The Topster and the Topsman, and a mystery photo, too.
We take a lot of calls at Pendleton from people hoping to learn the value, the year, or sometimes just the name of a particular garment. We can’t help with the value, we try to help with the year, and we can almost always come up with the name. When a man calls and asks about a jacket, he’s usually trying to figure whether it’s a Topster or a Topsman, two very popular jackets from Pendleton’s past.
The Topster, shown here in a typical plaid, was usually made in a plaid or tartan Umatilla Woolen fabric. Solids were made with Umatilla mix wools. The Topsman was sometimes made in Umatillas, and also in heavier sport coat patterns that were more subtle; herringbones, checks, subtle windowpanes and houndstooths.
Pendleton’s Topster made its debut in 1950. This unlined jacket was originally going to be called “the Playmate.” But before it hit the wholesale markets, the name was changed to the “Topster” to work with an Esquire magazine “Mr. T.” promotion. “T” stood for “trim,” and the gist of the “Mr. T.” fit was the adoption of a new cut in menswear, a move away from the baggy cuts of the forties that had culminated in the Zoot Suit. Esquire has a funny take on it here, and you can read some text and see photos of the promotional material from 1951 here. Times had changed, and the move was to slimmer silhouettes for men.
A letter sent to Pendleton’s account managers (or “salesmen,” as they were known way back in the 1950s) says: ESQUIRE magazine is meeting with a fine reception from retail stores on the new “Mr. T.” promotion for 1950. This promotion will include our Playmate jacket which has been approved as an authentic “Mr.T.” fashion. With it we will promote the “TOPPER” in matching colors, which is the small man’s cap currently so popular.
The Topster was an unconstructed jacket, meaning it had no lining and no shoulder pads. It featured a jacket’s hem and lapel, but the sleeves were finished with a shirt’s traditional button cuff. Three patch pockets held just about everything a man could ever want to carry, making it quite suitable as a smoking jacket; remember, in those days, smoking was touted for its health benefits, so designing attire for it made sense. The Topster was sewn in our old shirt factory in Milwaukie, Oregon, and retailed for $15.00.
The success was immediate. Later ads spoke of its “sudden and sound popularity.” This was a lifestyle jacket, and it filled a niche in men’s leisure wardrobes after WWII.
In the Fall 1951 line, the Topster jacket offering grew to 12 patterns; eight tartans, three herringbones and one plaid. The price had jumped to $18.95.
Many Topsters were featured in Pendleton “Pairable” ads with the Women’s 49’er jacket, reflecting the 1950s fascination with paired outfits for men and women.
In addition to men and women dressing alike, there was an American fascination for mother/daughter and father/son outfits.
In a late 1950s promotional shot for our Disneyland store, we may have taken this matching idea a little too far. You be the judge.
The Topster continued in the Pendleton Menswear line until Fall 1996.
And now, let’s talk about the Topsman. The Pendleton Topsman was another unlined, unconstructed wool jacket cut on the same block as the Topster, but with a sleeve finished like a sport coat. It had dressier buttons, as opposed to the woven leather buttons on the Topster. It was offered in less plaids and more herringbones and checks than the Topster, adding to its sport coat style. It retailed for $21.95.
The Topsman first appeared at the NARCF show in February of 1961 and hit stores that spring. The trade papers were all over the jacket. The college consumer loved it. A coat and tie were required in university classrooms, and because it had no construction (no lining, no shoulder pads) the Topsman was an easy, comfortable choice for young college men who had a stylecode to uphold, as well as a dress code to honor.
Fans of these two vintage Pendleton jackets seem to enjoy them both, and they are still worn with great style. The Topster and the Topsman have many similarities. Both were made in Umatilla wool, though the Topsman was made in a wider variety of wool and the Topster occasionally appears in Sir Pendleton Worsted. Though there are slight differences in the pocket placement and lapels, the easiest difference to spot is the sleeve construction.
Topster Left, Topsman Right
The Topsman continued in the line through at least 1970, but it may have lasted a year or two longer than that. Our archival records are a little sketchy for 1971-1975. It was most definitely not in the line in 1976. Of the two, it is hard to say which was more popular. The Topster did stay in the line longer. This was probably due to the shirt-sleeve cuff, which could easily be adjusted to fit a man’s wrist with the move of a button, or rolled up to get it out of the way while working.
Because we are a heritage company, we delve back into the archives for inspiration. The Topsman was re-released in 2001 as a special limited edition, and again in Fall of 2004 in a slightly heavier fabric.
The Topster was re-released that in 2004 as well, as part of “Eight Decades of Pendleton Shirts.”
It sold out almost immediately.
We are bringing back the Topster for Fall 2012 as part of the Fitted line.
It’s cut to specs similar to those back in the days of its introduction. It will be offered in two very traditional Pendleton options; Douglas Grey tartan and Olive/Red plaid.
Here’s a mysterious photograph that showed up one day. One of our retired account managers had passed it on to another with a note that said, “I have no idea where this came from.” It’s an orchestra with every member decked out in a Topster. If you have any idea who these plaid-clad band members are, drop us a line and let us know. If the mystery is solved we will definitely announce it here, but even if we never know who these musicians are, we still enjoy their snazzy Topster style.