I love vintage fashion and I think that coming across beautiful, unique pieces that were actually created in the Midwest is quite the treat! I'm lucky to work in downtown St. Louis on Washington Ave, which was once the thriving hub of the garment district. You can still seen the fade worn painted signs on the sides of buildings touting shoe companies, clothiers and hat manufactures as you drive toward my office building, heading East. It brings a sense of nostalgia to my every day and always makes me curious when I locate a piece that was made here in St. Louis if it was perhaps sewn just up the street or maybe even in the very building where I work!
As I find pieces I always try to do a little bit of research on them before I post them online or put them out for sale at events, as I think knowing the item or garment's history is part of loving the piece. One of the coolest pieces I pulled while at Donnaland's warehouse was a men's sports coat. I grabbed it first because the pattern excited me and secondly, because of the stunning condition it seemed to be in. Yes, it was wrinkly and smelly, but all the buttons were there, the seems intact, the lining perfect and the shape had potential!
After taking it home, cleaning it and getting it back into form I started doing research on the maker - J.C. Petersen Co. Clothier out of Boone, IA. The first thing I thought was "Really, they had high end mensware designers in Boone?!?" I know Boone, IA from my day job. It's where I spent every other birthday for 6 years while the city hosted The Farm Progress Show - one of the largest farm trade shows and events in the U.S. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the most unique piece, with the best print, I had pulled was designed and manufactured in Boone.
There's not a lot of information out there on the company, but I was able to scrounge up a bio on the man who created the company. JC Petersen was born in Germany in 1868. He's a classic example of the huge immigration movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s. At the age of 16 he boarded a boat in Hamburg and set off for New York. Once he arrived in the U.S. he headed West to make his destiny and ended up in Iowa. Petersen started out as a farmer. He worked and went to school in Iowa in order to learn English and more about the America. He's first recorded as a resident of Boone in 1893, where he became a clerk at a local clothing store. He worked for a number of years in the shop, putting aside his earnings in order to one day strike out on his own.
Petersen put that dream into motion in 1897 when he started Petersen & Samson. Unfortunately Samson died rather young, leaving Petersen running the business on his own. In 1902 he shortened the business name to just JC Petersen Co and hired new business partners. Together they launched a large department store that specialized in men's clothing and furnishings.The business remained thriving until the 1950s roughly. The family still has some of the mensware pieces from the shop and JC's great-great-grandson sells vintage mensware as The Houndstooth Kid!
I believe the sports coat I have to be from about the 1920s based on the tag and pattern. I hope to have it up on Etsy soon, but for now, it's a bit of history for you!