imagined it would be, a well-cut pea coat can be extremely flattering on all body types – broadening the shoulders with its oversized notch lapels and slimming the waist even when worn unbuttoned. And find me a man who doesn’t feel his masculinity soar as he flips up the admirably large collar to shield himself from the elements.

It is, after all, a utility coat, having covered sailor’s backs from as early as the first part of the 18th century. What originally marked a pea coat out from any other hip-length overcoat was the fabric: pea is thought to refer to the twilled blue cloth used in the Dutch pijjekker, or pea coat. It traditionally features large notch lapels and is made from a heavy Melton cloth, but these days you will find any number of varieties constructed in everything from trans-seasonal Merino wool to cashmere and mohair blends.

From Military Beginnings

Sartorial traditions owe a lot to military attire and the pea coat is no exception. A sub-species is the reefer, worn by naval officers, which for all intents and purposes is identical to the pea coat except for the addition of epaulettes and gold buttons. The bridge coat is another variation that extends to the thigh and worn exclusively by officers and chief petty officers, hence it is commonly known today as the officer’s coat.

Given its history, it’s no surprise, then, that it often looks best paired with smarter attire, such as your suit during the working week, but is nevertheless versatile enough to be combined with a t-shirt, jeans and trainers at the weekend.

On slightly warmer spring or autumn days, a simple crew-neck t-shirt worn beneath a pea coat can be a very masculine look. In fact, the simplicity of a crew neck tee or fine gauge sweater underneath the angular neckline created by the pea coat’s lapels makes for a very contemporary aesthetic, yet the addition of a roll neck sweater, chunky or otherwise, works extremely well too.

How To Wear

As far as styling tips go, there is really only one of any significance and that is when wearing the pea coat done up it’s a good idea to leave the bottom button unfastened, like you would your blazer – this simply allows for a better hang when you are walking.

Otherwise, as you can see below, this timeless silhouette can be matched with denim, hard wearing boots and sweaters to create rugged off-duty looks, or dressed up with sharp trousers, shirts/roll necks and tailoring for a more sophisticated aesthetic.

For those looking for something slightly more individual, consider purchasing one in a rich camel or burgundy colour way this year. Arguably as versatile as navy, they make a sophisticated and chic addition to any wardrobe:

Men's Pea Coats Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

el burgues aw14he by mango november 2012Gieves & Hawkes aw13he by mango aw12river island aw12new look aw14hugo boss sportswear aw14Gloverall aw14farrell clothing aw13ben sherman aw14David Naman aw14massimo dutti november 2014Gieves & Hawkes aw14reiss aw14reiss aw13
Current Pea Coats

Other than high-end offerings, there are plenty of good quality pea coats available on the high street.

Prioritise more refined brands like Zara, Reiss, Jigsaw, Jaeger, Ted Baker and Austin Reed or specialists such as Realm & Empire, which partners with the Imperial War Museum. French Connection, M&S and John Lewis’ own collections are also worthy of consideration, having improved immeasurably over recent seasons:

  • Selected Wool Pea CoatSelected Wool Pea Coat
  • Topman Noose And Monkey Black Peacoat Topman Noose And Monkey Black Peacoat
  • Peacoat | Dark Navy Re0123Peacoat | Dark Navy Re0123
  • Burton Navy Long-line Wool PeacoatBurton Navy Long-line Wool Peacoat
  • Reiss Roman Wool-rich Peacoat GreyReiss Roman Wool-rich Peacoat Grey
  • Reiss Roman Wool-rich Peacoat CherryReiss Roman Wool-rich Peacoat Cherry
  • He By Mango Wool-blend PeacoatHe By Mango Wool-blend Peacoat
  • French Connection Marine Melton PeacoatFrench Connection Marine Melton Peacoat
  • Zara Navy Pea CoatZara Navy Pea Coat
  • He By Mango Wool-blend PeacoatHe By Mango Wool-blend Peacoat
  • M&s Collection Pea Coat With WoolM&s Collection Pea Coat With Wool
  • Ted Baker Nojorah Double Breasted PeacoatTed Baker Nojorah Double Breasted Peacoat
  • Jigsaw Wool Melton Shawl Collar Pea Coat NavyJigsaw Wool Melton Shawl Collar Pea Coat Navy
  • River Island Camel Woolen PeacoatRiver Island Camel Woolen Peacoat
  • Gucci Panelled Quilted Wool PeacoatGucci Panelled Quilted Wool Peacoat
Final Word

The pea coat is an all-time classic piece of menswear that every style-conscious gent should own. There’s a reason it was chosen as one of our ten pieces to reinvent your wardrobe and continues to be the most popular outerwear silhouette on industry ‘essentials’ lists.

Smart, rugged and masculine, it’s an item that looks just as good with a sharp suit as it does with jeans and a t-shirt – the epitome of versatility.

But what do you think: do you own a pea coat? And if not, why not? How do you like to style yours?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…