Coveralls and the Costume Quandary

Halloween will soon be upon us and, with it, the perennial quandary over costumes. There are many solutions to this problem, perhaps the most direct being the store-bought costume-in-a-bag. However, these costumes will unlikely see perennial wear. If they make it past one wearing without falling apart you can consider it a success. Perhaps they will make it into a dress-up bin to die a slow, frustrating death.

To solve this dilemma, consider kids coveralls as an alternative: coveralls, or clothes resembling them, are worn by all sorts of interesting characters—race car drivers, Ghostbuster, astronauts, seamen, Vault Boy from Fallout, as well a tradesmen of all sorts. Add a belt, hat or helmet, and with some patches, duct tape striping or maybe a badge and voilà! …you have your own, uniquely yours, (pretty much) homemade Halloween costume. Our kids’ coveralls

come in red, royal blue, navy blue, and camo. (Yes, we have camouflage kids’ coveralls!)

Unlike the costume-in-a-bag, our coveralls will stand up to all sorts of wear and tear. The kids’ coveralls you buy this year will live to see many Halloweens to come, and will be enjoyed throughout the rough-and-tumble year. We invite you to share your creations with us. For the most ingenious costume that includes our Castle Clothing Kids’ Coveralls, we’ll award a free kids’ rainsuit by Castle Clothing, soon to be available for purchase in the U.S. on our website. Stay tuned to our social media accounts for more.

Chambray, or the Franco-American Naval Uniform Connection.

Several ago weeks, Chandler Small & Co. introduced the first addition to its designs—a chambray kids’ sailor top. For Chandler Small’s designer, your correspondent, a chambray top was the clear choice for the next design. The hefty twill of our navy blue kids’ sailor suits needed a lighter, softer summer counterpart. Since Chandler Small & Co.’s designer-proprietor is a father of four, he understands that summer whites—which so temp fate at fleet weeks the world over every summer—are hard enough for adult sailors to keep clean and will lead to boundless frustration for parents of small children. Thus, chambray.

Chambray was the fabric-of-choice for the shirts for the U.S. Navy’s enlisted uniform for over a century, having first entered the uniform regulations in 1901. The fabric takes it name from the French town—Cambrai—from whence it came. Chambray’s distinctive feature is the color and pattern created by combining a blue warp with a white weft. It shares the blue and white thread combination with denim, but it’s plain weave and light thread makes it more light and airy.

Originally your correspondent thought that the chambray kids sailor suit top would be made without braid on the collar and cuffs. This seemed fitting given long association of chambray as a working uniform material and the absence—only recently ended—of braid on the U.S. Navy summer white jumper. However, after putting side-by-side a sample with braid and one lacking it, the decision to include the braid was clear.

As it happened, the resulting top bore an almost complete likeness to a chambray sailor’s uniform found in the French Navy of the 1950’s and ‘60’s (Pictured below). The experience of designing the chambray children’s sailor top underscores the idea—discussed in an earlier post—that our design has a rather uncreative element insofar as it seeks create nautical kids clothing based on design whose enduring charm and functionality are hard to improve.

french-navy-shirt

National & International

As this blogger has begun thinking about a forthcoming post on Chandler Small’s chambray sailor top design, which is currently in production, his thoughts kept returning to ideas of nationalism and internationalism. When these chambray kids’ sailor suits are available at our webstore, there will be a post discussing the details of the design in more detail; however, as thoughts came together about the design, which draws on elements from both American and foreign sailor’s clothes, this blogger realized that sailor’s clothing is an interesting hybrid of international and national. On it’s face this statement might not strike you as noteworthy, but on further reflection it’s quite remarkable. And it bears some attention in these times when people all over the world are struggling with drawing lines between healthy nationalism and internationalism.

To appreciate this, consider what is typically meant by national clothing. As you may know, this blogger is quite fond of the national clothing of the German speaking world: tracht, a term that includes lederhosen, high crowned brimmed hats, the dirndl, etc. Or consider the country tweeds of the English, highland kilt of the Scott, the sarong of Asia. All of these styles of dress have no obvious analog in other counties.

