Last week, the weather finally stayed cool enough during the day to justify breaking out my woolen Pendleton shirts. My collection of Pendletons includes three or four shirts that I bought new or received as gifts. The rest I've inherited from my Dad and my uncle Doug as they "outgrew" them. I have at least one shirt (too small for me now) that dates from the late 1950s. Others I can remember my Dad buying from Baer's Clothing in Sonora before I started school, which makes them at least 40 years old. They may not be the most stylish garments, but then I'm not the most stylish person, either. My Pendleton shirts are far and away my favorite clothes.
That a garment can last for many decades is a testament to the quality of the fabric and the skill of the craftsmen (and women) who manufactured it. As a wool producer, I sometimes wonder if we'd be better served if wool didn't last so long - maybe folks would buy more wool if it wore out as quickly as cotton or synthetic fibers. In all seriousness, I like the fact that the wool we marketed this year will still be in use for years to come - the legacy of our sheep, so to speak.
Pendletons are part of the legacy of my family, too. I have a photograph of my Dad fishing on the beach in Southern California with his uncle Guy (who is wearing a silver Stetson and a Pendleton shirt) in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Uncle Guy and aunt Lois (my Granddad's sister) came to California in the early 1930s over the "corduroy road" through the California desert. They traveled in a caravan of cars that placed planks over the sand to make their journey. They'd reach the end of the planks, walk back, and carry the boards ahead to cover the next stretch of desert. Uncle Guy worked as a mechanic on the docks in Long Beach. My Dad remembers him wearing a Pendleton shirt at nearly every family function regardless of season. As my Dad says, they weren't "cool" shirts (literally or figuratively) - they were "just damn good shirts."
The oldest Pendleton I own is a board shirt that my Dad found in a pool hall in Redlands, California when he was going to college. Since it is a "small," my Dad gave it to me as soon as it fit me (as it no longer fit him). I might have been the only kid in my high school class to wear a shirt that was 25 years old. My oldest daughter has the shirt now.
Baers Clothing in Sonora was the type of men's store that no longer exists these days. I remember walking in the front door past the glass cases of Stetson hats and boxed Pendleton shirts. They had a sign over their dress shirts that said "Custer's Last Shirt was an Arrow." If you came in the back door, you entered on the second floor and walked past the dress shoes and work boots. They also carried Sonora High School lettermen's jackets. I specifically remember at least two Pendleton garments that my Dad purchased at Baers - a lightweight woolen western shirt (which I wore last week) and a beautiful western cut wool coat (which he still has).
Pendleton shirts have never been cheap, which I suppose can be interpreted several ways. They are expensive relative to other shirts, yes; but they are also of amazing quality. I'm happy that winter weather has arrived - I have an excuse to wear one nearly every day! I think of my great-uncle guy, and my uncle Doug, and my Dad, every time I put on a Pendleton shirt.
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