by Catherine C. Cole and Raymond Glenn Elliott
The Great Western Garment Company (GWG) produced a wide range of pants—both work pants and dress pants— overalls, combination overalls (coveralls), coats and jackets, uniforms and shirts—initially for men and boys—as well as some boys' play clothes, including leather chaps for playing "Cowboys and Indians". GWG also produced a very limited selection of women's and girls' sports and outdoor wear before World War II. After the war, GWG expanded its product lines for the entire family.
The company protected some of its innovations, designs and brand names through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) which now makes it easier for collectors to identify and date garments. Brands that were not registered may be dated through reference to a comprehensive collection of catalogues and almanacs from 1938 to 1950, selected editions of these from the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s, and a large collection of advertisements from the 1920s to the 1960s. Changes in logos and labels, buttons, zippers and rivets may also be used to date garments.
Before World War II, GWG registered a limited number of brands, Cowboy King (1929) and Red Strap (1933) being the most popular. Other early brands include Iron Man (1932), Golden West Jean (1934), Snobak (1935), Husky (1936), Westwool (1937), Texas Ranger (1937), Blue Diamond (1938), Pinto and El Charro (1939), and Sport Togs (1939/1950).
After the war, the company expanded its product lines introducing Drillers' Drill (1948), Frisco Jeans (1949), Palomino (1950) Graham (1950), Beavertail (1953), Frontier Queen (1959), Springbok (1959), Strapback, Ranch Boss (1959), and Nev'R Press (1968) brands; some of these were trademarked, some not.
In 1972, GWG introduced what would become the most popular brand in its history, Scrubbies. Other late brands include: Flare Kings (1972), Jeanslax (1978), Cachet Cadet (1979), Kidfitters (1979), Femme Fit (1980), Great Western Jeans (1980), Poupounette (1980), Pionnier (1980), Bum Bums and Bum Jeans (1978), Odyssey (1982), Rugby (1982), British Khaki (1982), Canadian Wilderness Gear (1990), and Tradition of Excellence (1991). Many of these were quickly abandoned.
Cowboy King, Kings and Flare Kings
Introduced in 1929, the first Cowboy King jacket featured a pleated front and back, buckle back, single breast pocket, orange stitching, leather tag, and, from 1934, brass buttons with a red dot in the centre. Cowboy King pants from this period featured a crotch rivet, donut hole button fly, riveted back pockets and waist button. In 1961, GWG filed the Cowboy King trademark in the United States. In 1963, zippers replaced the button fly. Women's and children's Cowboy King clothing was introduced in the mid-1940s.
In 1953, the year the Cowboy King brand was registered, the pleats in the front became panels, and two breast pockets were added to the jacket. During the 1950s, GWG advertised its Cowboy King brand regularly in the June issues of magazines in conjunction with the Calgary Stampede, often featuring images of champion cowboys.
In 1963, the cut of the jacket changed significantly: the body was less fitted, the panels on the front disappeared, and slash pockets were added to the waist in addition to the two breast pockets. GWG registered the GWG Kings brand to reflect their interest in expanding their market beyond the west; both Cowboy King and Kings brands were available throughout the 1960s. Around 1974, the rivets disappeared from the front and back pant pockets. In 1972, GWG introduced Flare Kings jeans. The Cowboy King brand was also applied to Western-style shirts.
In 1933, GWG registered its signature contrasting red strap across the bib pocket of overalls and hammer strap across the pant leg as a Registered Industrial Design under the Trade Mark and Design Act. Red Straps soon became very popular. The Red Strap brand was initially applied to indigo blue and striped herringbone garments, men's and boys overalls, combination overalls (coveralls), pant overalls, and work jackets. The strap across the bib was printed, whereas the hammer strap was applied.
In the late 1930s, Red Strap overalls featured GWG's patented Lochbar suspender slide. Bib overalls featured elasticised suspenders c. 1940, however elastic shortages during World War II required the company to revert to denim suspenders. From 1954 to 1963, men's overalls featured square cornered back pockets; rounded corners were introduced in 1963.
GWG made a side-zip pant for women—the same style as the Vaquero jeans but with a zipper rather than button closure. The red hammer strap on women's pants was non-functional, stitched to the pants for decoration. By then, the signature GWG strap had become more than just a handy place to keep a hammer. In fact, in the 1950s, it was a challenge for teenage boys growing up in Edmonton's inner city to keep the red straps on their pants. Schoolyard bullies often tried to rip the red straps off of other boys' pants, and it became a mark of toughness if you managed to keep your red straps.
