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The Fedora Lounge Guide to The U.S. Navy Bridge Coat

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Let’s start with some official definitions. These are from 1998. Here’s the link I used: http://timemilitary.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/unif-navy.pdf

If anyone has updated info, please post it in the main Bridge Coat thread in Outerwear: https://www.thefedoralounge.com/threads/u-s-navy-bridge-coats.75498/.

39. OVERCOAT, BLUE

a. Description

(1) Men Officers/CPOs.

A double-breasted coat made of blue woolen fabric. May be water repellent treated and fitted with removable sleeveless liner. Extends one-third the distance from kneecap to ground, shaped at waist, held by a two section half-belt at back with the end of the belt overlapped and fastened with two 40-line Navy eagle, gilt buttons. There is a sword slit over left hip, a vertical slash side pocket on each front, and a single row of five 40-line Navy eagle, gilt buttons down each forefront. The collar is made so that the coat may be buttoned to the neck. There are two loops on each shoulder for hard shoulder boards. Required buttons are described in article 5403 (see below).

(2) Women Officers/CPOs.

A double-breasted, water repellent coat made of dark blue napped woolen or worsted fabric, and may be fitted with a removable sleeveless liner. The overcoat has a single row of four 40-line Navy eagle, gilt buttons on each forefront. A strap on each shoulder is fastened at inner end by a 24-line black plastic button. Required buttons are described in article 5403 (see below). (Women CPOs advanced after 1 October 1994 shall be prescribed to wear the reefer. Those advanced prior to this date may wear either the reefer or overcoat until 1 October 1998, when the reefer becomes mandatory.)

(3) E6 and Below Women.

A full length, double-breasted, belted coat made of navy blue/black water repellent
wool serge. The coat has eight blue plastic buttons, welt pockets, raglan sleeves but without shoulder straps. The detachable liner is made of navy blue wool flannel. Overcoat may be worn until 1 October 1998. All personnel are required to have a peacoat by 1 October 1998.

b. Correct Wear.

Button all buttons except the collar button. Collar button may be buttoned in inclement
weather. For insignia, see <article 4103> for officers and <article 4221> for enlisted women E6 and below. CPOs wear no insignia on outergarments.

c. Ownership Markings.

On designated nameplate; and inside left front panel.

5403. BUTTONS

1. The Navy button design consists of an eagle rising, with its wings down. The left foot is on the shank, the right foot on the stock of a plain anchor, laid horizontally, and the eagle's head faces its right. The whole is surrounded by 13 five-pointed stars and a rope. Buttons are designated in terms of "line". One line equals .025 inches, meaning a 40-line button is 1 inch in diameter, and a 35-line button is .875 inches in diameter.

2. Officers and Chief Petty Officers wear Navy eagle gilt and bronzed buttons.
 

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Now for some real-world photos. The easiest source of bridge coat photos is the annual Army-Navy football game. If you look closely at these photos, you will see some interesting variations in materials, although the design of all of these coats, irrespective of rank, is almost identical. Here’s some admirals and senior USN officers with Army officers. You can see that these coats are made of wool but it’s pretty thin, much thinner than standard pea coats and more akin to the sort of wool used in civilian overcoats.

US_Navy_061202-N-0696M-517_Senior_military_leadership.jpg US_Navy_061202-N-3642E-106_Navy_leadership_render.jpg armynavygameofficers2.jpg US_Navy_061202-N-0696M-487_Senior_leaders_prepare.jpg armynavygameofficers3.jpg armynavygameofficers4.jpg Defense.gov_News_Photo_061202-D-7203T-012.jpg US_Navy_111210-N-AC887-001_Secretary_of_the_Navy.jpg
 

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Here’s a bunch of younger officers and midshipmen attending the Army/Navy game. These photos are interesting because they show different types of materials in use. Wool is predominant, but also common is a thin cotton or nylon version which is easy to spot because it apparently wrinkles easily. Note also that the cotton/nylon versions have slightly different hip pockets than the wool versions. The women’s version of the bridge coat is slightly different and I will comment further on it in a later post.

2010-Army-Navy-Game-All-Four.jpg gettyimages-1069920060-1024x1024.jpg gettyimages-1079181854-1024x1024.jpg gettyimages-1079181850-1024x1024.jpg gettyimages-579716618-1024x1024.jpg gettyimages-107530809-1024x1024.jpg gettyimages-94344242-1024x1024.jpg gettyimages-94330361-1024x1024.jpg gettyimages-94330329-1024x1024.jpg gettyimages-94330067-1024x1024.jpg
 

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Next up, a couple of film appearances, and a great story from real-life.