This is not so for nautical clothing: every country has it’s own variations. American sailors wear pea coats, while the duffel coat was worm by British sailors. Russian seaman, even to this day, wear the telnyashka. Beyond just the national variations in nautical clothing, the very phenomenon of civilian landlubbers wearing nautical clothing is nationalistic. Something demonstrated by the increased popularity of nautical clothing, especial children’s sailor suits, in times of war.

Yet somehow, this exercise of nationalism has actually created one of the most internationally popular modes of dress. Because of the international nature of shipping and naval force projection, these nationalistic style tropes have mixed and mingled such that no one assumes the wearer of a pea coat, a chambray shirt, or dungarees is necessarily American despite the way those articles of dress were inspired by the U.S. Navy. Similarly, no one would assume that the they wearer of a striped sailor’s sweater was necessarily Breton or French, though that item emerged from that county’s maritime clothing.

This observation provides an interesting insight into the phenomenon of nationalism among a single species that inhabits a single planet. In our efforts to define ourselves as nations, we cannot help but do it in reference, or perhaps with reference, to others. And so as Chandler Small & Co. prepares to launch our our next American kid’s sailor suit, we can’t help but acknowledge that it draws details from the clothing of sailors the world over.

Sailor Suits and Slow Fashion

As one whose first calling is as an officer in the Coast Guard, your blogger begs your pardon for being a bit late to the party in talking about the subject of “slow fashion.” He is not an apparel industry insider. When the concept—or at least the name—emerged several years ago this blogger was completely aloof to it. Nonetheless he has ostensibly found himself a maker of slow fashion, a term preferable to slow maker of fashion, which he hopes is not descriptive of his work.

From what this blogger gathers, the slow fashion movement is a rejection of the “here today, gone tomorrow” model that drives so much of the retail apparel world. The children’s sailor suit is a natural fit for the slow fashion—it was introduced first in the 1850’s by Queen Victoria and has managed to have a continuing place in dressing children right up to this very moment.

The term slow fashion, as it is used by those who advocate it, is not merely a descriptor of stylistic endurance of the design. Rather, it describes a slower process. Chandler Small & Co. and its kids’ sailor suits also fit this part of the slow fashion concept. Chandler Small & Co. worked out it’s children’s sailor suit patterns in a slow, iterative process that resulted in items that were not merely copies of a pattern already out there done in a new color or with different trim. No, its sailor suits were designed from the sketch pad up.

The slow fashion movement also has a focus on production that meets the highest standards of fair treatment. In this regard, Chandler Small & Co. excels. Its cutting and sewing is done by a three-person family business about an hour away from Portland. The proprietor frequently meets with the cutter and sewers to discuss the constructions of the kids’ sailor suits. In all candor, your blogger, the hapless proprietor of Chandler Small & Co. would never had succeeded in producing the children’s sailor suits that he has without the decades of experience of his sewers.

Nevertheless, your blogger feels that there are tenets of the slow fashion movement his company rejects. One such aspect of the slow fashion movement is that the garment is so expensive that the buyer won’t be able to afford another one anytime soon even if he or she wanted to. On the contrary, despite the temptation to drive home the sense of value associated with its children’s sailor suits by making them memorably expensive, Chandler Small is committed to making their product available as widely as possible by not inflating the price beyond that dictated by its costs.

Lastly, Chandler Small & Co is reluctant to describe what it does as “fashion” at all. The very term imparts something ephemeral and passing. Chandler Small aims for permanent design, taking its inspiration from the sailor suits of our parents and grandparents that look just as smart today as they did in 1880, 1920, 1940, 1960, and yes even the 1970s. Chandler Small & Co. aspires to be making the same kids’ sailor suits decades from now because the lasting class and style of its garments defy the fleeting pull of fashion.

Earning your stripes

If you’ve read our website, you have probably noticed that Chandler Small prides itself on the authenticity of the design and construction of its children’s sailor suits. With this in mind, one might wonder why our children’s sailor suits have two stripes of braiding around the collar and cuffs when anyone who’s seen a real sailor in a Cracker Jack uniform knows that the the right number is three. The answer lies in our respect for earning the right to wear one’s rank. For that reason we chose to use two stripes rather than the three worn by sailors in the U.S. Navy.

