Recently, my wife has been trying to get me out of my ten year old wool/cashmere overcoat and into a more “stylish” pea coat. While walking around town or when out at a nice restaurant, she never misses an opportunity to point out every pea coat she sees while throwing various adjectives at me to try and convert me.
Typically, a pea coat sighting goes something like this…
Wife – “Look at him! He looks awesome/fit/stylish/like a GQ model/other adjective in that coat!”
Me – “You’re right. But I like my overcoat.”
I’m not the biggest fan of the look. But why don’t I like it? Honestly, I’ve never been able to answer that question with anything more compelling than “I like the overcoat just because it’s better”.
In an attempt to finally put the matter to rest, let’s take a look at both styles and examine the pros and cons to each.
The overcoat is an umbrella term for a number of coats, all of which are specifically tailored to be worn over a suit and can be anywhere from ankle to knee length.
My personal overcoat of choice is a Chesterfield. Mine is the traditional calf-length length in jet black, features a short, notched lapel and is made from a very heavy wool/cashmere blend (90%/10%) and weighs in at about 4lbs. The Chesterfield is the godfather of the overcoat, having been invented circa 1850 by the 6th Earl of Chesterfield (his predecessor, the 4th earl of Chesterfield commissioned the first Chesterfield couch, quite the fashion-forward family).
If you’re feeling a bit more outdoorsy, you can choose a covert coat. It’s essentially the same coat, but traces its roots back to the gentlemanly sport of hunting in England and is typically made of heavier tweed and comes, generally, only in shades of green and brown so as to hide the mud.
If you’re in a rainier climate, the trench coat is a perennial favorite, but tends to be fairly light material, perhaps making it a poor choice for those of us who live in a place where the wind hurts our faces for three months out of the year.
The Pea Coat
The pea coat can trace its lineage much further back than the overcoat, all the way back to the British navy of the early 18th century. There is very little variation when it comes to pea coats. You can get them with or without a hood and you have a selection of buttons and fastening options.
A classic pea coat is waist length, though you can find a thigh length version which is referred to as a bridge coat.
As far as the material goes, it’s fairly heavy wool (about 1.85 – 2 lbs), so if you happen to be an 18th century enlisted man on the Cutty Sark (the ship, not the booze) you’ll probably only be mildly uncomfortable as you skid across the Atlantic.
But what’s better?
You’ve now met the contenders here in this little coat face-off. Now, admittedly, before I wear something, drive something or even endorse something I tend to take a look at who else is doing it. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the better known men who favor each style…
- David Beckham;
- Russell Crowe;
- Martin Freeman;
- Benedict Cumberbatch;
- Zachary Quinto; and
- Pretty much the entire Rat Pack (and this is why there’s a Chesterfield in my closet….).
The Pea Coat
- Ryan Gosling;
- Justin Timberlake;
- Channing Tatum;
- Zachary Levi; and
- Tom Cruise (and this is why the pea coat will never see the inside of my closet…).
Ok, so the pea coat loses that round based on the fact that Tom Cruise favours them. But what about more practical applications? Like, what actually keeps you warm in the middle of February when it’s -25c, winds are gusting at 30kph and the snow drifts touch your knees?
- Traditionally calf-length, but also available in knee length.
- Made of heavy wool or cashmere (if you’ve got the money) or a blend of the two.
- Weighs in at about 4lbs on average
The Pea Coat
- Traditionally thigh-length, but also available in waist-length.
- Modern ones are made of heavy wool.
- Weighs in at about 1.5lbs on average.
- Some more modern pea coats are available with a hood.
Again, we at Northern Gentleman have to side with the overcoat. We’d rather have warm legs than look like Justin Timberlake. Even with the optional hood on the pea coat, it’s just not long enough to properly protect your body from the cold or your suit pants from slush and muck. To counter the lack of head protection, I’ve personally begun wearing a hoodie under my suit jacket. Then I can put the hoodie up to protect my head and ears and then take it off once I reach the office.
In the end, the decision is yours. Fashion or function? For your truly, who has to walk about 9km each day to get to the train from my house, from the train station to my office and then back home again, the overcoat is the clear winner simply because it keeps my clothes warm, dry and clean in transit. If you spend more time in a car, the pea coat definitely has the advantage, since you won’t be sitting on it or catching it on your door every time you get out.
Just remember, if you do decide to wear a pea coat, you’re letting everyone know that you tacitly support Tom Cruise’s couch-hopping insanity. Up to you.