Cleveland Museum of Art

A quick trip to Chicago this past week took us home via Cleveland. Our trip to Cleveland this past February was a disaster because all the museums were closed for the polar vortex. This was Cleveland’s last chance… Fortunately, we enjoyed the trip this time and although we only had enough time to visit one museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art was worth the trip. The medieval and religious statuary (Buddhist et al) was particularly impressive. Kenn took a few hundred photos – here are some of the fashion and textile highlights:

Portrait of a man in a leather jerkin/doublet, c. 1610-1615
Portrait of a woman, 1619
Feathered cape, c. 1850s
Late 14th century Italian lady’s belt (girdle)
Buddhist priest’s patchwork robe embroidered with 991 Buddhas, 1400s

The woman’s portrait from 1619 and the man’s portrait from 1610-15 were both impressive for the details in the clothing. The feathered cape was displayed amongst a selection of Native American pieces with a discussion over whether it is an indigenous or fashion piece. As the feathers were swansdown, peacock and quail, I favour a European origin. The medieval girdle was longer but the closeup shows the details — I have never seen an actual example before. The Chinese Buddhist robe was made up from many patches (a sign of humility), and the upper left corner has the Buddhas sewn upside down because when it is draped over the shoulder, they will appear right side up. The painting of the black man listening to white musicians is allegorical about racial segregation, but from a clothing perspective I thought it was interesting he is shown wearing overalls which made me wonder when overalls were introduced as a labourer’s garment.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Kitchen Overall and Shirt Co.

Kitchen railroad overalls, c. 1920

Kitchen railroad overalls, c. 1920

In 1911 Charles E. Kitchen and Luther Whitaker established the Kitchen Overall and Shirt Company in Brantford, Ontario. They specialized in the manufacture of railroad men’s overalls and general workmen’s shirts. One of their earliest successful brands was the ‘Jiffy’ overall, a zipper-front boiler suit designed for mechanics and painters.

The company flourished and acquired several companies during its growth. In 1924, Kitchen acquired Peabody’s Ltd., and the Leather Label Overall Co. of Windsor, and in 1926 Waterloo Shirts. In 1927 C. E. Kitchen was killed in an automobile accident and management of the company was passed first to his brother Frank, then  in 1939 to his son Bruce Kitchen.

Women's wartime worker's cotton twill overalls by Kitchen Overall, c. 1940-45

Women’s wartime worker’s cotton twill overalls by Kitchen Overall, c. 1940-45

In 1946 the company was sold to Howard Daniels and A. Bradshaw & Sons Ltd. of Toronto. In 1955 the company moved to a 72,000 square foot plant on Edward Street, from their 22,000 square foot plant on West Street, where they had been since 1917. The product line was diversifying after World War II, and in 1962, the company name was officially changed from the Kitchen Overall and Shirt Co., to Kitchen-Peabody Garments Ltd. to reflect the fact that overalls were no longer a significant part of their business – blue jeans were now the leading working man’s garment and sales were climbing as they became popular with the youth market.

A group of employees from Kitchen-Peabody and GWG (the leading blue jean manufacturer in Canada) were negotiating a sale of Kitchen-Peabody in 1965. Levi Strauss of San Francisco had bought a controlling share of GWG in 1961, and when word got back to Levi’s of the pending sale, Levi Strauss outbid the employees offer. In August 1965, Kitchen-Peabody was acquired by GWG but continued to operate under their own name for the next five years while the factory was completely retooled and the workforce retrained. In 1970 Kitchen-Peabody became the eastern plant of GWG.

Between 1998 and 2002, Levi’s shifted production off-shore, and in 2004 the Brantford plant that had started as Kitchen Overall and Shirt Company was closed. For more detailed information the Royal Alberta Museum has an excellent website on the history of GWG.

Canadian Fashion Connection – GWG

wartime overalls and slacks from GWG

Anyone growing up in Canada after the war but before the 1980s designer jeans craze will remember GWG, the homegrown version of American Levi’s or Lees.

The Great Western Garment company was established in Edmonton in 1911 and became the largest Canadian workwear manufacturing company by World War II. Levi Strauss & Company purchased a majority interest in GWG in 1961 and expanded operations to include plants in Winnipeg, Brantford and Saskatoon. Costs forced the company to close operations in 2004.

If you want to know more about GWG, check out this excellent website created by the Royal Alberta Museum with a grant from Virtualmuseum.ca, a branch of the Canadian Heritage Information Network (C.H.I.N.)