Pea Coats: History and Take a Peek Inside One to Mend

Mending this PEA COAT for our local lumberjack got me curious to find out more facts about this classic coat.   Here is a video ‘tour’ of my challenge, and the insides that I think you’ll find interesting.  Then read on for some interesting garment history from THIS SOURCE.


pea coat

The name pea coat originated from the Dutch word “pije” (they pronounce their j’s funny), which was used in the Dutch language to describe a coat made from coarse wool fabric.

While the Dutch are credited for inventing the peacoat, it was the British navy who can take the credit for the popularization of the jacket. The British version of the coat was similarly designed for naval duties, particularly designed to be a uniform for petty officers.

The coat then made its way across the Atlantic for a third appearance, this time with the American Navy. The U.S. Navy adopted the coat and used the coat for “reefers”, who were the sailors responsible for the unenviable task of climbing up the rigging of sailing ships.

The common denominator for all three countries for adopting the pea coat was a need for a durable piece of outwear that could withstand the harsh rain, wind and cold temperatures typically experienced out at sea.

Construction & Functionality

Each of the Dutch, British, and American variants of the coat kept a silhouette that was relatively form fitting to keep out harsh winds. The jackets would normally flair out at the hips, making it easier for the navy officers to climb the ropes at sea.

Most of the coats were double breasted and featured an Ulster collar, which could be buttoned all the way up to protect you from the harsh elements. Some variations either had side vents, a center vent, or no vents at all. Most jackets featured vertical slit pockets on the lower half of the jacket constructed for easy access to personal items such as wallets. Nearly all peacoats feature either brass or plastic buttons with an image of a fouled anchor imprinted on them.

NEW TERMS FOR ME – How about you?

ULSTER COLLAR:  Notched lapels. Usually a double-breasted garment has peaked lapels. The Ulster, however, has lapels that are notched in a certain way, so they can easily be folded over when the coat is buttoned up all the way. This is also known as the Ulster collar.

FOULED ANCHOROK – I would have picked that out of a multiple choice test, but it was still a new term to this land-locked gal.  “It is usually applied to the state of an anchor, which has become hooked on some impediment on the ground, or has its cable wound round the stock or flukes. The term is generally utilized when speaking of items of historical value such as the US Navy chief petty officer emblem.”

fouled anchor button                     pea coat buttons - fouled anchor

Peacoats during this era were constructed out of melton wool, a variant made of 70 percent wool and 30 percent acrylic. The wool is woven tightly and treated with heat to bind the fibers together resulting in a very warm water and wind-resistant fabric that was perfect for life at sea.

Peacoats Today

The functionality of the peacoat in modern times remains relatively unchanged; it is still a viable outerwear option for fall/winter though it’s certainly made its way across the gangplank into city life. What has changed and modernized is the fit and construction of the jacket. The fit of the jacket has been taken in, leaving most pea coats today offering a slim and more snug fit.

Many brands, however, still continue to produce the original in all of its classic glory.

Here’s where you can purchase your own Pea Coat for $895 at The Real McCoy’s.

The cited source for these facts also gives a link to a pea coat starting at $285.

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3 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    As always Londa, you have given us an interesting video to watch. Thanks for the research on the Pea Coat.

  2. Jack E King says:

    This coat is shown on your site as a Schott. Have you ever looked at a Steralingwear, which made coats for the Navy in recent years? If so can you comment on the differences in their construction? Would one be warmer than the other? Would they be equally warm, despite differences?

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your question but no, I’ve never seen a Steralingwear. If you can direct me to a place where I could see construction, I’d be happy to give you my opinion though.

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