The number of stripes of braiding on a sailor’s jumper were at one point an indication of rank. According to Col. Robert Rankin, who wrote the only book about the history of Navy uniforms that this blogger has found so far, up until the end of the Second World War, the number of stripes on the cuff of a sailor’s jumper denoted the distinction between seaman or fireman first class, second class, and third class—ranks known today as recruit, seaman apprentice, and seaman. After the war this practice was replaced by sewn on diagonal stripes on the sleeve. Col. Robert Rankin, Uniforms of the Sea Services (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1962) p. 110. Even earlier in times, the number of stripes on the collar of denoted rank. Starting in 1866, three stripes denoted petty officer, seamen, and first-class firemen; two stripes denoted ordinary seamen and second-class firemen,and one identified “landsmen, coal heavers, and boys,” all ranks that are long forgotten. Ibid, p. 77.

Every sailor that takes an oath and enters the service of his or her country and makes a commitment to advancing and in both grade and expertise has respect due for it. For that reason, our kids’ sailor suit tops bear two rows of braid and not the three used by the U.S. Navy.

Who is Chandler Small?

This week, your humble blogger welcomed a new son into his family. Naturally with this birth came a naming. Being the fourth child and third consecutive son, choosing a name was expectedly more difficult. A name both describes and prescribes. It not only embodies the person at the time of birth, but also becomes a factor in who he becomes.

All of this holds true to a business name. This blogger will resist the temptation to stray into the historical fog that surrounds the legal doctrine of corporate person-hood because (1) he hopes you are reading out of interest in kid’s sailor suits and (2) because Chandler Small & Co. is an unincorporated proprietorship. Nonetheless, a business name also has both descriptive and prescriptive roles.

To start with the descriptive, Chandler Small was not conceived of as a fictitious name, just as it is not the name of a fictitious legal person. Rather, Chandler is a title for one who sells supplies to a ship—a ship’s chandler. A 1930’s dictionary provided this definition: “a dealer in groceries, provisions, small wares, or the like; a dealer; as a ship chandler.” This was descriptive, when we set out it was merely to sell sailor suits; however, not finding one worth selling we set out to make one.

What about Small? The name was not chosen merely because it describes the size of our business, or those whom we’re outfitting, or its current revenue streams; rather, it was inspired by the most respectable children’s book character of all time—Mr. Small. In fact, the man always goes by a title: Fireman Small, Policeman Small, Captain Small, Papa Small, or in our case, Chandler Small.

Mr. Small is the creation of Lois Lenski a brilliant and quite prolific children’s author of the 1930’s. Although your blogger knows relatively little about Lois Lenski, he knows as much as anyone else about Mr. Small, having read most of the books in which he appears. The books can be appreciated on two levels: they are aesthetically delightful and their content is straightforward and true-to-life. The Little Sailboat, a sailing adventure centered on Captain Small, should be every tot’s first maritime story. It uses real nautical terminology to tell as story that is somehow magically ordinary: Captain Small goes sailing with his trusty dog Tinker, he falls overboard, runs into rough weather and nasty speed-boaters, and makes it safely back home to eat his catch for dinner. What give this seemingly inane storyline its force is the detail and realism of it. It could, or perhaps has, happened to this blogger, or to you.

That it is what defines Chandler Small and Co.’s sailor suits—detail and the sense of adventure that can be found in every day life with the right perspective. Like the scenes in the little sailboat, Chandler Small & Co.’s children’s sailor suits simply and vividly conjure something seemingly large that nevertheless manages to fit within the confines of our kids’ ordinary lives.20170212_195906.jpg

Labels

Prevailing culture teaches that labels are oversimplifications at best and, at worst, inaccurate characterizations of the person or thing itself. We’re even taught to defy labels that might be applied to us. In the context of clothing this holds true only so far as it describes labels themselves: contrary to this blogger’s understanding prior to crashing in on the apparel business, a label is the correct industry terminology for what most refer to as a tag. Beyond that, however, the similarity in connotation between the popular usage of the word label and industry usage of the word label ends. The label in a garment should, nay, must accurately describe that to which it is attached. This is especially true of the labels in our kids’ sailor suits.