In 1930, GWG registered Stop-Loss pockets, used on the overall bib and pant leg to prevent the loss of pocket watches and tools.
Registered in 1932, Iron Man fabric was particularly long-wearing, available in both pre-shrunk and regular fabrics. Iron Man pants were popular until the early 1960s.
In 1935, GWG registered Snobak denim made of tightly twisted, long-fibre cotton, fine weave, heavy-weight denim available both pre-shrunk and regular.
The Texas Ranger brand was registered in 1937 and applied initially to cotton shirts and later to matching pants and shirts for workers' uniforms. Texas Ranger remained a popular brand of shirt through the 1940s to 1960s; the trademark was officially erased in 1998.
GWG introduced Westwool garments in 1937 and registered the brand in 1938. GWG initially promoted its woollen garments as being produced with pure wool from Western Canada, showing a map of the four Western provinces. Later ads, while retaining the map, state that some of the wool was also from Australia. The brand was popular through the 1950s.
From 1939, GWG garments were labelled either Sanforized Shrunk or Unshrunk. Developed in the late 1920s, the sanforizing process uses water, heat and steam to reduce shrinkage from 10% to less than 1% after washing. Some vintage denim sites give credit to the Wrangler Jeans Company for introducing sanforized denim jeans in 1947, however GWG introduced its Sanforized Shrunk label nearly a decade earlier. Previously, labels for Snobak and Iron Man fabrics indicated shrunk without specifying that the process was sanforized.
The Driller's Drill brand was registered in 1948, following the discovery of oil in Leduc, Alberta, just south of Edmonton in February 1947. It was advertised in the 1950s as a new cotton drill fabric used for work pants and popular throughout the 1960s. The trademark has since been erased.
The name Sport Togs was introduced in 1939 but not used during World War II. Registered in 1953, with an indication that it had been in use since at least 1950, the Sport Togs brand was given to wool flannel shirts and to GWG's Jackshirt (short for jacket shirt), the quintessential Canadian outdoor jacket, available in solid red or plaid wool.
Named for founder Charles A. Graham, and used on men's dress shirts, the Graham brand was filed in 1950 and is rarely seen today.
Registered in 1968, Nev'R Press cotton/nylon fabric was introduced for men's boys' and youths' casual slacks in the 1965 GWG catalogue. Nev'R Press fabrics were soon used for women's and misses clothes as well.
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Advertisement for Nev'R Press pants produced by McConnell-Eastman for GWG. Credit: Library and Archives Canada. (1:01)
Scrubbies pre-washed jeans were developed by then Vice-President of Merchandizing Don Freeland in 1972. Walking down the street in Venice one day, he noticed a store selling used jeans at high prices and thought about the fact that his wife always pre-washed jeans before their children wore them. New denim was stiff and scratchy because the warp threads were soaked in potato starch to prevent them from breaking when the fabric was being woven.
Freeland returned to Edmonton and experimented with pre-washing jeans. The first cleaner he called refused when asked to wash 160,000 pairs! Eventually he found someone willing to do it and, after some trial and error, developed a process that produced a nice soft effect. Freeland then tested several brand names out on a group of young people who loved the concept, but not the names: Wash Out, Bleach Out and Softies. Someone suggested Scrubs, and then Scrubbies. He introduced Scrubbies in a few stores in Toronto, and then Eaton's Montreal store ordered 900 pairs. According to Freeland, "It was unpacked on Friday. It hit the shelves. By Saturday there wasn't one pair left. Never happened before in their history. French kids will die for fashion.... We were washing sixteen thousand pair a day when I left the company."
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Don Freeland describes inventing Scrubbies pre-washed jeans (2:39)
Bum Jeans were promoted at the Canadian Finals Rodeo through a controversial rendition of the song, Pomp and Circumstance, and a competition in which people's bums were judged as they stood on stage in their jeans. Across the country, university campuses and disco contests picked up on the theme.
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1980 advertisement for Bum Jeans produced by Baker Lovick for GWG (0:33) A television advertisement featuring various people walking or moving from behind, focused on their bottoms to show how well they fit.
For more information about GWG patents, trademarks and registered industrial designs, visit the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website at: http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/epic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/en/Home