For more than a century the icon of military design that we know as the Pea Coat has been adopted into the folds of the young and old, rich and poor, noble and ignoble. Yes, there is no doubt that the Pea Coat has filtered down through the ranks of naval distinction, to global flea markets and back onto the high street to be swept up into the world of fast fashion. And though designers and brands have put their own stamp on this garment, for better or worse, the overall design has remained largely unchanged.
The piece that we are talking about today is born of a garment which was introduced to the military world by the Dutch in the 1800’s. The Pije Coat had a design which served the purpose of protecting naval personnel from bitter arctic winds. The iconic double breasted front serves the function of folding over itself to provide a barrier from the elements, whilst the high collar is rigid enough to stand on its own and protect the wearer’s neck. For American iterations of this coat, a ten button front signifies that the garment was made pre-1945, with military production ceasing after the end of the Second World War and anything less than that is usually attributed to the latter half of the 20th century.
So why then, knowing what I know about the brilliant Buzz Rickson brand and their unwavering attention to stitch for stitch replica detail, am I sitting here looking at a coat which is not like the others? The answer, of course is that this particular model of Pea Coat is part of the masterful collaboration with novelist William Gibson which the brand launched in the 2000’s.
This edition of the hallowed garment is notable for one major change... it’s black! Yes, gone are those traditional naval blues, and in their place blossoms a darker shade which is much more suited to this great author. Deep black 36oz melton wool is what makes up the shell of this coat which sounds like a staggering weight, but once this coat is on your shoulders it feels as though it has always been yours. It doesn’t fit like traditional pea coats at all. In fact, in spite of the weight this coat is far from cumbersome. A slimmer cut in the arm and waist allows the form of the coat to effortlessly mould to the shape of your body, providing comfort which makes me wish I had never tried it on! I simply can’t go back to my old Pea Coat now.
The pockets have been cut from a luxuriously soft and warming thick wale corduroy and are one of this coat’s great secrets. They are a camel colour and the only part of this coat which isn’t as black as the night sky (that’s to be kept between you and me by the way). Dressing these traditional side entry pockets we find soft leather trimmings which add a touch of nuanced detail, subtly setting this coat apart from others in the military arsenal. Added luxury comes in the form of a cotton/satin lining throughout, in the perfect percentages (57 to 43) to allow for comfort without feeling too silky. One standard size interior pocket has been featured on this model on the right hand side, with an added traditional sailor’s watch pocket on the right.
While this brilliant edition of the iconic coat eschews some of the classic detailing that we may have come to expect, there are some features which are a subtle nod to the origins of its military credentials. Perhaps my favourite are the ten ’13 star and anchor’ buttons which proudly adorn the form and have been faithfully crafted from sturdy Bakelite. The really interesting thing about this is that the 13 stars on the circumference of the button are there to represent the first 13 states of America after it declared independence from the British and became a blinding signal of their new military prowess. A punch of added heritage authenticity comes in the form of the brand’s custom woven ‘Naval Clothing Factory’ product label, which can be found inside the right hand breast flap.
In all this coat is a welcome step away from the reproduction world that we know and love the brand for. It is heavy duty personified and yet elegantly avoids the bulkiness of other iterations. It provides nuances of sophistication to an already timeless piece and breathes fresh black air into the sartorial history books. It is an instant classic within a classic and I for one am ready to add this piece to my coat collection.