On October 1, the US Navy completed the phase-out of the venerable Navy peacoat in favor of the “Black Cold Weather Parka.” The new parka is superior in every way: warmer, lighter, more versatile, and able to be stuffed into a seabag. It has only one drawback: everyone hates it.
I’ve mentioned the peacoat phase-out to several Navy veterans. VBC Navy vet Rick Erisman’s response was typical: “What a crock! [The peacoat] is a symbol for the Sailor and his sacrifice.”
Rick has a point. The United States Navy Memorial has sixteen bronze castings of “The Lone Sailor” sculpture around the world to honor those who’ve served. The statue stands seven-feet tall with a seabag at his ready. His eyes are fixed on the horizon, serene and determined. His hands are firmly planted in the vertical pockets of his peacoat. His collar is turned up for effect.
The peacoat is an enduring piece of military chic, perpetually cool for civilians to wear. Think of Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor or Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.
But the peacoat would have never lasted as long as it did if it hadn’t performed the function for which it was designed: to keep sailors warm and mostly dry in all kinds of weather.
The first appearance of a double-breasted, hip-length coat with an oversized collar made of Midnight Blue wool can be traced in America to the 1720s, a half century before the birth of the US Navy. The Navy states that the term “peacoat” comes from the letter “p,” which, it says, stands for “pilot,” a kind of fabric. The Royal British Navy begs to differ, claiming that the “p” stands for “Petty,” as in Petty Officer.
They’re probably both wrong. Most likely, the word comes from the Dutch pijjakker—pij referring to the course twilled cloth and jakker meaning jacket. The design was born in Holland and then spread around the world.
The Navy says it’s replacing the peacoat “to reduce current Navy seabag uniform component requirements” and to update the look of sailors with a lighter-weight and more protective synthetic fabric. While more expensive, the new parka is really two coats in one: it replaces not only the peacoat but what sailors call the “foul weather jacket” (officially known as the “Jacket, Shipboard, Cold Weather, Flame Resistant,” preceded by the N1 and A2).
While sailors will no longer be issued the peacoat, they can still buy them, and the Navy is keeping the pijjakker as an optional clothing item.
So, when you’re drinking to the foam on the Navy’s 245th birthday (October 13), raise a toast to the great peacoat and maybe pick up a good used one on eBay for the coming winter!