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Sailor Chic: How Peacoats Came to Be

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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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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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Adidas, Mari Orr
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Adidas Collaborates With Artists to Create Sneakers for All 50 States
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Adidas, Mari Orr

For a recent project from Adidas and Refinery29, artists were given a women’s running shoe to use as their blank canvas. Their only prompt: Design the sneaker to represent one of the American states. The results are as varied and colorful as the nation itself.

As Adweek reports, the initiative, dubbed BOOST the Nation, takes an all-American look at Adidas’s UltraBOOST X footwear line. Refinery29 selected several artists—all women—to put their regional stamp on the plain white shoe. Some have been decorated with state flora. For instance, the Florida sneaker sports a tropical frond and the shoe for North Carolina is embellished with Venus flytraps. Food is also a popular theme: Wisconsin cheese, Maine lobster, and Tennessee barbecue have all been incorporated into sneaker designs.

Each sneaker is one-of-a kind and only available through auction. All proceeds raised will go directly to Women Win, an organization dedicated to bringing sports to adolescent girls around the world. The auction runs through Tuesday, July 11, with current bids ranging from $110 to $2000. Check out the artists’ handiwork that's for sale below.

Sneaker designed to look like a peach.
Georgia

Checkered running shoe.
Indiana

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Yellow running shoe with cracker tag.
Wisconsin

Sneaker designed to look like a mountain.
South Dakota
Adidas, Mari Orr

Sneaker decorated with wheat.
Oklahoma

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Sneaker embellished with fake roses and leaves.
Kentucky

Pink running shoe with lobster claw.
Maine

[h/t Adweek]

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