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Sailor Chic: How Peacoats Came to Be

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Getty Images

These days, you don’t have to be in the Navy to look like you belong on the open sea. Anyone who lives in, has visited, or has even seen pictures of other people who live in a colder climate can attest to the ubiquity of the double-breasted, structured-shoulder staple of winter wear that is the classic naval-style peacoat. Now as much at home on the shoulders of a runway model as on those of a military officer, peacoats have significantly evolved in purpose while maintaining their signature style. Though the woolen outerwear has long ceased to be a trend and likely has a long, warm future ahead of it as the go-to winter coat, there are a few uncertainties still remaining about its journey into the fashion canon.

Even the Oxford English Dictionary, the foremost source for tracing origins of words and the objects they denote, is uncertain about the etymology of the word “peacoat.” Linguists have successfully traced back the natural evolution of “peacoat” from the synonymous term “pea-jacket,” but that’s where things get fuzzy. The prevailing theory suggests that pea-jacket emerged from the Dutch compound word pijjaker, which further derives from the Middle Dutch word pij, referring to coarse woolen clothing worn by sailors—sounds familiar, but there’s little concrete evidence to support it beyond logical inference.

It certainly seems logical that the term for a seaman’s coat would have originated in the Netherlands, at the time a foremost global naval power, but competing theories argue that the similarities are merely due to chance. The U.S. Navy claims that the coat came first and the name came after: Tailored from a heavy, hard-wearing blue twill fabric known as pilot cloth and abbreviated to “p-cloth,” the coats naturally came to be called p-jackets and eventually pea coats. A British clothing merchant named Edgar Camplin is also credited with the invention of a coat for petty (non-commissioned) officers of the British Navy—a “petty coat,” or “p. coat” for short; however, this claim lacks any historical evidence beyond the clothier’s own testimony.


A WWI-era peacoat button, featuring a small anchor and a perimeter of 13 stars. Image courtesy of The Fedora Lounge.

 Despite the absence of a definitive origin story, the peacoat we know today nevertheless possesses distinct features that recall its military and seafaring history. Its practical qualities make it the ideal protection against icy winds on land or on sea: Its thick wool construction is augmented by the double-breasted front, which provides an extra layer of warmth, and its oversized, peaked lapels afford some dignity to collar-poppers seeking additional coverage on their exposed necks. A genuine peacoat features two vertical slash pockets, intended not for storage but to keep the wearer’s hands warm—the only coat intentionally designed to accommodate that need. All designs feature a double row of buttons down the front (originally eight, but decreased to six after WWII), though the anchor design has changed significantly since it was first borrowed from the official seal of the Lord High Admiral of Great Britain.


Classic black “fouled anchor” (surrounded by rope) button design. Image courtesy of The Gentleman’s Gazette.

Although official Navy surplus peacoats are approved for use by civilians, and there are innumerable fashionable adaptations of the design available for sale, the U.S. Navy has strict regulations in place for correct wear by its enlisted sailors:

“Button all buttons except collar button. Collar button may be buttoned in inclement weather. Wear the jumper collar inside the coat.  Sleeves are to reach about three-quarters of distance from the wrist to the knuckles when arms hang naturally at the sides.”

Thankfully, everyone else is permitted to wear their peacoat as they please. I like to accessorize with a scarf.

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Helen Maybanks, (c) RSC
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Pop Culture
Royal Shakespeare Company Auctions Off Costumes Worn By Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, and More
Helen Maybanks, (c) RSC
Helen Maybanks, (c) RSC

The stages of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England have been graced by some of the most celebrated performers of our day. Now, the legendary theater company is giving fans a chance to own the original costumes that helped bring their characters to life. On April 17, more than 50 costumes worn in RSC productions will hit eBay to raise money for the group's Stitch in Time campaign.

With this new campaign, the RSC aims to raise enough money to renovate the aging workshop where costume designers create all the handmade garments used in their shows. Following a play's run, the costumes are either rented out to other theaters or kept safe in the company's museum collections. Designers often make duplicates of the items, which means that the RSC is able to auction off some of their most valuable pieces to the public.

The eBay costume auction includes clothing worn by some of the most prolific actors to work with the company. Bidders will find Patrick Stewart's beige shorts from the 2006 production of Antony and Cleopatra, David Tennant's white tunic from 2013's Richard II, Ian McKellen's red, floor-length coat from 2007's King Lear, and Judi Dench's black doublet from 2016's Shakespeare Live! Costumes worn by Anita Dobson, Susannah York, and Simon Russell Beale will also be featured.

All proceeds from the auction go to restoring the RSC's costume workshop. Shakespeare fans have until April 27 to place their bids.

Patrick Stewart in Antony and Cleopatra.
Pascal Molliere, (c) RSC

Actors in stage play.
Manuel Harlan, (c) RSC

Actor in stage play.
Kwame Lestrade, (c) RSC
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PRNewsfoto/PolyU
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technology
This 3D Human Modeling App Could Revolutionize Online Clothes Shopping
PRNewsfoto/PolyU
PRNewsfoto/PolyU

A team of academics in Hong Kong have developed a 3D human modeling app that could drastically change the way we shop online. Dubbed 1Measure, this “one-click measure” tool allows users to record their body measurements in a matter of seconds by uploading two full-body photos.

After snapping images with both a front view and side view, the app uses artificial intelligence to create a 3D digital model of the user's body in under 10 seconds. Next to this image, over 50 size measurements are displayed, including everything from knee girth to shoulder slope. This information can be saved and accessed at a later date, and the app also lists your size in other countries, allowing you to shop for clothes around the world with ease.

This revolutionary technology was developed by associate professor Tracy P.Y. Mok and PhD graduate Dr. Zhu Shuaiyin of the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).

Other current technologies are capable of carrying out similar modeling functions, but the PolyU team says these methods involve costly, bulky scanners, and their results are only approximate. The 1Measure app’s margin of error is 1 centimeter for users photographed in tight-fitting clothes, and 2 centimeters for those in loose-fitting clothes, according to its developers.

The app is particularly useful when it comes to online shopping. Dr. Zhu says the technology “frees us from the limitations imposed by taking body measurements physically, helping customers to select the right size in online clothing purchases.”

The app can also store multiple measurements at once and track any changes that the body undergoes, making it suitable for those with fitness goals.

1Measure is free to download and is currently available on the App Store in both English and Chinese.

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