Our labels plainly state our business name, the fiber content, country of origin—the good ol’ U.S. of A., of course—and our straight forward care instructions. But the accuracy of our labels goes even deeper. The labels themselves accurately reflect the essence of the kids’ sailor suits on which they’re sewn. Like the sailor suits themselves, the design began with looking over the labels of the originals. Even among Navy uniform item labels from the World War II era, quite a bit of variation exists: some labels are printed, others are woven; some have a place for a name, others do not; some are square, others more rectangular; some had lots of information about the uniform item, others simply provided a place for labeling the owner’s name.

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Ultimately, we focused our children’s sailor suit label design on a label sewn into a World War II Coast Guard middy. Unlike most uniform labels, this one was woven rather than printed. This blogger’s personal experience is that printed uniform labels wear and wash out. To the extent allowed by U.S. labeling requirement, we followed the content and layout of the labels. We also provided a space for name labeling, which is very important for a uniform item. Lastly, we opted to stamp sizes on to the label in the same way that 1940’s defense contractors did. Thus unlike almost all modern kids’ clothes, our kids’ sailor suits have but one label.

There is yet one more layer of accuracy in our labeling, one that reflects best our ethos: our labels are woven on machines from the 1940s in the U.S.

You can see our labels on our website, but don’t buy Chandler Small’s kids’ sailor suits for the label. Buy them for the accuracy and authenticity the label stands for.

Inspection Ready Kids, or Sailor Suit Care

After last week’s heady post on world peace, it seems responsible to return to a more practical, if pedestrian, topic: the proper care of a sailor suit.

Small children in a kid’s sailor suit don’t stand inspection in the same way that a recruit, plebe, swab, or other new accession to the sea-going service would—at the position of attention, lined up, and formally stared down from head to toe. Nonetheless, as a parent I’ve come to understand that children and their parents are perhaps more scrutinized than any other segment of society. Thus, it’s in the interest of both Chandler Small & Co. and parents that their offspring look good in a children’s sailor suit. Blue and white kid’s sailor suits have both over lapping and unique care issues. Your blogger will stay focused on blue kid’s sailor suits for the moment as that is the starting point for our line of nautical children’s clothing (The start, but not the end: stay tuned for our spring/summer addition to the line).

The first concern with caring for a children’s sailor suit is preserving the rich navy blue color: to accomplish this the proprietor of Chandler Small & Co., the selfsame individual that blogs to you, recommends washing your kid’s sailor suit on a cool setting and hanging them to dry. To take your garment care to the level prescribed by the finest Navy in the world, wash, dry, and iron them inside out. As the Navy Uniform Regulations state: “The body of the jumper has an outward crease in the front, inverted crease in the back, and the collar has three, evenly spaced outward vertical creases.” Inverted creases is the Navy’s way of telling sailors to iron jumpers inside out. The same applies to sailor’s pants. Washing and ironing inside out also minimizes wear and disruption to the braid on your kid’s sailor suit. Ironing inside out prevents the dark navy blue from getting a uneven, shiny finish where the iron presses most.

Follow these instructions and even the most scrutinizing eyes will not be able to take issues with your kid’s sailor suit. If this blogger could similarly defend you against such scrutiny of your kid’s behavior, he would. But alas, your blogger’s eight years of parenting have not yet taught him such alchemy.

Photo: British Royal Navy sailors iron their middies in a World War II era documentary film.  Note their undershirts, the forbearer of the ringer shirt offered by Chandler Small & Co.

Happy New Year, or Boiler Suits and World Peace

Your dear blogger is not much for social experimentation; nor is he really one for utopian visions. Nonetheless, he has for some time now held the belief that the wear of boiler suits—known to almost everyone outside the merchant marine as coveralls—improves human cooperation, reduces stress and antipathy. Though not the product scientific study, this conclusion has more than mere anecdotal proof.

You blogger began forming this theory when he was first put in a boiler suit by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The reprieve provided by wearing something that doesn’t get ironed, didn’t have a brass buckle to polish, and had no “gig line” to get crooked probably had something to do with it. But it goes far deeper. The effect of a boiler suit on one’s mood is inescapable: even peacock types who thrill in a squared away uniform and flawlessly shined leather shoes can’t escape the pull of the boiler suit. And when a section, or even class, of midshipmen came together in boiler suits, the effect grew exponentially. Boiler suits brought about cohesiveness and a spirit of camaraderie that surpasses that which results simply from wearing the same uniform.  This humble blogger proposes that it has something to do with the garment itself. For one, a boiler suit, being all one piece, hangs from one’s shoulders—the body part that most naturally bears a load. One is not girded in by it, as with pants, but surrounded by it. Among the men’s garments that share this attribute are the mostly extinct Roman toga and men’s night shirt and a monk’s habit.

