One of the most distinguished-looking pieces of clothing in any man’s wardrobe, the peacoat has a long history of being a symbol of refinement, and quite honestly, coziness.
And it had to be warm and cozy: the peacoat has its origins in the early Modern navies of Europe and America, when sailors were shifting away from looking like dingy, unwashed bandits and more refined and professional. One of the first pieces of clothing they adopted was the peacoat, thanks to the clothing’s overall construction that made it perfect for the high seas.
What Is a Peacoat?
Modern peacoats have not changed much since their days keeping deck swabbers and ship captains warm: most of them are still made of wool, slash pockets, large lapels, double-breasted cuts, tall collars, big round buttons, and an overall shorter length than a regular coat. All of these features, of course, were designed with seafarers in mind: the collar and lapels could be flipped up to provide extra warmth to the sailors while the short length allowed them to move freely around the ship without their movement being hindered. It’s the opposite of wearing a boutonniere: the peacoat had usefulness and functionality in mind, not aesthetics.
Traditional peacoats were often on the darker side to hide grime and because it faded a lot less. Meanwhile, the wool fabric was designed not only to keep the sailor warm, but also because it was one of the most durable fabrics at that time, one that could withstand the natural conditions of sailing (i.e. strong winds, salt air, and the occasional fire or two). The double-breasted cut also had a purpose: it was designed so that a measure of rope could be run through the middle portion of the sailor without snagging. The slit pockets, on the other hand, were designed mostly for warmth, although they could be used to store small items.
While the uses and versatility of the peacoat are very clear, its exact origins are actually a lot less known, with many European navies obviously staking a claim as the first to apply it to their seafarers. The most commonly accepted, sort-of origin that’s accepted by historians and haberdashers everywhere is that it comes from 16th century Netherlands, mostly because of the Dutch word pijjekker or pijjakker, meaning a jacket made of heavy blue twill fabric.
Not to be outdone, the U.S. Navy believes that they invented the peacoat, with its etymology coming from the “pilot cloth” that these jackets were made from. Pilot cloth became p-cloth and the jackets, or coats, became p-jacket and p-cloth. Whether there’s any veracity to this or was the invention of some proud, jealous U.S. Navy admiral is up for debate (it’s definitely the latter).
What we do know is that the peacoat’s first widespread usage was in the British Royal Navy, with the peacoat being officially mentioned as part of the uniform manual in 1731. The U.S. Navy later adopted it as an official part of their uniform sometime in the late 19th century. However, back in 2016, the U.S. Navy decided that it would no longer be part of official Navy regalia. It’s not illegal for sailors of course, they just have to buy it with their own money. A sad end to a long-time naval tradition.
Despite its military origins, the peacoat found its way into haute couture because of its simple, yet elegant, design and its functionality. Peacoats became a part of high society fashion sometime in the early 20th century and has continued to endure as a beloved men’s wear staple because of its classic, rugged, and sharp looks that fit most body types, from the skinny kings to the Power Clean weightlifters.
It’s one of those garments that simply will not go out of style, but only if you wear it right.
The Peacoat: The Perfect Fit
There are many peacoats to choose from, but other than choosing which color to get (we’ll get to that later), it’s best to choose a peacoat that fits you well. Here are some things to consider when choosing your next peacoat:
Traditional peacoats are made from 100% wool, while the most commonly acceptable ratio for modern peacoats is a 20% synthetic/wool blend. Wool is the fabric of choice because it is very durable, is resistant to flame, water, stains, and odors, and while it’s a great insulator, it is still a very breathable fabric. Of course, 100% wool peacoats are not only hard to find, they’re also quite expensive. That being said, synthetic fibers like nylon can actually enhance a peacoat’s durability and strength without compromising wool’s amazing innate qualities. But that’s only if it doesn’t exceed 20% synthetic: anything beyond that and the look and feel of the wool peacoat diminishes greatly.
As much as possible, make sure that the wool the peacoat is using is Melton wool. Melton wool is a thicker, denser, felt-like variant of wool that is notable for its hardiness and its weather resistance. If you’re going for a synthetic/wool blend, make sure that the inside lining of the coat has wool lining and reinforced seams.
Remember that a peacoat is meant for cold and wet weather conditions, so if you’re going to fit a peacoat, make sure your undergarments are also weather-appropriate. This means that, if you’re going to be wearing the peacoat as an overgarment, then make sure you’re wearing thick sweaters when doing a fit. This way, you’ll see what the fit truly looks like when it’s being used. You’re not going to wear a t-shirt underneath a peacoat when you go out to use it, so don’t fit a peacoat with just a t-shirt underneath.
When you wear the peacoat and your arms are hanging down straight, the sleeves should gently graze the tops of your hands. They should not be going anywhere over the wrist or, worse, extending so much that they cover more than half your hands. Conversely, you also don’t want them too short: as an overcoat, the peacoat is supposed to cover as much of your undergarment as possible. If you’re wearing a long-sleeved sweater underneath, make sure that the peacoat’s sleeve covers the entirety of the sweater’s sleeve.
