Pea coat guide

History & Required Background Information:The pea coat you see in retail stores owes it’s popularity, history, and stylization to it’s function in the navy. It has been the standard issued jacket for quite some time. Originally designed to be warm, water resistant, and mobile. It is a shorter double breasted jacket meant to allow easily movement for climbing up rigging. It has a collar that can be turned up when the weather gets rough. The standard pea coat is always navy’s “Blue 3346”, which looks very close to black, and is made from medium to heavy wool. The navy has used pilot cloth (pre kersey), kersey wool (pre 1979) as well as melton wool (currently in use). The weight of the wool can vary from anywhere between 22oz to 32oz. In general the heavier wool you get the heavier and warmer the jacket will be. However, a heavy fabric weight can also make the cut more boxy. Many fashion forward people look towards this jacket more for it’s shape than for it’s warmth, so no one fabric weight is universally best. Decide carefully how much shape and warmth matters to you. Of course, tailoring a pea coat can alter it’s shape, so you can have both a warm coat and a figure fitting one all in one.

A lot of people consider pre 1980 issued pea coats superior to today’s, while pre WWII coats are considered the holy grail by some. Over the years the navy has went with a number of different manufacturers and has made changes to their pea coat specifications for improving the material, function, and construction, but often times changes were made to save cost and weight. Don’t think that newer is necessarily better. Since a high quality pea coat can be bought new for $240, much of the cost from higher priced pea coats comes directly from their label’s reputation or the demand for custom stylizations that no other jacket has. You are usually paying a premium for a name or the unique stylization rather than quality of materials or construction. To many people these unique stylizations can look bad and take away from the overall look, while others find the standard issued pea coats very plain and common. I will post a list of pea coats and their materials as a reference so you can get a feeling of what good quality coats are made of, and what coats have had their price inflated due to it’s uniqueness or brand name.

Besides wool, another popular material for fashionable pea coats is cashmere. Of course the navy has never issued a cashmere pea coat for their standard issue. The navy used 8 showing buttons originally, but has switched to 6 showing buttons and lowered the lapel opening. Some retailers continue the 8 button look with very small and tidy lapels. Over time the navy has also switched the pockets and their placement. However pockets for keeping the hands warm have always been a staple of the pea coat. They used metal buttons (pewter buttons) for a while (1974-1984), but switched back to the classic plastic buttons with the fouled anchor design 

. This button design is the easiest and quickest way to sniff test a navy pea coat. If the coat doesnt have the fouled anchor design it most likely was not an issued pea coat (other easy signs is the quality of fabric and the tag, which should make it pretty obvious).The lining of pea coats differ. Common materials include:

  • satin – good
  • cupro – good
  • polyester
  • nylon
  • cotton

Shopping for pea coats

Why do you care about any of this? Because you are often better off getting a used us issued pea coat from ebay or a vintage army supply store than from retail. Great looking pea coats can easily be found for < $100 on ebay. There is just not much quality in the sub $200 pea coats from retailers and anything over $300 is the price for that piece’s uniqueness. The quality of us issued pea coats rivals and often surpasses that of top dollar retail coats. If you are looking for the most frugal bang for your buck, look there. Otherwise the reason why someone might not want to go with a us issued pea coat is that they like the stylization a different manufacturer is providing. You will be paying pretty handsomely for these stylizations, and often the differences are negligible.

If you were planning on mall shopping for a jacket and were not aware of the abundance of cheap, amazing quality, warm, good looking jackets in a trim fit for under $100 let me just let that sink in. These coats will last you a a decade or more of use, and you will always be able to resell them for a decent price. This cannot be said for the resale value of mall brands.

Don’t let me talk you out of getting the jacket you want though. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of pea coats out there. I am hoping to help clear up some of the confusion and simplify the heavy burden of deciding which pea coat to choose. Besides ebay and other vintage military stores , the other must shop stop for anybody looking for a pea coat is Sterlingwear of Boston . They are the current contract holder for supplying the navy. They offer a very similar coat to the public (if you call them you can get the same one). Sterlingwear’s biggest competitor is Schott , who make a pea coat similar to the one they used to supply the navy with in the 70s. You probably are familiar with Schott due to their killer leather jackets. The great thing is that the competition between these two for the best pea coat keeps their quality high and price low! A rare win/win for us consumers.

General Info

Besides the standard issue men’s pea coat there are some similar coats you should be aware of.

  • Women’s pea coat – Women and men both wear pea coats in the navy. a women’s will button the same direction as a traditional women’s jacket, and they will also include epaulets.
  • Bridge coats 

    Officers and chief petty officers wear a bridge coat, which are similar to a pea coat but extends to the thighs, have gold buttons, and epaulettes.

  • Reefer – Officers and chief petty officers can also wear a pea coat called a reefer, which is similar to a pea coat, but has gold buttons 

    and epaulets.

A few faq answers (If you have any more, ask away!)

  • Washing – don’t machine wash or iron a pea coat. Use a steamer and dry clean only. I have heard of people washing their wool pea coats to soften them up. I have no clue if this is a good idea.
  • Measuring – A common measuring technique is to inhale, then tape measure your chest, subtract 2 from that measurement, then order that size.
  • Determining fit – You need to try your pea coat on with the thickest layers you will wear with it. hint, bring your thickest outfit when pea coat shopping.
  • Sizing down – When sizing down the arm holes can be a problem. make sure they don’t limit your movement.
  • Over a suit – In a pinch you can wear a suit under a pea coat. Although that is not it’s intended purpose. For suits you should look for an overcoat.
  • Fabric quality – In jackets with low wool content or quality the collars tend to not be crisp. the overall structure of < 80% wool coats is subpar.
  • Car coats – Don’t confuse the often mislabeled car coat. It is getting difficult. car coats are single breasted, while pea coats are double. car coats are mid thigh length. pea coats are hip length.
  • Cropped – Shorter, “cropped”, pea coats exist. Be careful not to get vents on a cropped jacket. it can cause awkwardness.
  • Tailoring – Taking in the waist of a peacoat is easy. it is like $30-$45. Get the shoulders, chest, arm holes, sleeve diameter, and length to fit.
  • Altering the look – A back vent can change the look of your peacoat. so can button placement, length, lapel size, color size, notch gap size, material, cut, and any additional stylizations.
  • It is ok to keep the tag with the name of the original owner’s name on it. It is not ok to keep any arm patches/badges.

List of Pea coats

If you have more please post them and I will add to the list. I will continue this list in the comments.

Sterlingwear specific Info

  • Sizing – Don’t size up on sterlingwear’s coats unless your belly is large, regardless of what they tell you. if you are fit you should size down one or two sizes from your suit size. This is specific to sterlingwear’s sizing since their sizing chart is off by 2 inches.
  • authentic or not? – Sterlingwear public offerings are not what they truly issue the navy. They give the navy 100% melton wool in a tighter weave. They only offer the public 80%. The navy color from their public offerings is not the military spec blue 3346. It is much lighter. You can ask for the issued coat, and it will actually be less expensive. I believe their public offerings are designed that way to compete with Schott’s 740.
  • pilling 

    The bottom (non satin) of the lining on sterlinwear’s public offerings are known to pill. Use a sweater stone to remove this.

  • which to get? – Authentic looks more fashionable. Higher arm holes and 24oz wool. Classic is more warm with lower arm holes, shorter length, shorter sleeves, and is more boxy.

Hopefully after reading this guide you wont do this to yourself


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