Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher
If you only buy one coat this season then we admire your restraint, and warmly recommend you go for a pea coat. They have an unexpectedly long history - the Oxford English Dictionary records a mention from 1717 - even though the origin of the name is uncertain. It's likely to be a version of the Dutch name pijjakker, or an abbreviation of pilot's jacket. The terms pea coat and pea jacket are interchangeable and refer to a simple, but incredibly useful garment: a short double-breasted jacket in wool that buttons up to the collar. Here British actor Mr Oakes demonstrates this garment's unique blend of utility, elegance and versatility.
Mr Oakes is a 27-year-old actor who grew up in the New Forest, in England. The son of a canon of 750-year-old Salisbury Cathedral, and head boy at the church school he attended, Mr Oakes now specialises in the portrayal of sinners. This started in 2009 when he played, in his words, "a gay psychopath" in the British television series Trinity, and continued with his performance in the television adaptation of Mr Ken Follett's bestselling novel The Pillars of the Earth, which was, coincidentally, partly based on the history of the construction of Salisbury Cathedral in the 13th century.
In the series he played the heartless William Hamleigh so convincingly that Mr Follett wrote of him, "He is one of the nicest young actors I've met, always smiling, so easy-going, yet finds within himself the ability to totally convince us that this is a man with absolutely no redeeming characteristics, a person beyond all civilized hope."
Acting means I can express the dark side that could exist within me, so I'm more charming and effervescent as a result
Juan Borgia, Mr Oakes' character in Showtime's series The Borgias, continues in this vein. "He's massively flawed," says Mr Oakes, speaking to MR PORTER from Budapest, Hungary, where he's currently filming the show's second series. "He's the weakest character in a family of powerful presences and because of that he strikes out." However, in Mr Oakes' opinion there are two advantages to playing psychopaths in costume dramas. The first, he says, "Is that I get to express the dark side that could exist within me, so I'm more charming and effervescent as a result."
The second is based on the childish joy of dressing up. "The great thing about my job is that I go to get changed and there's a bodice, sword, dagger or a whole lot of chain mail," he says. "Juan Borgia has this whole military side, so there's a lot of armour, swords and flourishing headpieces. There's something great and transformative about putting on the clothes of a different generation."
It's an impulse that Mr Oakes reveals has started to inform his off-duty wardrobe: "I just finished a Victorian play and I wore an array of waistcoats. I'm trying to bring waistcoats back, although as an actor I try to keep away from the flamboyant stereotype - so no pocket watches and no unnecessary scarves." As a performer he is acutely aware of the way a man's clothes influence how others perceive him. "I think there's a responsibility to choosing what you wear," he asserts. "I love wearing a good suit, there's something great about looking dapper. I just shot a contemporary horror film called Truth Or Dare and there was something depressing about going to my costume trailer each day to just find a different T-shirt and a different pair of jeans."
The great thing about my job is that I get to wear a bodice, sword, dagger or a whole lot of chain mail. Putting on the clothes of a different generation is transformative
Through the various roles that he has played Mr Oakes has, unintentionally, made an ad hoc study of the development of men's clothes. "The costume designer [for The Borgias] is Gabriella Pescucci, who worked with Fellini in the 1970s, and the tailoring of the costumes is amazing, it draws you into a world you've never even thought about. I'd never considered how a sword hangs from your belt, or how you ride a horse in armour. You suddenly realise why fashion evolved - because you can't ride if you've got a piece of metal jamming up into your chin."