We’re guessing there aren’t a lot of things that Serge Gainsbourg had in common with your average 18th Century sailor. But, though Serge would have worn his out on the town with a conspicuously underdressed Jane Birkin instead of keeping watch topside, we can safely say that one thing the two would have agreed on is the pea coat.
Therein lies the truly great thing about the garment: It works for everyone. And while no single piece of clothing can genuinely work in every social setting, the pea coat comes close, handling situations from casual to just-short-of-black tie with equal aplomb. Aside from its undeniable utility in defending against the cold, that versatility is probably why it’s stuck around for the nearly three centuries since it first appeared on board Dutch and British naval ships in the 1700s as the “pijjekker”—so named for “pij,” the coarse blue cloth from which it was cut.
Over the years, “pij” became “pea,” hence the name we know it by today. But despite the new moniker, little has changed about the pea coat since its debut. It’s still a short, double-breasted coat, cut from heavy wool (usually Melton), adorned with eight to ten buttons (usually sporting an engraved anchor), and finished off with slash handwarmer pockets. It’s a winning formula; so when you get yours, don’t mess with it too much. Feel free to try other colors than the standard navy or play around with pockets and buttons if you so desire, but if you want the most mileage out of it—and believe us, you’ll be wearing the hell out of this thing—you want to keep it classic. Hey, three hundred years and one French libertine can’t be wrong.