The peacoat should be snug around your body, but not tight, especially around the chest and midsection. To check for tightness, wear the coat and close the buttons. If the buttons look like they’re tense, or if you can’t move your arms without feeling the sleeves tensing or overly creasing, then it’s too tight and you need to get something bigger. The buttons should close naturally and have zero creasing or pulls and should make two neat and relatively straight rows down your torso.
As with most types of coats, the shoulders of the peacoat should align directly with the ends of your shoulders. The peacoat’s fabric in the shoulder area should not wrinkle, have divots, or have any tension when worn. Take note that, if the shoulders of a peacoat don’t fit you well off the rack, find a new one. If you’ve been doing your lat pulldowns and your shoulders have gotten bulkier, take note of this. Adjusting the shoulders of a peacoat are extremely difficult –some would say, close to impossible –and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a tailor that is willing to work on it.
The bottom of your peacoat should fall just below the hips by a few inches. The ideal peacoat fit falls somewhere right above your fly and should not extend beyond it. Peacoats should not cover your butt, as any coat of this length looks less like a peacoat and more like a generic, run-of-the-mill, overcoat. It should also naturally taper to your waist, with the peacoat having just a slight flare when it reaches your hips.
A peacoat’s collar should be sitting quite close to your neck as it was meant to be flipped up to provide sailors with extra warmth. If the collar is too loose, it can actually act as a sort-of funnel for the cold wind when it starts blowing. That being said, if the rest of the peacoat fits well but the collar is too loose, not to worry: you can fill the gap with a well-placed scarf, so long as the scarf matches the peacoat’s color. Speaking of color…
Peacoats were originally dark in color, usually dark indigo, gray, or even black, as these shades were great at masking grime and other stains. Darker shades were also easier to maintain, as visible stains can easily be spotted and cleaned, and because they faded less quickly than brighter colors.
With that in mind, it’s always best to keep your peacoat in a traditional, but versatile, color. The most commonly chosen color is Navy because, well, it keeps the peacoat in line with its maritime theme. However, black and grey peacoats are seeing quite a resurgence in the fashion world.
Take note, however, that while black does go with everything, it can be a bit too stark in contrast for most outfits, so a dark charcoal grey might be better because of its versatility.
How To Wear a Peacoat
Now that you have the right-fitting peacoat, it’s time to actually wear the peacoat and wear it well. More than just an overcoat, the peacoat truly shines as both a functional garment and as a statement piece, but only if it’s worn the way it’s supposed to be.
Button Up to Avoid Looking Sloppy
Peacoats were military uniforms, so they were meant to be worn in such a way that it made the person wearing them look neat and professional, with elegance and classy being unintended, but highly favorable, side effects. As such, a peacoat is best worn closed rather than open. The early navy peacoats were often made with around 10 buttons sewn in; modern civilian peacoats, on the other hand, often have 6.
However, just like a suit jacket, the bottom button of the peacoat should be left unbuttoned as it allows the coat to hang neatly, properly, and provide you the room you need to move around.
Popping the Collar Can Actually Look Good, Sometimes
In fashion, there are only two pieces of garment where popping the collar is an acceptable fashion option: trench coats and peacoats. The collars of a peacoat are thick because they’re meant to protect sailors’ throats from the harsh wind, which is why most peacoats have a ‘throat-latch’ located both in the front and back of your neck. On a brisk day, however, popping just the collar should suffice. If you have a low fade haircut, you’ll still be able to rock the ‘youthful but professional’ look if you pop the collar.
However, if you are going to pop the collar, make sure to button the lapels up. This gives your collar a neat look even when it’s flipped up. If you don’t button your lapels up and the collar is a little high, you will look like a metrosexual Dracula, and I’m sure that’s not a look you were going for.
So go ahead, pop the collar, but only if it makes sense: if it’s not cold or windy enough, then keep the collar down.
You CAN Pair a Peacoat with a Suit or Blazer, But Not All the Time
In general, the peacoat is best worn when you’re going for a more casual, versatile look. This means that it’s not the best overcoat when wearing something dressy like a suit or a blazer. Peacoats are also generally thick and snug, which might make them impractical and bulky-looking if you wear them over thick, multiple layers like in a sweater-vest-blazer combo. If you’re going for a formal, dressed up look, go for the longer and more formal overcoat.
That being said, it’s not the worst thing to pair a peacoat with a blazer or suit, so long as your peacoat covers the entire bottom of your suit jacket or blazer (and if both are fitted well, this should overlap nicely). Always keep in mind, however, that the outermost layer that you wear should always be the longest piece of garment, as it’s meant to keep you warm.
At the End of the Day, However, Don’t Overthink a Peacoat
As with most things in fashion, don’t overthink it: in general, the peacoat will go with most outfits, provided that they’re weather and season-appropriate, of course. It’s a highly versatile piece of clothing that can go with casual wear like jeans and turtlenecks but can also work well with slightly dressier options like brogues and dress shirts.
Every dad should have at least two peacoats in their closet, and it’s definitely a fashion option that you should teach your kids to wear as they grow up. Remember: good fashion focuses on the timeless classics.