There’s something about vintage Pendleton shirts…
Through Instagram I recently came to notice a new avenue of interest. Not that I needed one, mind you, as with a mind as brimming with curiosity as mine is, I don’t need further avenues to explore! This time though it was wool shirts that caught my eye, and not new ones either. We’re talking vintage wool shirts, from the 1930’s up to modern times, and primarily from the wool mills of Pendleton in the USA.
The Pendleton Woollen Mill opened in Oregon in 1909. Initially they produced Indian blankets (and still do today), which evolved into bathrobes and coats. They started producing mens wool shirts in 1924, expanding into a full range of menswear by 1929.
In an odd parallel to the old myth about Model T Fords, where it was said you could have any colour you wanted, as long as it was black (this wasn’t true), in 1924 you could have your wool shirt in any colour you wanted, as long as the colour you desired was grey. Pendleton took their experience with multi-coloured blankets and warm, vibrant and durable wool and started making colourful flannel shirts. Seems an obvious smart move in hindsight!
The wool Pendleton used in the 1920’s was from the sheep local to the wool mill. Taking it’s name form the area, they called the wool “Umatilla”. The high quality of the wool fabric created meant that it was more wrinkle resistant than cotton, more resistant to stains, a little more elastic, and above all, insulated better than cotton. Wool also has the added benefit that even when tightly woven it still allowed for breathability.
Remarkably, it’s still possible to find shirts dating way back to the early days of Pendleton, and even more remarkably, they’re not that expensive, and many of them are really nice.
Being new to these, and finding it quite interesting how many types there are and how to tell the difference between them, I asked George at Second State Vintage in the UK to help me out a bit.
The different styles:
The Field Shirt – has a straight collar and two button-through chest pockets.
The Trial Shirt – has a straight collar, one button-through pocket and elbow patches.
The Lodge Shirt – has a straight collar and one pocket.
The Fireside Shirt – has a button-down collar and one plain pocket.
The Board Shirt – (made famous by the beach boys) has a straight bottom, sports collar (looped top button) and two flap pockets. The photo shown here is in fact an exact replica of the shirts worn on ‘The Beach Boys’ album cover of ‘Surfer Girl’ which gave Pendleton its rise to cult status. The band were previously known as the ‘Pendletones’ named after the plaid shirts they wore!
The High Grade Western Shirt – has a snap front and cuffs with front and back peaked yokes.
With the styles sorted, it comes down to determining the period when they were made, and this can be done roughly by looking at their labels:
In the 1930’s and 40’s the labels did not have any sizing information on them, although there is sometimes a small white label underneath the label with the size printed on.
During World War 2 shirt manufacturing stopped and focus went into producing military uniforms and blankets for the war effort.
In the 1950’s and 60’s sizing information began appearing in the bottom right corner.
Shirts from the 1970’s to 1994 can be identified by the Woolmark Tag which remained unchanged until the early 1990’s.
From 1994 to 2009 the label changed dramatically, the yellow border was removed and the font was changed.
From 2009 onwards the font was once again changed the ‘Pendleton’ was no longer on an angle.
A few words of warning in closing:
- Make sure you always ask for exact measurements of a shirt if ordering online. While a wool shirt may have a size marked, this is in no way a reliable indication of the actual sizing of a vintage shirt. At the very least, ensure the P2P (armPit to armPit) measurement fits you and that the arms are a suitable length.
- Make sure to ask if the shirt is complete and undamaged. It’s not only guys that think wool shirts are cool, moths are also very much into them and they make unsightly holes.
- A vintage shirt may have not have been stored in fresh pine-scented mountain air all it’s life, it may have lain in a pile of smelly old clothes in a basement. And smell lingers. You may be able to wash it out, but it may be wiser to check beforehand if there is a bad smell.
- These shirts are made of wool. Wool can be itchy, even virgin wool. Keep in mind when thinking sizing that you may want to have something on underneath.
Thanks to George at Second State Vintage for images and help in assembling this guide!