Navy Pea Coat: From High Seas to High Fashion

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Navy Pea Coats were formerly standard issue uniform exclusive to European sailors until the American Navy also adopted them in the 1900′s. The wide lapels, double-breasted fronts, thick twilled fabric and vertical pockets of traditional navy pea coats made it easier for these hardy mates to keep their extremities from freezing off or getting dried out by the salt-laden water. However, as evidenced by Givenchy’s Fall 2009 Men’s RTW Line, the navy pea coat has transcended military surplus distribution and entered into a new era of use in high fashion spreads and collections.

Simple Beginnings

Navy Pea Coat

Navy Pea Coat

The first time I remember seeing a navy pea coat was on Captain Ahab in illustrated versions of Moby Dick. Traditional versions were made of coarse twilled fabric which made it easier to maintain as dirt and discolorations were harder to spot in the diagonally-paralleled ribs. Like the early work clothes made out of denim, a type of twilled fabric, navy pea coats were prized for their durability and resistance against various forces of nature. It is interesting to note however, that the type of twilled fabric utilized in historical versions of the navy pea coat was called p-cloth or Pilot cloth.

Status Symbol

When the navy pea coat was first put into use it was conceptualized as a men’s garment, seeing as women sailors were few and far between. However, once the divine Jackie Onassis began advocating it as outer apparel for women, it became known as the Jackie O in her honor. The navy pea coat has become a symbol of status for celebrities and their ilk with the materials ranging from the traditional wool and twill construction to leather and other construction methods appropriate to the time and locale wherein it appears.

From its practical sailor outerwear beginnings to its current status as a trendy high-fashion must-have, the navy pea coat has come a long way. And with fashion icons like Givenchy giving it their seal of approval in their haute couture world, I’m sure we’ll see more of it in the coming years.

Photo by CarbonNYC.

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