Soldier Up, Gentlemen
Part 2 of our Outerwear Series.
Straighten your shoulders, men. Chin up. That’s no ordinary coat you’ve got there. No run-of-the-mill windbreaker, no boyish parka. To be clear, you’re sporting one of the most manly of coats. Not to freak you out: but you’ve got a lot to live up to there.
In the Navy
While the pea coat can be pulled off in slightly dressier situations than the all-purpose duffle, both have similar provenance as standard-issue military wear. Starting in the 18th century, the pea coat was worn by Dutch and British sailors. By the early 20th century, it became a part of the US Navy uniform. Made out of a material far coarser and thicker than the cloth used nowadays, the coat provided significant protection from squalls and storms. A seaman of yore need only pop his collar and everything from hairline to rear would be suitably shielded.
So, where does the “pea” come in? That would be a bastardization of the original fabric’s name. Instead of the classic wool, upscale cashmere, or low-grade vinyl (never, you hear us?), pea coats were traditionally made from pilot, or p cloth. The heavyweight, blue stuff could stand up to some pretty gnarly weather, but is utterly unpleasant for the non-military among us.
While pea coats go back centuries, duffle coats are a relatively modern innovation. Created for the British Royal Navy in the 1860s, and popularized during World War I, the duffle added some practical innovations to the coats race. The massive wood toggles could be easily fastened with gloved hands, and the roomy hood could be pulled over large sailor caps in a pinch. Historically, the coat was cut wide to accommodate another coat beneath it. (Fortunately, designers have since slimmed the cut, meaning you won’t have to look like a pre-teen borrowing his brother’s jacket.) Like with the pea coat, the name refers to the original fabric. In this case, it was made of a tough wool material hailing from the Belgian town of, you guessed it, Duffel.
Both the pea and duffle coats became popular in the wake of the Second World War. In the UK, hundreds of thousands of duffle coats flooded army surplus stores while a nearly identical situation occurred stateside with the US Navy’s pea coat stock. Flash forward a half-century and both coats are an integral part of today’s sartorial framework.
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