Here's a scene from "Behind Enemy Lines" with Gene Hackman wearing a bridge coat.

2001_behind_enemy_lines_011.jpg

Here’s a scene from the famous movie "The Sand Pebbles", showing the captain of the San Pueblo speaking to his crew. This coat was sold at auction and had two stripes on the sleeve, which as Peacoat and others have pointed out, was normal practice for officer’s coats until it was discontinued in the early 1950s. I have some photos from e-Bay of old coats with rank stripes and will post them in following posts.

sand pebbles 11436944_1.jpg sand pebbles 11436944_2.jpg

Here’s a great photo: “Frank McNamara presenting Al Jentzsch with the bridge coat he borrowed from him 38 years ago when Al left the Navy”.

Frank McNamara presented Al Jentzsch.jpg
 

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For reference, before we get into actual examples of bridge coats, here's the link to the USN's official website's article on bridge coats, male and female versions. The first screenshot is the current site, the second screenshot is from the same site in 2019. No mention of the cotton/nylon version which I noted in previous posts.

USN Article 3501.39
https://www.mynavyhr.navy.mil/Refer...iform-Regulations/Uniform-Components/3501_39/

USN Article 3501.39.jpg
USN Overcoat, Blue, Article 3501.39.jpg
 

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The design of these coats is more or less standard, but the labels seem to be different with each manufacturer or retailer, and with age obviously. On the coat below note the buttons to close the rear vent. The large label say it’s a “regulation US Navy uniform” item, a common enough label (with different designs), although this type of label isn’t always present. One thing which I've noticed which is a odd is that the rear vent on many of these coats, including this one, seem to open "to the left", which I'd normally associate with a woman's coat but seems to be on men's coats too.

31a.jpg 31c.jpg 31d.jpg 31e.jpg 31f.jpg

The coat below has a different label identifying it as from the USN Naval Uniform Shop has and a name tag which states the material is “blue 16 oz Covert” cloth and dated 1956.

14a date 1956.jpg 14b.jpg 14c.jpg 14d.jpg 14e.jpg
 

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The coat below has a bottom button missing on the front. These images are useful since they illustrate the thick shoulder padding used in these coats and how the rear half-belt helps drape the cloth. This coat seems particularly well cut.

45a.jpg 45b.jpg 45c.jpg

The coat below is dated 1941 and you can get a good sense of the cloth and how the collar is attached in the closeup photos. However, the overall design and silhouette of the coat is very similar to the coats shown in previous posts. The design is obviously highly standardized and really hasn't changed over decades.

9a date 1941.JPG 9b.jpg 9c.jpg 9d.jpg 9e.jpg 9h.jpg 9g.jpg
 

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Let’s go back in time for a moment. Here’s where these coats came from, the old “watch coat” worn by USN officers. Unlike the old watch coats, the modern bridge coats are not meant to be worn on day-to-day shipboard duty so they have become thinner, lighter garments for occasional use only.

Bridge-Coat-1.jpg page16.jpg a-adm-sims-comes-aboard-ww1.jpg a-officers-dress-1913.jpg
 

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Sample labels. In this series the last two labels are from the same coat. It’s quite evident that a wide variety of private manufacturers, tailors, and clothing shops have made these coats over the years.

6h.jpg 17j.jpg 27f.jpg 29c.jpg 30e.jpg 32f.jpg 67g.JPG 76b.JPG 78c.JPG 80f.jpg
 

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One final set of sample tags... these two tags are from the same coat, a standard design bridge coat, in this case made by Sterlingwear of Boston, the famous long-time supplier of the USN peacoats!

44f.jpg
 

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Now for the different types of linings/liners these coats seem to have:
(1) normal, non-removable liner, much like you’d see in any civilian overcoat (either full-length or half-length).
(2) removable warm liner, which is installed and removed via zipper.

The coat below has a full-length fixed liner. Note the removable throat flap buttoned inside the front skirt. Note also the corduroy pockets—this is one of only two second-hand bridge coats I’ve seen with anything other than white canvas/cotton pockets.

22a.jpg 22b.jpg 22c.jpg 22e.jpg

The coat below has a half-length fixed lining. This was actually quite common in high-end men's civilian overcoats in the 50s and 60s.

41a.jpg 41b.jpg 41c.jpg

The coat below has a removable zip-in, zip-out warm liner.

7a.JPG 7b.jpg 7d.jpg
 

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The coat below has a removable liner, which zips in and out (note the zipper seen in the close-up photo). These photos show the upper pair of buttons which close the lapels up to the neck, plus the small black buttons which fasten the rear vent. Note again how the vent closes to the "left". Note also that this coat is odd size, 35R.

