Jan 18, 2017 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
I’m getting ready to leave the sunny climate of Arizona for far-off places (why, hello unexpected work trip!). While I’m from the great plains, where the snow and wind know no bounds, I’ve been a Southern girl for the past few years. Needless to say dear readers, my closet is now more about cute sun dresses and sandals. After hurriedly getting my final hotel arrangements made I couldn’t put it off any longer: what was I going to wear? Grandma’s wardrobe to the rescue! Coming along with me is the ivory coat with fur collar, a kilt from Scotland that will wrap my whole bottom half in wooly goodness, and a vintage Pendleton skirt (complete with pockets).
I tried on the kilt for the first time earlier today. Not only is it surprisingly comfortable and pairs well with heeled mary jane shoes, but I feel so fashion forward. Who wears a vintage kilt abroad? This gal! The fun thing about this ensemble is that even though it’s vintage it looks brand new. This fact should not be news for any vintage collectors – the quality is part of the joy of wearing these unique pieces. The Pendleton pencil skirt especially looks like it just came from the store. I love that this skirt has already participated in a lifetime of memories with my grandma and now it gets to come with me on a new adventure. Speaking of adventure, what’s the history behind the Pendleton brand? Let’s find out, shall we?
Pendleton has been an American staple for over 150 years. In the mid 1800s a young English explorer set upon his greatest adventure: traveling to the brand new state of Oregon. Keep in mind this was before the days of hopping on the internet, getting your tickets online, and sipping a Starbucks once you’re through airport security. Nope… Thomas Kay had an honest-to-goodness journey. Four months of sailing down the Atlantic and up the Pacific (not to mention some time riding on a donkey), he was a man on a mission. What was this goal that drove a young man to travel for nearly half a year? In one word: sheep.
Trained as a weaver in his native country, Thomas helped to establish the fledgling state’s second woolen mill. A couple decades later and he formed his own mill in the young city of Salem. The next chapter in this tale is perhaps my favorite – his daughter Fannie learned the family business under the supportive watch of her dad. (Can I just say how cool that is?? Consider the time period. Young ladies during this era were expected to only marry, not pursue entrepreneurial endeavors!) But Fannie did both and can I just say: you go girl! She wed a retail merchant, which helped form the foundation that would become Pendleton. Fannie helped manage her dad’s mill, not afraid to get her hands dirty along with the guys, and I can’t help but think her strength made Fannie her hubby’s equal in business matters.
This strong spirit naturally passed to her three boys. Taking their destiny into their own hands they struck out on their own, starting an independent mill in Pendleton. After some fits and starts they found their stride making bold blankets. The patterns and colors, inspired by the American Southwest, became favored by the Native American community. By 1912, Pendleton branched out into men’s clothing. While wool shirts for men wasn’t exactly an innovation, the Pendleton use of color and pattern made them stand out.
After WWII they introduced a collection for women. The pencil skirt I’m packing into my suitcase is from this time period (wahoo!). Can I say I’m a bit surprised that it took three decades to introduce pieces for women considering Fannie’s influence on the company? But then again, as we’ve seen before in vintage fashion history, it can take time for women to cross over into “man land.” Wool was a fabric for the fellas. But the debut of Pendleton’s collection proved that wrong. The skirts and jackets were immensely popular and became a staple for suburban moms across the country.
While I’m wearing my Pendleton in Prague I’ll think of Fannie, my grandma, and the American way (it’s not just a boys’ club anymore!) Readers, what are your favorite vintage fashion moments? What is your go-to adventure piece? Let us know in the comments…