Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Hockanum Suit by J.P. Stevens (and the Ladies' Garment Union!)

For a while now, I've wanted to have a suit in my wardrobe.  I hadn't had much luck, either in sizing or pricing, when I came across this suit at an antique mall (where I dug it out of a pile of neglected clothing), and it fit perfectly!  Unfortunately, it had a fair number of moth holes throughout, but for some reason I put on my amateur sewer's cape and thought I could come to its rescue.  Turns out, I fell prey to one of the newbiest of newbie mistakes-- I didn't take the suit into better lighting, and as a result, I bought a suit with about twice as many problems as I'd seen.  Fortunately, I didn't pay much, and I think I did an okay job patching it up.  And, hey--I have a suit!

You can see here a series of repaired holes --essentially a cautionary tale of the dangers of bad lighting:

I'm not sure why I put my name on this photo; I ought to be embarrassed!
And a hole on the skirt:

Many holes aside, the suit really is well made.  It's a J.P. Stevens suit in Hockanum fabric.  I did some digging, and found out  J.P. Stevens was for many years one of the biggest textile manufacturers in the United States.  Founded in 1813 by Nathaniel Stevens in North Andover, Massachusetts, the company continued to grow, eventually buying out many other textile producers, including Hockanum Mills Company in 1934.    

J.P. Stevens & Co (as it became known in 1899) continued producing fabrics under the Hockanum name, even creating a specialty luxury line under the Hockanum brand in 1955 called "Coast-to-Coast Woolens."  The company was bought out in 1988 by fellow textile giant West Point-Pepperell Inc.  

Since J.P. Stevens was a textile manufacturer, not a clothing company, it seems most likely that my suit was made by a tailor, and the Hockanum/Stevens label was sewn in, given the (then) well-known high value and quality of Hockanum fabric.  In the inside seam of the jacket is a two-sided label that corroborates this guess: on one side is the label for the National Recovery Board Coat and Suit Industry, and on the other side is International Ladies' Garment Makers' Union, AFL-CIO.  It's actually a little ironic--J.P. Stevens Co. was a major opponent of unions, resisting them until the 1980s.

The tags actually serve as convenient date brackets: the joint AFL-CIO marker came into use in 1955, and the Coat and Suit Industry tag was used from the 1930s to 1960s.  This means the suit was made somewhere in the late 50s, early 60s--as the suit's style itself would suggest.

But enough already-- how'd it turn out?

I think pretty well!  I love the fit, and really, really like the longer length of the skirt.  The cropped sleeves are pretty flattering, too, and the jacket's waist nips in snugly.

I had a little trouble capturing the deep blue of the fabric on a snow day, though the on-and-off sun did afford a rather dramatic lighting scheme (as evidenced by the first photograph)!

The top buttons fasten the criss-crossing collar, and feature rhinestones.  The other buttons are fabric-covered, and all originals intact.

As per usual, I've mixed decades between hair and clothing, but I have to admit-- I really do prefer 1940s hair.

I found some great information about where these shoes come from--but I think this might be enough of a vintage history lesson for one post.  I'll save it for next time I wear them!

What about you-- have you ever purchased something that ended up being a much bigger project than you anticipated?  

I hope you liked learning a little about dating vintage, and look for the next Queer Vintage/Vintage Queer profile in the coming week!

Vintage Fashion Guild, "ILGWU" and "Tips & Tricks: Quick Tips for Dating Vintage"
The New York Times, "3-Month Battle for J.P. Stevens Ends" 
Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color : Click here for an excerpt on Google Books 
Sammy Davis Vintage, "How Union Labels Help to Date Your Vintage Clothing"

Suit: Antique mall, NYC
Shoes: A Repeat Performance, NYC
Bag: Christmas gift from my brother (!), Dolly Python, Dallas
Gloves: Ann Taylor

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