Many of menswear’s most iconic outerwear styles have their roots in the military. The pea coat is no exception. Born aboard the naval vessels of the 1800s, this heavy woollen jacket was a creation of the Dutch, later popularised by the British Royal Navy where it became uniform for petty officers. From there it travelled across the Atlantic and was adopted by the US Navy too.
Each country had its own slight variation on the style, but the basic silhouette remained the same across all three. The important thing was that it was tough, thick and durable, capable of standing up to the notoriously wild and unpredictable weather out at sea.
The military has since replaced the pea coat with more rugged and weatherproof modern alternatives, but it lives on in civilian use. See, not only does this type of outerwear offer excellent insulation and protection from the worst of the weather, it also looks pretty sharp. As a result, it’s become something of a staple piece in the menswear world, and something you should definitely consider adding to your outerwear selection.
What Is A Pea Coat?
So, what exactly is a pea coat? There are lots of different versions of this style of outerwear, and many designers have put their stamp on it over the years. However, in order to paint the most accurate picture, we’ll focus on the classic military garment that inspired all the others.
Traditionally, it’s a heavy wool coat with a double-breasted front and a straight body. It’s longer than most jackets but considerably shorter than an overcoat. It has an oversized Ulster collar, which was designed to be worn buttoned up for extra weather protection when at sea, and it features six large buttons to the front and two slit pockets.
The thing that really sets a pea coat apart from other wool coats is the type of fabric. Traditionally it was made from Kersey wool, which is a twill-weave woollen cloth with a coarse, heavy texture, but today it’s more commonly made from Melton wool, which has a slightly looser weave. These fabrics were chosen primarily for their durability and warmth.
The pea coat is a piece of outerwear for cold weather. This means you’re probably going to want to wear it with layers. With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure there’s plenty of room underneath for a thick knitted jumper or cardigan while still leaving plenty of room to move your arms.
It should be snug without feeling restrictive, and you should be able to move your arms above your head without a fight.
Traditional pea coats are made from a twill blend of Melton wool. Melton or not, any decent pea coat should be made from some type of wool, or at the very least a wool blend.
It’s a winter coat that’s supposed to keep you toasty, so there’s not much point making it from thin, flimsy fabrics.
Because of the fabric from which it’s made, even a basic high-street pea coat is likely to cost you somewhere around the £100 mark. Start shopping with designer labels and high-fashion brands and that figure can easily hit over £1,000.
We’d say between £300 and £500 is what you should be prepared to spend in order to get a high-quality garment from a reputable brand. Speaking of reputable brands…
The Best Pea Coat Brands
Mackintosh’s classic outerwear has earned it legendary status in the menswear world. It’s best known for its traditional British raincoats, but it makes some exceptional pea coats too.
The brand’s Dalton pea coat is a classic example of this military mainstay, cut from a luxurious blend of wool and cashmere for softness and warmth.
Private White V.C.
Manchester’s Private White V.C. makes some incredible outerwear, focussing on classic shapes, high-quality materials and traditional British manufacture. The brand’s signature pea coat stays true to the original naval design, with an oversized convertible collar, double-breasted front and slit pockets.
It’s made from 100% Melton wool and stitched together in England.
Burberry has a long and storied history designing and making classic military outerwear. The trench coat is its most famous creation, but the British brand also offers a range of traditional pea coats with its own signature spin.
Expect classic cuts, subtle hits of nova check and some of the steepest prices around.
If it’s good enough for 007 it’s good enough for us. Daniel Craig’s Bond famously wore a Billy Reid pea coat in Skyfall, making the garment one of the British brand’s best-selling items.
The coat is cut from sturdy Melton wool and handmade in Italy. It also features embossed leather underneath the collar, genuine horn buttons and a classic yet streamlined shape that’ll ensure it doesn’t date.
If you’re going to take your hunt for a pea coat to the high street, your first port of call should be Reiss. The brand has a number of stylish options at relatively accessible prices when compared to the likes of Burberry.
Best of all, there are frequent sales, so if you’re smart about it you can end up saving a considerable amount of money on a very nice piece of outerwear.
We’re big fans of London’s Percival and its contemporary spin on menswear’s classic silhouettes. Take its bestselling ‘Pea Coat’ for example. It’s made from thick Melton wool just like the originals, but it forgoes the double-breasted front in favour of a more modern and casual single-breasted design.
It’s also cut slightly longer in the body than a traditional pea coat, which makes it even better for keeping warm in the winter months.
Schott makes its pea coat to military spec from 32 Oz Melton wool, and following the classic naval design. It’s made in the USA and features a straight cut with oversized buttons and a nylon quilted lining for warmth.