Military surplus clothing has long been a fashion statement. Combat boots, Army jackets, and even the American military take on the keffiyeh, have all crept into casual men’s fashion. Though military garb often goes civilian, no piece of clothing has done so as effortlessly and completely as the pea coat.

Though at first glance the name “pea coat” evokes hints of folksy Americana, the origins of the coat are actually Dutch. In the late eighteenth century, when the Netherlands was still a naval powerhouse, Dutch sailors wore pijjakkers, coats made from coarse wool “pije” fabric. Though the Dutch kicked off the use of the coat, it was the British Navy, and their ubiquitous colonial presence around the globe that made the coat truly popular. The “pije” coat became the “pea” coat, as the British adopted a version of the coat as a uniform for petty officers. To this day, pea coats are sometimes referred to as “reefer coats’”—reffering to the shorter pea coats, a.k.a. “reefers,” worn by petty officers of the British Empire. Higher ranking officers would wear a longer “bridge” coat. Eventually, the United States Navy also made the coat part of some of their standard issue clothing for cold weather jobs, and the coat crossed the Atlantic.

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