The power of the peacoat

Teo van den Broeke recounts the long history and modern incarnation of the classic peacoat



Characterised by a double-breasted front, spread lapels, a short body that finishes just below the seat and oversized buttons imprinted with the image of an anchor (in a nod to the style’s sea-faring heritage), peacoats as we know them today have changed very little since they were first introduced some two centuries ago.


It was in the early 1800s that the Dutch Royal Navy first started issuing its sailors with pijjakkers, coats made from pij, a heavy, navy-blue wool twill known for its coarseness and insulating properties. These early peacoats were weighty, unyielding and entirely focused on function.


Though the Dutch invented the style, it was the British that transformed the peacoat from a little-known military garment into the civilian-wardrobe staple it is today. By the early 20th century the incredibly durable pea coat, manufactured from sturdy Melton wool, was standard wear for petty officers in the British Royal Navy. Unsurprisingly, this practical garment made a splash across the pond, too, and the US Navy began issuing its junior officers with peacoats (or reefers).



What was it about the style of the coat – with its cinched waist, natty lapels, vented back and heavily styled buttons – that made it so suitable for use in the inclement, demanding conditions of life on deck? The answer lies precisely in these stylistic virtues. Peacoats were designed to sit close to the body in order to insulate their wearers against the wind. The double-breasted front provided an extra level of protection and the vent at the back, combined with the short cut of the body, allowed sailors to move freely around the deck and to climb rigging with ease.


It’s this advantageous combination of heritage, function and style that has secured the pea coat’s place in both the annals of sartorial history and the future of menswear.


Peacoats are also extraordinarily easy to wear. Thrown over a classic suit and tie combination or worn at the weekend with a cashmere roll neck and jeans, the coat has a universal appeal, both masculine and understated. The peacoat is at the core of Gieves & Hawkes’ Autumn/Winter 2017 collection, which is particularly appropriate given the Savile Row marque’s long affiliation with the British military. Cut close and short in the body, the Gieves & Hawkes peacoat is made from a soft yet weighty wool and cashmere Melton, and is just the thing to see you through many winters to come.


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