What is a Reefer Jacket?
What is a Reefer Jacket?
The reefer coat, or jacket, was originally used by ‘reefers’ in the British Navy. They were the sailors who worked ‘midships’ (if you’re a landlubber, that means in the middle of the deck) and whose job it was to ‘reef’ the sails. Which means that they furled or unfurled the sails to catch the maximum amount of wind.
Although the reefer jacket might seem a tad cumbersome for performing strenuous activities like climbing rigging, its high wool content meant that it was extremely warm. And, in contrast to the long duffle coats with thigh straps worn by officers, the reefer jacket was cut short and sat just at the top of the thighs, allowing for ease of movement. The double-breasted design of the reefer meant that the buttons were located off to the sides, ensuring that ropes didn’t get snarled up in the buttons. Another distinctive feature of the reefer coat was that the buttons were engraved with anchors. And authentic modern versions of the reefer jacket still use engraved and polished anchor buttons.
As with the duffle coat, after the end of the Second World War, surplus reefer coats were sold off to the general public. As ‘military chic’ became popular, the reefer jacket was adopted as a symbol of cool. And at various points in recent history, the reefer has been adopted by stars as diverse as French singer, Serge Gainsbourg, British actor, Michael Caine (he wore a suede reefer jacket in The Italian Job) and perhaps most memorably, by Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall.
So what’s so good about a reefer jacket (Pea Coat)?
Well, aside from the obvious sex appeal factor, the reefer coat manages to always look classic, while also looking modern, and has the added benefit of being really, really warm. Which is a lot for one coat to pull off. Let’s start with the classic/modern thing that the reefer coat has got going on.
Because it has been around since the 19th Century, the reefer coat has been popping in and out of vogue for over a hundred years. Remember all the war films from the ’70s? Those steely eyed naval officers taking effortless command? Chances are they were wearing a reefer coat (teamed with a submariners sweater) and you didn’t even notice.
Daniel Craig in Skyfall? Sure he was looking cool as usual, but did you notice he was wearing a reefer coat? Maybe, maybe not. Yet you know he represented the epitome of style. So rather cleverly, the reefer coat has wormed its way into our fashion psyche as a coat that can be vintage AND modern. Which isn’t bad going for a coat that was originally designed for deckhands.
And now to the warmth of a reefer coat. A traditional reefer coat was rich in Melton wool and good quality modern reefers will also boast a high Melton wool content. Melton wool goes through a ‘fulling’ process which adds moisture, heat, friction and pressure. This results in a wool with fibres that have been densely packed together, similar to wool that has been felted. But because the nap of Melton wool is then heavily brushed, the resulting feel is super soft. While a modern reefer jacket should have a high Melton wool content, many manufacturers now add a small amount of polyester to reefers which helps reduce pilling.
Although the original reefer jackets were designed for use at sea, they are not waterproof. But because wool is naturally water-repellent, a reefer jacket with a high wool content will be able to withstand a light shower.
A reefer jacket is also sometimes called a pea coat. You can read more about pea coats here.