There’s also a great deal of inner peace that comes from wearing a garment like a boiler suit or coveralls that is made with the very realistic expectation that it will get dirty. Thus little spills and rubs and bumps with schmutz tend not to shatter the mood as they do in something like a business suit.

Perhaps the final attribute of the boiler suit the deserves a place in this discussion is the abundance and capacity of its pockets. Add to this the pass-through pockets so beloved by midshipmen, a feature also not found on other garments known to this blogger, and the design’s livability is perfected.

As a parent, your humble blogger has tested the effect on children. Here the impact is further magnified because there are two parties concerned: the one wearing them and the one cleaning the kid’s coveralls. And with children’s coveralls, this effect is reciprocally reinforced. The parent, knowing that the children’s coveralls can simply be removed in one fell swoop, is happy to let the kid follow his or her innate urge toward getting messy. This reciprocally reinforced mood has wondrous consequences.

It is beyond this blogger’s influence to put all of humanity in coveralls, but he has done what he can by making children’s coveralls, heretofore impossible to buy in the United States, readily available to your family through Chandler Small & Co. These kid’s coveralls have all of the features that make their adult counterparts transformative right down to the pass-through hip pockets. They even have a velcro front, so there’s no chance of a snag getting them on. As you look forward to bringing greater peace to your family this new year consider doing so in coveralls.

Designing on the shoulders of giants

When we set out to design our sailor suits we did so in an unapologetically backward-looking way. As the medieval Bernard of Chartres said, “we are dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants.” The heyday of the sailor suit in children’s clothing occurred between the two world wars. During that period both boys and girls dressed—or perhaps, were dressed—in sailor suits. Thus, we began by collecting and examining examples of sailor suits from this golden era of the kids’ sailor suit. Looking at the details of the older sailor suits, there was quite a bit of variation on the theme: some had button sleeve cuffs, others did not; some had braid that crossed over in the corners of the collar back and others did not; the distinctive sailor collar was constructed in several different ways; some pants were had a fall front closure, others had side buttons and yet others—those made after it was invented—had elastic. Given this variation, we also looked to the source of it all: the enlisted Navy uniform.

In fact, we referenced the enlisted uniforms of several navies: the U.S. Navy, the British Royal Navy, and the German Navy. Along the way, the humble proprietor of Chandler Small took to wearing a surplus Bundesmarine sailor’s middy as a pullover on summer mornings.

There was a fair amount of variation on the theme as we studied these military examples too. Being an American company, intent on making our kids’ sailor suits in the U.S., the aesthetic we chose is American. Thus, we included middy braid—yes, the trim is named after the garment—on both the collar and the cuff, like U.S. Navy middies and we opted to have it turn to follow the collar edge in the back like Navy uniforms, rather than have it crossed over over like many children’s sailor tops from early 20th century. The story of braid on navy middies is is a topic of its own, which deserves a blog post of its own.

Our sailor suit tops are not, however, shrunken down U.S. Navy uniforms: the construction of the neck opening and collar of our sailor middy is most similar to the German Navy top. We also kept the braid on the body of the collar and not along the lower neck opening, a detail that was on a 1920’s example that also inspired our logo.

On bottom, our pant design is also a hybrid of U.S. Navy bell bottom and vintage sailor suit pant features. As parents, we knew that the Navy’s 13 button fall-front closure would not fly with either kids or parents; however, we did track down the right mil-spec anchor buttons and included them on our kid’s sailor pants. In stead of the working fall front of the Navy uniform, we incorporated a pleat that gives the effect of the fall front, and included non-working uniform buttons to give them the right look. The result is a pant that authentically nautical and thoroughly functional.

(Photo: a 1940’s children’s sailor top, part of the Chandler Small & Co. collection.  Note the chis-crossed middy braid on the collar. Also not that this sailor top included a button in bib.  Chandler Small stuck with the Navy on this aspect of our kid’s sailor suit and gone with a ringer undershirt, like those used in the British Royal Navy and at the U.S. Naval Academy.)