Fast cars, baggy clothes… – The Mendocino Beacon

A typical way to date unmarked photos is to study the people or objects in an image. Hairstyles, hats and even clothing are all accurate markers of the period and time, and the Kelley House archives are replete with examples of austere families, their children tied up in their Sunday best, their expressions suggesting that life was never a moment of boredom.

Given the adventurous lives of local children, it’s hard to imagine how much freedom they enjoyed when children’s clothing could be expensive and formal, especially for girls, who were limited to stockings and hats. dark dresses.

At the end of the 19and century, the development of ready-to-wear and the creation of The U.S. Postal Department’s Rural Free Shipping (RFD) pioneered the development of mail order. Catalog suppliers such as Sears claimed they were selling four ready-to-wear men’s suits every minute as their catalog mailings tripled from 2.3 million in 1910 to more than 7 million in 1929.

In 1912, a revolution was underway in children’s haberdashery with Levi Strauss & Company at the forefront of this change. Duly famous for its 501 “waist overalls” popular with miners and laborers, the obsession with blue jeans was still decades away. What catapulted Levi Strauss from a niche to a national market was the introduction of a now little-known children’s product. Sold as Koveralls, with the slogan “Koveralls Keep Kids Klean”, it was once as ubiquitous as jeans and leggings are today.

The brainchild of Simon Davis (son of Jacob Davis who was the first to rivet the 501 jeans), Koveralls were designed for his daughter as an outfit to wash and wear over her dress and stockings. The design was ingenious: it had no elastic or constricting cuffs but gave an overall neat appearance. It was roomy where it mattered and easy to remove. It even had an inconspicuous folding seat for added convenience and cleanliness, and best of all, its price and quality were guaranteed. Koveralls sold for 75 cents nationwide and could be exchanged for a new pair if ripped.

Levi Strauss came up with two versions: a short-sleeved outfit with a Dutch collar (modeled pictured here by local kid “Beans” Fleming from Caspar) that was designed for girls and little boys, while a long-sleeved version with a round neck was designed with older boys in mind. Both types were offered in denim, blue and white hickory stripes, chambray and drab olive, and in light and heavyweight fabrics. The neck and waist were trimmed with red or blue “Galatea”, a tough fabric previously used for sailor suits.

Koveralls rose to popularity after the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. In an on-site demonstration factory, gangs of Levi Strauss seamstresses sewed thousands of Koveralls to sell to enthusiastic audiences. They quickly became the “it” garment of the time, popular with children and mothers.

The Koveralls were advertised in newspapers and magazines until the late 1930s. Their laid-back style and simple beauty could be spotted by local trendsetters in candid images of the day.

Stop by Kelley House Museum to see how some of Mendocino’s children played in our new “Neighbors Across the Pond” exhibit. Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday to Sunday. Historical walking tours offered several times a week – check the schedule on our website (707) 937-5791.

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