The history of Pendleton Woolen Mills is one of opportunity, exploration and innovation. British weaver Thomas Kay laid the foundation when he arrived in Oregon in 1863. His expertise lives on in Pendleton’s tweed, flannel and worsted wool apparel. Kay’s grandsons, the three Bishop brothers, opened Pendleton Woolen Mills in the early 1900s. They joined Kay’s weaving skills with stunning Native American-inspired designs in the Pendleton Trade blanket, a benchmark for beauty and quality for over 100 years. Family-owned and operated for more than six generations, the uniquely American story of Pendleton Woolen Mills continues today.
PENDLETON WOOL PLAID SHIRT STORY
The Story begins
In 1924, a man could have a wool shirt in any color he wanted – as long as it was grey. Wool shirts were utilitarian items; warm, durable, an excellent first line in the defense against the elements. They were uniformly drab. Of course, all that was about to change.
At Pendleton Woolen Mills, Clarence Morton Bishop envisioned a different kind of fabric for a man’s wool shirt. Pendleton’s sophisticated weaving capabilities were producing vibrant Indian trade blankets. Why not bring that same weaving and color know-how to woolen shirting? After much weaving experimentation and hard work, Pendleton’s innovative Umatilla shirting fabric rolled off the loom. The rich colors in Pendleton’s woolen plaid shirts were completely new to the market in 1924. The positive response was immediate. It has also been enduring.
The Emergence of Sportswear
Shirt production was initially brisk, but slowed during the 1940s as much of Pendleton's fabric production capability was needed for uniforms and blankets in the war effort. After World War II, the concept of sportswear emerged in American society. This new concept of dressing was best explained as what Dad wore when he wasn't wearing his suit. While hunting, fishing, or pursuing his hobbies, Dad very often wore a Pendleton shirt.
Throughout the 20th century, clothing trends have emerged from workwear and traveled into the fashion mainstream. The wool shirt was a perfect example. The American Look prevailed into the 1950s. Casual and colorful, leisurewear symbolized the end of privation and the return of the good life.
Pendleton Shirts and Surf Culture
In the early 1960s, Pendleton shirts hit the airwaves (courtesy of The Majorettes), whose song, "White Levis" became a number one hit in 1963. As the lyrics said, "My boyfriend's always wearin' white Levi's... and his tennis shoes and his surfin' hat and a big plaid Pendleton shirt." Levi’s and Pendleton have always paired up well, but wouldn't connect for a labeled collaboration for another 47 years.
Soon after, a group called The Pendletones began to sing about the California surfing scene. They changed their name to the Beach Boys, but kept their uniform of Pendleton shirts worn over tee shirts with khakis. The band wore their blue and charcoal plaid shirts on the covers of 45s and LPs throughout the 1960s. In 2002, Pendleton brought back the Board Shirt in the same plaid, re-named the Blue Original Surf Plaid. Because of its strong ties to surfing history and culture, this pattern was used in collaborations with Hurley and VANS in the late 2000s. The shirt is still going strong.
Pendleton’s wool plaid shirts are more popular than ever with a diverse group of consumers. The Board shirt is still a favorite with surfers, and sported by snow and skate boarders as well. Car club enthusiasts know that nothing sets off their beautiful automobiles like the right Pendleton. And men who work outdoors still turn to the natural warmth, breathability and durability of wool as a first line defense against the elements.
The Pendleton wool shirt has been featured in collaborations with Opening Ceremony, Comme des Garçons, Nike, Adidas, VANS, Hurley, Levi's and more. On the runway or on the waves, it's still a Pendleton.
Over the years, styles, patterns and fabric weights have changed, but one thing remains the same; the consistent quality. Pendleton controls every step of production, from buying raw fleece, dying the wool, weaving fabric, cutting and sewing.
Each Pendleton shirt is crafted from 26 to 38 different components. All pieces of a shirt are cut from one bolt of fabric for absolute color and pattern consistency. Meticulous attention is given to matching patterns, balancing collar points, collar linings, labels and buttonholes. Then, it's time for rigorous quality inspection and careful packaging.
Umatilla is a versatile midweight 100% virgin wool fabric that takes its name from Oregon’s Umatilla County, where Pendleton buys raw stock from local ranchers, and home of our Pendleton, Oregon mill.
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