Saturday, January 08, 2011

Shopping from 1958: Montgomery Ward Denim

I'm ambiguous about premium denim. I love brands like Rising Sun, Mister Freedom and Sugar Cane that manufacture jeans using historical patterns, vintage sewing equipment and top quality raw denim. I'm also attracted to denim's labor intensive care requirements (akin to our own waxed fabrics). But truth be told, I hesitate to pay more than $200.00 for jeans. That's a price point I reserve for Barbour jackets, Scandinavian knitwear and cold forged bicycle parts.

To save money, I'm shopping from the Montgomery Ward catalog from 1958. I'm looking for Sanforized, vat dyed jeans w/generous, functional pocketing. My preference is for a five pocket model with a high rise and wide, tubular legs. Although Wards offers denim for adults, I'm shopping the "sub-teen" department where clothing is made with extra sturdy materials to better accommodate "rough and tumble outdoor play".

My favorite pair of denim is on the far right. Check out the front swing pockets and extra large rear pockets. I eagerly await the demise of slim fit denim. Here, that style is reserved for "slim, rangy boys". Waiting for the day when companies bring back the tubular legs and full seat of Wards traditional "husky" fit ("cut extra full in waist, seat, thighs for top comfort").

Cutting edge in 1958: plaid cotton flannel lined and water repellent denim. At $2.49, makes for an affordable alternative to the leading competing brand.

At Archival, we design products that will wear until they dissolve. We follow in the tradition of companies like Wards who offer a free pair of jeans if the double knees outwear the pants themselves.

Ladies, I'm sorry to report that there's not much denim on offer at Wards in 1958. Wool skirts and plaid corduroy pants were the preferred fashions of the day. However, I can recommend a pair of cropped "play pants" in a nice, 9 oz vat dyed denim, "bartacked at points of strain."


The Boom Club said...

I remember shopping for school clothes at Montgomery Ward as a kid. Of course it wasn't the 50s, but by the 70s they were still known as the place to go for durable kids clothes.

Matt Hambrick said...

By the time I was growing up in the 80's, Montgomery Ward was known as the crappy JCPenney's. It is really unfortunate, looking at their heritage. Of course, it closed down for good about the time I graduated high school.

Evan said...

What are we "slim, rangy boys" going to do in big wide tube legs - the past 8 years have been a boon to our kind.

li'l hateful said...

We went in for the Wranglers in the 1970's because they were made from some kind of robot steel stitching and my brothers still wore them out. Mom had stacks of iron-on Wrangler demin patches for knees - all colors - in a kitchen cabinet. I wonder if they're still there.

R.R. said...

Man, those flannel lined jeans are killer. Wish I sported those as a kid.

Andrew said...

Great post... seeing those double-kneed jeans brings back some misty memories.
LL Bean has flannel lined jeans for about $50. Imported, of course, although at least some of the denim is USA sourced.

Re prices:
"...But truth be told, I hesitate to pay more than $200.00 for jeans...."
The federal minimum wage in 1958 was $1 per hour. Per the inflation calculator at, a $200 pair of jeans today would have cost $26.42 in 1958, well over 1/2 of a week's pay. The federal minimum wage today is $7.25, so a $200 pair of jeans costs 28 hours of work -- roughly the same.
Looking at it another way, the 1958 MW price tag of $2.49 for a pair of jeans is equivalent to $18.85 in 2010 dollars. You can still get basic jeans at this price point -- roughly 2.5 hours of minimum wage work.

Anonymous said...

Ah Monkey Wards... such great memories. My mother however swore by Sears Toughskins kids pants. I grew up in them.