Vintage History

Throughout history, fashion designers and stylists have drawn their inspiration from military uniforms.  Many of these designs have been fads and have gone in and out of style.  However, one exception that has remained in style is the Pea Coat.

The Pea Coat was first worn in the 1800’s by sailors in the European navies.  Originally the coats were made of a heavy twill cloth call pilot cloth or P-cloth.  This heavy coarse fabric was designed to protect sailors in bad weather.

The Pea Coat is a heavy outer coat and is recognizable by its wide lapels, large buttons and vertical pockets.  Pea coats are double breasted and traditionally fall at the mid-thigh.  The original pea coat was so heavy that it featured a metal chain at the neckline, which was used to hang it.  The original Pea Coat was made from 30 ounce wool.  It came in one color, dark navy blue, and its wide lapels could be turned up and buttoned to keep the neck and ears warm.  A standard issue pea coat has eight buttons with the anchor symbol on them. 

Members of the U.S. Navy have been wearing the dark navy blue pea coats for over 100 years.  There is speculation as to how the pea coat got its name.  One theory is that since the coats were made from pilot cloth, later restated as P-cloth, the coat eventually took on the name of Pea Coat.  Pilot cloth is described as a woolen fabric.  Pea coats issued by the U.S. Navy are made with wool.  During the Korean War a type of wool used was called Melton wool and it was stamped inside the coat in the collar area. 

With the U.S. Navy Pea Coats, they also carry the style of having wide collars and the right pockets usually have an additional small pocket sewn inside for storing coins, which they needed because in earlier days the sailors pants had no pockets.  The style of the U.S. Navy Pea Coats was purposely simple as the specifications by the Navy stated that “nothing on the uniform should interfere with the Sailors everyday tasks”.

Some of the methods that can be used to determine if the Pea Coat is authentic would be to first check if the coat is double breasted.  Secondly, there should be six buttons visible on the face of the coat and they should carry the anchor design. .

See if the material used is 32 oz. Melton wool and the pockets on the front of the coat should both be vertical.  If the coat has an original U.S. Navy label inside, you can be reasonably assured it is original. 

To determine if a Pea Coat is vintage, there are some possible methods that you can use to determine this.  First, go through the inside of the vintage Navy Pea Coat along the seams to find a label.  Labels may also be inside the pockets.  A black label with yellow letters signifies a pre 1965 coat.  World War II pea coats will have a label that says “Manufactured by Naval Clothing Factory”

with images of anchors in two corners.  These coats can be dated as having been made during World War II between 1939 and 1945.  No U.S. Navy pea coat will be older than the early 1900’s when the Navy began using them.  In addition determine what color the coat is.  Vintage Navy pea coats are navy blue.  U.S. Navy pea coats have been black since 1980.  Colors can be confusing and the U.S. Navy color “Blue 3346” is such a dark navy blue as to appear black to the human eye.