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Coats & Jackets

What is a pea coat?

What is a pea coat?

Photographed: MVP peacoat (£85); Barbour scarf (£29)

In a nutshell

A pea coat is a double-breasted, woollen coat with oversized lapels and a collar that stands up to protect the wearer from the elements.

Backstory

Peer at the buttons on most pea coats and you’ll spot an engraved anchor. That’s a nod to its history at sea; the first pea coats were worn in the 1800s by Dutch sailors, who needed something that would keep out torrential rain and gale force wind. The British navy liked the result so much – particularly the hip-length cut, which meant the wearer was maneuverable enough to scramble up rigging – that they nicked it for their own uniform.

As with so much military-inspired clothing, after the world wars sailors brought their pea coats back to civvy street, where they transitioned from purely functional to a fashion item. But the pea coat is unique in having survived two centuries almost unchanged: the best are still navy, made from heavy wool and feature vertical rather than horizontal pockets, since they were designed for warming hands not storing valuables. “It’s one of the few coats that’s never been part of a trend or subculture,” says Thread stylist Freddie Kemp. “Which means that that it doesn’t come with baggage. Any man of any age can look great in a pea coat.”

How to wear it well

Some military-inspired clothing can end up looking like fancy dress (as anyone who’s worn camo trousers and combat boots knows too well). But not so the pea coat. “It actually looks great with other nautical pieces,” says Freddie. “Things like a cable-knit rollneck, chinos and boots aren’t a caricature, because they’re all quite subtle. It’s a rugged look that doesn’t have too much going on.”

But even if you don’t go all-hands-on-deck, it’s best to still honour the pea coat’s utilitarian heritage. “It’s one of the few classic pieces of outerwear that just doesn’t work with a suit,” says Freddie. “Partly that’s because it’s so short it can show the hem of your suit jacket, which is never a good look. But also because there’s too much contrast between the smartness of tailoring and the ruggedness of the pea coat’s wool.” Keep it for the weekend, then wear it with everything else in your wardrobe.

Pea coat