The pea coat originated as part of a sailor’s uniform and makes a comeback Fall/Winter 2015-16.
We’re always stealing from sailors — striped shirts, flared legs and of course, the ever-practical pea coat. Above all, the pea coat is functional. A large lapel protects the neck and head in heavy weather, side pockets keep the hands warm, while the short cut frees the legs. The two button fastenings allow protection from the cold no matter which direction the wind is blowing. In the olden days, sailors might cover the coat in tar, tallow, and turpentine to make it weatherproof. It was first worn as early as the 15th century by European navigators, and later was christened the “pea coat” by Anglo-Saxons, probably in reference to the pij, or type of boiled twill used to make it.
When the pea coat leaves ship, its natural tendency it is to wander the ports on the back of sailors in search of sex, alcohol and adventure. Its status as bad boy uniform makes it just right for icon. Yves Saint Lauren re-vamped it with gold buttons for the 1960s, an students of May 1968, the Beatles, and Serge Gainsbourg all adopted it as a symbol of freedom, a manifesto against borders and an invitation to travel. Thus intellectualized and recovered by the fashion world, the pea coat has been gentrified into the ultimate city jacket.
And it’s due for a serious comeback next winter. Jean-Paul Gaultier took the nautical theme to the extreme, convening a real parade of sailors, captains and bagpipers as part of his Fall/Winter 2015-16 show. Sonia Rykiel, leading worldwide trends from her Paris atelier since the 1960s, has made pea coat her pet. Gucci plays the military air base in khaki and burgundy; Chloé put models between feminine embellished shoulders and fluid length ankle; Dior, however, lowers the shoulder going up the neck and chose soft colors; Dsquared added oversized braids.