Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Jerkin Vest: Horsehide Leftovers and the Commonwealth

Ever wonder about the Jerkin Vest.  Seems like an idiotic name for something so vital and necessary that the military made it common issue for soldiers fighting in cold weather.

Jerkins had a storied history as light coloured leather garments that were worn over doublets since the 16th century.  Always serving as protection from climate and wear, the jerkin vests of WWI 1 were issued to Canadian and British troops to assist in warmth and
protection while providing freedom of arm movement.

Because of the massive drain on resources both during WW1 and more so in WW2 the jerkin vest was a recycled garment.  Early brass button versions had the fasteners replaced with early plastics and vests were often assembled with bits and pieces of leather cuttings in order to save resources and money.

Soldiers of the Commonwealth often gave the vests favorable reviews.  I have owned 30 or 40 vests in the last 20 years and the quality and character of the leather and its finishes have varied over the years from thinner pigment finished horsehide to my personal
favorite and the one I wear which is 1.3 mm horse leather
with a dark brown aniline dye and nitro cellulose finish.

The garments were particularly useful for motorcyclists
 as the freedom of arm movement and ventilation was good for mid weather climates. 

Like many garments, in WW2 the jerkin vest underwent massive research and development.  Colonel Rivers-Macpherson redesigned the pre WW 2 battle dress and webbing in an attempt to improve basically 300 years of similar design.  He proposed a new replacement for webbing and vests with his "battle jerkin" which was a radical departure from the traditions of jerkin vests.  Only similar in name this utility vest was made of canvass and served to house all the battle equipment a soldier would need to carry.  
 They were well used in the Normandy invasions.
(source: Mike Chappell )

I have both WW1 and WW2 jerkin vests listed on Ebay .  Check out the patch work of leather to finish the random assembly of the back panels.  It was a real testimonial to the frugality of the system at the time.  This patchwork appearance  typically doesn't re appear in leather production until pressures to save money in the 1970s resulted in patchwork hippy jackets made first in North America and later overseas.  Split leathers and off cuts became a way to maximize garment dollars and profitability.  In spite of the patchwork the garments superior Dominion Tanneries leather and vegetable tanned character make the garment far superior to modern garments.  The tight fit and practicality offer a simple ruggedness to these vests.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Blogging: Pulling the Trigger, and the Lost Past

 Its been a long time since I have made any significant posts.  I complained about "blog fatigue" and other ailments.  I would sit down in front of the computer and stare blankly into the screen and wonder what could I possibly post about.  The summer began and time passed and even though I have been constantly working I lost my ability to share my thoughts through my blog.  Well,...summer is over and fall has begun.

I found out in March of this year that my dad had cancer.  This started a long process of trying to treat the cancer and then the realisation that death was at our door.  My dad died in July and I still find myself drifting about here and there thinking about him, me, my past, his past and my future.

I never really had a great relationship with my dad...that is to say I didn't have one until the last few years.  Since about the time my wife's dad died I never really thought about my relationship with the old man.  After that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I needed to do to try and catch up for lost years and repair the mistakes that both of us had made in the past.  I spent a lot of time filling up old psychological ditches and trying to build some nice times with dad.  It certainly helped that Nancy and him got along like peas in a pod.

For a guy that spends most of his time thinking about the past, and nostalgia and vintage...the strangest part for me of losing a parent is losing all those old memories and stories that only my dad knew.  Some he shared like old bedtime stories about his youth long past..adventures of young men, friends and family long burried, but most were lost forever into the blur of the past.  For all his faults,  my dad was a real character, and I was pretty similar to him in personality.  He grew up during the war living in a two bedroom apartment with a large family above a schmata"store.  There was never any question that my dad would be a doctor and not in clothing business.  Dad faced his share of anti-semitism, adversity and hardship but he was from an era where adversity was normal and it was a mans job to suck it up and never flinch.  This made for some pretty tough distant dads.  I try as I get older not to judge the past, realising how hard it is to get it together in our lives.  I believe that my dad like so many dads, had good intentions and that the life of a father in the 1960s had a completely different context then today.  A life lived well, and with good intention should be honoured.  Even though I did not have a lifetime of perfect memories I managed some really really good ones over the last 8 years and those made his death more bearable.  RIP Dr. Calvin Himel.

So now I am back and renewing my commitment to document my days as jacket designer, vintage clothing dealer and amature historian.  I am promising to post lots of stories about dads, jackets, fashion and history. 

 I have been amassing blogging stories like a volcano and am hoping to spew out some new and interesting stuff including the launch of my Himel Brothers website.  Once more I can only thank all of you who read this blog and keep me feeling happy that there are people who are interested in the same things I am and actually still read this blog!

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. - Mark Twain, "Old Times on the Mississippi" Atlantic Monthly, 1874