--and the cons at Alcatraz, who wore surplus peas exclusively by 1962:
What a blow to read this news about the classic double-breasted coat with its too cool collar turned up high:
In 2016, the United States Navy announced that its blue wool pea coats — which had been in use for well over a century — would cease being standard-issue for Sailors. In 2018, a black synthetic parka would be phased in, and by 2020, while Sailors could continue to wear the pea coat as part of their uniform, they’d have to purchase it with their own money.
--The Art of Manliness
It'll be interesting to see how many sailors are willing to part with their money. Depending on the style, peacoats range from $300-$800 new. Here's what I've learned about buying a pea after shopping in stores and online:
1) You'll do well to begin with a trip to an Army/Navy surplus store. Why? Because you'll see and try on the real deal, and learn what $300 will buy you. You'll get the feel of the Melton wool, the stiffness of the wide lapels and classic pop-up collar, the heavily stitched buttons. You'll see the official Navy label with the contract number, etc. Slip your hands in the hand warmer pockets and feel the soft, thick cloth lining that will warm your mitts.
2) Armed with this knowledge, feel free to shop online. I did twice.
a)The first time, for a hundred bucks, I got what they claimed to be a Mil-Tec US Navy peacoat. Not Navy-style peacoat. No, the real thing. But the box it came in shocked me: so light, I thought maybe a sweater had come. True, it looked like a peacoat...but it didn't feel like the real deal I'd seen in the surplus store. The wool, I learned, was 50% wool/50% viscose. The buttons were loose. The collar, though it buttoned high, didn't have that classic pop. And the hand warmer pockets? These were lined with polyester, A cheap imitation all the way around. Compare the picture of it with the old-time photo that starts off this post--and weep for what a C-note will buy you:
b) My second online gamble worked out well for me--mainly because I wanted a lightweight slim impression of a pea I could wear to a summer photo shoot. Just 35% wool, it's useless for late fall or winter. But it fit well, looked sharp and won lots of positive feedback. The color shot appears at the top of my blog. The fifty bucks had been well spent but it still left me wanting the real deal.
3) The third option requires persistence and luck. But thrift stores can offer the real deal on the cheap. Three weeks ago I checked the men's coat section at Value Village. And on that first look, for $25, I found an older pea matching what I'd seen at the surplus store. And I am here to tell you there's simply no comparison between wearing the best imitation and wearing a real Navy pea.
Even if all sailors fall head over heels for the new parka, I think the pea will stay with us for many years to come. Its warmth and rugged rakishness are truly past compare.
I sign off with a gallery of pea loving stars: