Pea coats are warm, woolen, double-breasted coats that were originally worn only by sailors. Usually a classic navy blue, they were made of heavy, course wool to protect seafarers from harsh weather on the open seas.
Some people believe that the name comes from the pea-soup conditions often endured by tough sailors, but these coats are not named for the weather. In the early 1700s, pea coats were created from pilot cloth, a thick, coarse, twilled cloth with the nap on one side. As is the tradition in the US Navy, the name "pilot cloth" was replaced by the abbreviated "P-cloth." The coat soon became known as a P-jacket, and later, a pea coat. The coats became a standard part of the gear a sailor kept in his sea chest.
Today, pea coats are still worn in the Navy, but like many other military items and paraphernalia, they have become popular among the general population and now make a fashion statement around the globe. Worn by men and women alike, they are donned as work coats, overcoats, and even dress coats. They are worn by businessmen and college students, blue collar workers and professionals. Many can be found in military surplus stores, but more and more are being made by popular fashion designers.
Authentic pea coats made for the Navy must meet US government specifications, including a double-breasted over coat, a Melton shell, full fleece lining with satin sleeves and yoke, slash pockets, cash pocket, inside breast pocket, convertible collar, wide rounded lapels, vented back with parallel tack, and of course, the traditional anchor buttons. The coats are a bit bulky due to their fiber content, but they are fitted and snug, so many merchants suggest going up a size or two for a comfortable fit. Reproductions are often identical to the Navy surplus coats, with only minor design changes that reflect signs of the times. Designers recognize the desire of consumers to have the authentic look and only an expert would know the difference.
Like most other military surplus, these coats reflect the practicality and durability of products designed for use by the US military. While they have military origins, they make a fashion statement in the rest of the world.