Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Icons of Men's Style

How did the Pea Coat get its name? Who designed “Chuck Taylors”? Why do surfers wear shirts designed for lumberjacks? The answers to all of these questions can be found in Icons of Men’s Style by Josh Sims.

Icons of Men’s Style examines how these and many of the other items found in a man’s closet came to be there. While women’s wardrobes tend to chase the whims of fashion, men’s clothing is likely to evolve from functional uses. Details and fabrics from clothing specifically designed for sport, work or the military have become so ubiquitous that the original uses have been long forgotten.

The pea coat’s history explains many of its distinctive features. First of all, the name has nothing to do with farming or vegetables. The original version of the pea coat was designed in 1857 by the British Royal Navy and was adopted with modifications by the United States Navy in about 1881. There are two theories about how the coat got its name. Some historians say that it’s a misspelling of P-jacket, or “pilot’s jacket”, although it was used by all ranks in the military. Alternatively, the name may come from pij “a coarse wool cloth woven in the Netherlands … and used for a typical worker’s jacket called a pijakker.”

Since the pea coat originated in the days of the schooner the details that give it such a stylish design were built into the coat for purely functional purposes. The extra thick wool, double breasted closure and the extra tall collar were made to protect sailors from icy cold winds at sea. By moving the buttons to the side, they were less likely to get caught in the rigging ropes. The length of the coat was carefully calculated. It is long enough to protect against cold and short enough to provide ease of movement. The dark indigo color, now known as navy blue, was chosen for entirely pragmatic reasons. It doesn’t show dirt, and at the time the coat was designed there were no colorfast dyes. Indigo "was the shade most resistant to being faded by sunlight and repeated drenching by rain and by seawater."

Converse Chuck Taylor All Star athletic shoes were named for the famous basketball player Charles “Chuck” Taylor, but any resemblance to Michael Jordan’s endorsement deals ends there. Chuck Taylor approached the Converse Rubber Shoe Company in 1921 looking for a job. He was hired as a salesman. He brought with him suggestions for how to improve their existing All Star basketball shoe. One suggestion was a round patch on the side of the high top to protect a player’s ankles. He sold All Stars for nearly 10 years before his name was added to the shoe. Through his efforts, his namesake shoe became the official physical training shoe for the United States Army. The forerunner of the NBA, the National Basketball League, also adopted Chuck Taylors as their official shoe. The shoes were only offered in black until 1947 when the company added white. It wasn’t until 1966 that seven new colors were added. Taylor sold shoes for Converse until his death in 1969, never receiving any commission for the shoe that bears his name.

The original lumberjack shirt was made in a heavyweight, scratchy wool in plain neutral colors. It wasn’t until 1924 when a family-owned business in Pendleton Oregon made a few key design changes that the lumberjack shirt became popular with non-lumberjacks. The Pendleton shirt was made in a lighter weight, softer virgin wool in colorful plaids. With very few changes it is the same shirt worn today. Surfers in Southern California adopted it in the early 1960s as a warm cover-up at the beach. Later in the 1960s a group called The Pendletones adopted their name in honor of this surf icon. They later changed their name to The Beach Boys.

Other fascinating and sometimes surprising information can be found in the stories of the necktie, the driving shoe, Y-fronts and many other icons of menswear that are defined in Icons of Men’s Style.

Icons of Men's Style by Josh Sims (Laurence King Pub., 2011).

No comments: