Sailor Chic: How Peacoats Came to Be

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/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.

DNA Links Polish Barber Aaron Kosminski to Jack the Ripper Murders, But Experts Are Skeptical

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Many people have been suspected of being Jack the Ripper, from author Lewis Carroll to Liverpool cotton salesman James Maybrick, but the perpetrator of the grisly crimes that gripped Victorian London has never been identified. Now, one of the case's first suspects is back in the news. As Smithsonian reports, Aaron Kosminski, a barber from Poland, has been linked to the Jack the Ripper murders with DNA evidence—but experts are hesitant to call the case closed.

The new claim comes from data now published in the Journal of Forensic Science. Several years ago, Ripperologist Russell Edwards asked researchers from the University of Leeds and John Moores University in Liverpool to analyze a blood-stained silk shawl thought to have belonged to Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes. The item, which Edwards owns, has been a primary piece of evidence in the murder investigation for years. In 2014, Edwards published a book in which he claimed Aaron Kosminski's DNA had been found on the garment, but his results weren't published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Five years later, the researchers have released their findings. Using infrared and spectrophotometry technology, they confirmed the fabric was stained with blood and discovered a possible semen stain. They collected DNA fragments from the stain and compared them to DNA taken from a descendent of Eddowes and a descendent of Kosminski. The mitochondrial DNA (the DNA passed down from mother to offspring) extracted from the shawl contained matching profiles for both subjects.

Kosminski was a 23-year-old Polish barber living in London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders. He was one of the first suspects identified by the London police, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him in 1888.

Following the newest study, many Jack the Ripper experts are saying there still isn't enough evidence to definitively pin the murders on Kosminski. One of the main issues is that a mitochondrial DNA match isn't as conclusive as matches with other DNA; many people have the same mitochondrial DNA profile, even if they're not related, so the forensic tool is best used for ruling out suspects rather than confirming them.

The shawl at the center of the study is also controversial. It was supposedly picked up by a police officer at the scene of Eddowes's murder, but that version of the story has been disputed. The shawl's origin also been traced back to multiple eras, including the early 1800s and early 1900s, as well as different parts of Europe.

Due to many factors complicating the Jack the Ripper case, the murders may never be solved completely. The crimes spurred a flurry of hoax letters to the London Police department in the 1880s, and even the letters that were thought to be authentic, like the one that gave Jack the Ripper his nickname, may have been fabricated.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Medgar Evers’s Mississippi Home Is Now a National Monument

Milt T, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Milt T, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Mississippi home where civil rights leader and World War II veteran Medgar Evers lived at the time of his assassination has just been declared a national monument, the Clarion Ledger reports. The new designation was part of a sweeping bill signed by President Donald Trump that also established four other national monuments: one in Utah, one in California, and two in Kentucky.

The three-bedroom house in Jackson was already a national historic landmark as well as a stop on the Mississippi Freedom Trail. However, it now has the distinction of being known as the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument. Evers and his wife, Myrlie, moved into the home with their two children after Evers became Mississippi’s first NAACP field secretary in 1954. As an outspoken activist, he also staged boycotts and voter registration drives, and helped desegregate the University of Mississippi.

The couple welcomed their third child into the world while living in their Jackson home, but due to Evers’s high profile, they had to take extra precautions. The home doesn’t have a front door because Evers believed this small barrier would help protect his family (the door was located on the side of the house instead). It wasn’t enough to protect him, though. On June 12, 1963, Evers was shot in his driveway by Klansman Byron De La Beckwith. A bullet hole can still be seen in a kitchen wall.

Evers’s murder helped prompt the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to historians. Myrlie Evers also went on to play a crucial role in the movement, serving as national chairwoman of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998. “Medgar and Myrlie Evers are heroes whose contributions to the advancement of civil rights in Mississippi and our nation cannot be overstated,” said U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who co-sponsored the proposal for the national monument.

Under this new change of management—from former owners Tougaloo College to the federal government—the home will receive more funds for its preservation. Currently, the home can only be toured by appointment.

[h/t Clarion Ledger]

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