Style Notes: Pea Coat vs Trench Coat – What’s the Difference?

Style Notes: Pea Coat vs Trench Coat – What’s the Difference?
Two classic military heritage coats that are not interchangeable.

While the trench coat and pea coat are both timeless outerwear designed to protect from the elements, each have their own unique aesthetic, history, and functional purposes and, in general, are not interchangeable either from a style stand point or utility stand point.

an illustration of two coats, on the left a shorter less ornate pea coat and on the right, a longer more detailed trench coat with belt and buckles.

Pea Coat

(Also spelled peacoat without the space.)

Andrew Snavely wearing a black thigh length pea coat


The pea coat has a rich naval history going back to the 18th century, originally worn by sailors and seamen in European navies. The name pea coat is believed to be a “calque,” or phonetic borrowing, from the Dutch word “pij” which referred to a course woolen cloth.


A predominant difference between pea coats and trench coats are their length and material. Pea coats end just below the hips or no longer than mid-thigh, whereas trench coats extend beyond the knee.

Pea coats, while not exclusively, are almost always made of wool or a synthetic blend that mimics the texture and thickness of wool.

close up of wool pea coat texture
Pea coats have a felt-like touch and texture

The pea coat's design is visually defined by its double-breasted front closure. A double-breasted coat or jacket features two parallel vertical columns of buttons with an overlapping front flap, providing a distinctive and formal appearance.

The pea coat design has been losing buttons since World War I, where they often had 10, later 8, and now usually 6. The buttons of a pea coat are large and substantive, likely to aid in fastening during inclement weather while wearing gloves. Buttons are nowadays usually black, but some more naval-inspired coats may have gold ones.

A pea coat hanging on a hanger
Review: Is James Bond's pea coat good enough for a real guy?

Due to their naval heritage, it should be no surprise that traditional pea coats are navy blue, though contemporary versions can be had in almost any color or material.

→ Fun fact: The US Navy began phasing out the peacoat in 2018, replacing it with a black synthetic parka.

Core Competency:

Providing warmth in winter temperatures.

Trench Coat

daniel baraka wearing a tan trench coat
How to Wear a Trench Coat Without Looking Like a 1930s Detective


The trench coat was an evolution of a 19th century raincoat known as a Mackintosh or ‘mac’ coat. The trench coat’s design is often credited to Thomas Burberry – yes, of that Burberry – who invented the water-resistant gabardine fabric.

Unlike waxed canvas, a fabric where the waterproofing comes from a wax applied to the surface of woven cotton, gabardine's water resistance comes from its tight weave, plus any additional water resistance treatments. This fundamental difference in treatment results in unique characteristics for each fabric: Waxed canvas is heavier and develops a distinctive patina over time, while gabardine offers a smoother finish and is favored for its versatility in more refined pieces.

The resulting coat was a lighter, more practical option for World War I officers in the trenches, thus the name.

close up of trench coat fabric with water droplets
A trench coat has a smoother texture than a pea coat

→ Fun fact: Superman’s cape, as played by Christopher Reeve, was also made of gabardine.


Trench coats are long, extending to the knees or even lower, and are made of gabardine, as mentioned, or other similar water-resistant fabrics and blends in modern versions. They can be either single or double breasted, and feature an iconic waist belt, massive lapels, shoulder epaulettes, and a “storm flap” over the right shoulder to direct water away from the body.

Trench coats most famously come in “1930s Detective Tan” and “Not-so-popular in School Black“.

Core Competency:

Protection from precipitation and wind.

Pea Coat vs Trench Coat Comparison

Function: A pea coat is predominantly a fall and winter coat with the goal of keeping the wearer warm. A trench coat is generally a spring coat intended to protect the wearer from heavy wind and rain.

Style: Both coats are classic menswear choices steeped in military history and heritage, and both can be worn by well-dressed men in both casual and more dressed-up scenarios. However, the trench coat can be more challenging to pull off day-to-day for novices, especially outside of rainy spring days, whereas every guy from the leading moving actors to even the most poorly dressed schlub can wear a pea coat effortlessly. For this reason, the entry-level style option is the pea coat.

Andrew Snavely

Andrew founded Primer in 2008 and brings 15+ years of men's style expertise. Known for his practical, relatable approach to style and self-development, he has been a recognized speaker at conferences and has styled work for top brands. Off-duty, he loves photography & editing, and enjoys road trips with his dog, Leela. Raised in rural Pennsylvania, educated in DC, and living in LA for nearly 20 years, Andrew's diverse experiences shape the relatable and real-world advice that has helped millions through Primer. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.