28a date 1961.jpg 28b.jpg 28c.jpg 28d.jpg 28e.jpg 28f.jpg
 

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Below are some vintage bridge coats with rank braiding on the sleeve cuffs. According to Peacoat and others, these distinctions were discontinued in the early 1950s (1953?), although it’s possible some long-serving officers never bothered to remove the stripes. It’s important to note that the really old coats sometimes have black flat buttons instead of the gold USN buttons which every modern bridge coat is required to have. The rank braiding apparently apes actual ranks. The coat below (dated 1942) has one stripe, presumably for an Ensign.

46a date 1942.jpg 46c.jpg 46d.jpg 46e.jpg 46g.jpg

The coat below has two cuff stripes (one thick, one slim), presumably for a Lieutenant Junior Grade.

17a.jpg 17d.jpg 17e.jpg 17g.jpg 17j.jpg
 

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The coat below (dated 1941) has three cuff stripes for a Commander. Note the matching shoulder boards.

33a date 1941.jpg 33b.jpg 33c.jpg

The coat below (dated 1944) has four cuff stripes for a Captain. Note clear view of the throat latch which is buttoned to the inside of the coats skirts.

80a date 1944.jpg 80b.jpg 80d.jpg 80e.jpg 80f.jpg 80g.jpg
 

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How old are bridge coats? Well over a century! Below are some screenshots and links to historical USN Uniform Regulations documents. Early bridge coats were much like the early peacoats in appearance and configuration except with long skirts, and it was not until later that bridge coats took on their current modern form. Nevertheless, the basic concept didn't change: full-length, wool, heavy overcoats to distinguish officers and to protect them from bad weather.

1841

1841 uniform regulations p012.jpg


1883

1883 uniform regulations officer's overcoats.jpg

1897

1897 uniform regulations officer's overcoat.jpg

1913 LINK

1922 LINK

1941 LINK

And here's something from the USN's official website:
https://www.history.navy.mil/browse...rms-and-personal-equipment/uniforms-1941.html
Quote: The captain’s overcoat is basically that of the 1922 order, which in turn was a modification of the World War I bridge coat. The 1913 outer coat had been worn completely buttoned, using black buttons. Gilt buttons were first permitted in November 1919 when the style of the overcoat was modified to bring it in closer agreement with the newly introduced double-breasted sack service coat. The first mention of an overcoat for officers appeared in the 1841 uniform instructions. In 1941, as in 1913, rank was shown on the sleeves with black braid with shoulder marks indicating both rank and corps.

I've looked through those three Uniform Regulations documents and in the second half of each there are illustrations. In the 1913 regulation, officers and CPOs have bridge coats ("Overcoats") which are basically the same as pea coats of the era except with larger collars and skirts that extend below the knees, including the normal peacoat buttons and handwarmer pockets above the hip pockets, and lapels that are intended to button right up to the neck. In the 1922 regulation, officers have what we know as the more modern bridge coat with lapels and button placement for the lapels/revers to be permanently folded down, gold buttons, and half-belt at back with gold buttons, while CPOs have the same 1913 "long" peacoat-style coat apparently unchanged. In the 1941 regulations officers have the modern bridge coat continued from 1922, while CPO's now get the same modern coat as the officers (replacing the old-school 1913 version) but without gold buttons and without the half-belt (so basically a bastardized version of the officer's coat). The 1959 uniform regulations (see link below) show that CPO's had the full-detailed bridge coat (gold button) either by then or starting then.

1959 LINK

So, to summarize, USN officers have had the modern bridge coat as we know it basically unchanged since 1922, while CPO's got the modern bridge coat (minus gold buttons and minus half-belt) in 1941, and the full officer's version of the bridge coat sometime after 1941 (hopefully we can find the date when both officers and CPO's got the identical modern bridge coats).
 
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Below are some wartime era photos. The photo below: "The Navy football team arrived today on the Pennsylvania Railroad for their football game against the Army team to be held tomorrow at Soldiers' Field, Chicago, Illinois, November 27, 1926."

gettyimages-171812171-1024x1024.jpg

The following photos are from WWII. The first one is dated 1941:

694aee338effd98f_large - 1941.jpg

1942:

Brooklyn Navy Yard Commandant Adm. Edward J. Marquart and aide Lieut. A. F. Long 1942.jpg

1944:

Fdr Gives Destroyer To Fr. Navy 1944.jpg

The following photos are from WWII but unknown dates. The black & white photo is Merchant Marine.

USMerchantMarineOfficersWWII.jpg
440925ae0950738c_large.jpg
 
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