Monday, November 07, 2016

Giving new meaning to the term ‘vintage clothing’

I have a sweater that I wore on my first trip to Berlin. Black wool, with a multi-color stripey design. That was over New Year’s, 1989-1990, when The Wall was falling. I have at least one sweater – purple cotton-silk with pink and green intarsia flowers - that predates that sweater. I remember wearing it when I worked at Wang. When I did my closet summer-winter reversal last week, I took a raft of items that I hadn’t worn for 10+ years and brought them over to St. Francis House, including a quite nice navy blue skirt that I last recall wearing around the year 2000. (In fact, that last time I remember wearing it, I had somehow forgotten to zip it up and, when I walked back to my office after making my first-thing cup of tea, the skirt fell down and landed in a navy blue puddle around my ankles. Double fortune: I had a slip on, and it was 7:30 a.m. and no one was around.) Having jettisoned that skirt, the only vintage bottom I still have is a pair of LL Bean khaki Capri pants that I bought in 2001. (I remember the year because, right after my mother died, my sister Kath had the family down to her house in Hull, where she was then living, for a post-funeral chill out. Oddly enough, without having co-ordinated anything, Kath, Trish and I all showed up one day wearing identical khakis. And identical checked shirts, only in different colors.)

What I don’t have is any vintage jeans.

If I did have some of my 60’s and 70’s bell-bottoms or boy jeans, one thing would be abundantly clear: they would no longer fit me. And the ones from later on just plain wore out. When you wear something all the time – as I do with jeans, for the most part – they don’t last the same way that, say, a navy skirt unworn since the year 2000 would. Levis

But someone who’s an even better clothing saver than I am managed to hang on to a pair of 1893 Levi’s, and they’ll be going up for auction at a Maine auction house. If the jeans look like new, that’s because they were only worn a couple of times before finding their way into a trunk. The jeans are expected to fetch a reasonably high price:

A pair of 501 jeans manufactured in the 1880s sold for $60,000 to a Japanese collector in 2005, [Auctioneer Daniel Buck] Soules said, and another pair, from 1888, sold six months ago for six figures. (Source: Bloomberg)

A new pair of 501s goes for about $40 – not far off the $1.25 that they would have cost in 1880, adjusted for 2016 dollars. So $60K was definitely an excellent return.

Whatever the “new” vintage jeans go for, unless you’re the size of Man Mountain Dean, you may not be able to actually wear them, even if you could talk your way around the inconvenience of the button fly. (Let’s hear it for the zipper: zip, zip, hooray!)

The cotton jeans with button fly feature a size 44 waist and 36-inch inseam.

The original owner was one Solomon Warner, “who participated in the creation of the Arizona Territory… Warner established one of the first stores selling American goods in Tucson, and he survived being shot in an ambush by Apache Indians in 1870.”

Well, Solomon Warner sounded interesting enough to merit a Google. Turns out that surviving an Apache ambush and helping create the Arizona Territory were was just two of the interesting things about Warner.

Warner was one of the original ‘Go West, young man’ guys. Born in Warnerville, NY, by the time he was in his twenties, he was Mark Twain-ing it, working on river boats on the Mississippi. He was a Forty-Niner, part of the California Gold Rush. And he then headed South, to the Isthmus of Panama and Nicaragua.

After making his way back to America, he worked for the Army, which took him to Fort Yuma. There, he took up with a couple of merchants, and ended up leading a 13-mule train “loaded with merchandise for Tucson,” arriving just about the time that Mexican troops vamoosed. In Tucson, Warner opened a store, ”becoming the town's first merchant to sell goods originating from the United States.”

Warner decamped Tucson during the Civil War. Good Yankee fellow that he was, he refused to take a loyalty oath to the Confederacy when Southern troops occupied Tucson. While sitting out the war in Mexico, “he met and married a wealthy widow.” Back in Tucson once the rebellion was over, he was involved in a number of ventures, including farming, cattle ranching, and flour milling. Somewhere in there, he was wounded by Apaches.

And somewhere else in there, when he was in his early eighties, Solomon Warner bought those fly-front jeans. (I’m quite sure I’m not the only one delighted to read that it’s okay to wear jeans, even if you’re in your eighties. Warner,quite impressively, lived to the great old age of 88. At the time he was born, the average U.S. male’s life span was 64.)

Apparently too preoccupied with his next big idea – an “obsession…[that] was such that he neglected to eat and sleep properly in order to spend more time on the venture”, Solomon Warner lost interest in wearing those jeans. The obsessional venture, by the way, was an attempt to build a perpetual motion machine. (Was he the inventor of Albert the Bobbing Duck?)

Perhaps it was that neglecting to eat that did the jeans in. Presumably, someone neglecting to eat might find himself slimming down, and no longer able to fill out a size 44 pair of jeans. Someone carefully packed them away in a trunk, and here they are, nearly 125 years later, looking for a buyer.

No, I will not be bidding. I have all the jeans I need, thank you. And a size 44 men’s would be outright useless, even if I was willing to put up with the fly front. (Not.)

I find this an altogether delightful story: river boat, Gold Rush, mule train, Confederate loyalty oath, wealthy Mexican widow, Apaches. And, of course, the culmination: the perpetual motion machine. A Zelig-esque larger than life…

They just don’t make Americans (or jeans) the way they used to…

Source of all the info on Warner: Wikipedia.

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