This vintage mackinaw coat was made in the 1910s-1920s. It is made from a blue, green, red and gray plaid mackinaw wool, in a double breasted cut, with a broad shawl collar, handwarmer pockets, flapped cargo pockets and belt loops. As was typical for these early production mackinaws, this one is unlined. The particular detailing found on this example, in combination with the unusual plaid are hallmarks of an earlier mackinaw. More vibrant color schemes were generally more popular earlier on, losing ground by the later 1920s to more sedate patterns, while the shawl collar, save for the horsehide trimmed railroad versions, generally fell out of favor by the early 1930s on double breasted mackinaws.
Chest (pit to pit): 25″
Shoulder to shoulder: 19-1/2″
Sleeve (shoulder to cuff): 26-3/4″
Length (base of collar to hem): 35″
Mackinaw fabric, as well as mackinaw coats, trace their name back to blankets used in the fur trade by the Mackinaw Fur Company, headquartered at Fort Mackinac. As with the point blankets made by the Hudson’s Bay Company, Mackinaw blankets were made in an array of bright colors and garish patterns. Originally favored by native Americans and fur traders in the area, the coats gained near immediate acceptance among lumberjacks in that area’s logging industry. Whether cut from Mackinaw blankets, Hudson’s Bay Blankets, or from Pendleton Blankets, these coats shared several important features. In a time when men in cities wore overcoats nearly exclusively in cold weather, these coats were cut short, generally with a length of 35 or 36 inches, to allow for freedom of movement. The short cut allowed for extremely heavyweight, warm fabric without the weight associated with a long coat. The bright colors and loud patterns of the blankets favored among these loggers soon found their way throughout the country, first as souvenirs, later as part of nationwide marketing.
Though lumberjacks were primarily of French-Canadian or Scottish-Canadian ancestry, mackinaw cloth owes its origins to Norwegian immigrants. The original cloth was homepun from wool from northern sheep. The early fabric was relatively coarse, and heavyweight, around 40oz. After it was woven, was “stumpfed”, or danced upon with soap and water with wooden shoes, usually accompanied by music and celebration. This process felted the fabric, shrinking it dramatically, and making it thicker, denser, warmer, and resistant to rain and further shrinkage. Commercially produced mackinaw cloth later mimicked this process mechanically. After weaving, the fabric was shrunk and felted (the stumpfing or fulling process) , then napped to give it a thick and fluffy texture, further increasing its insulation value.
In 1912, the FA Patrick company, proprietors of the Patrick-Duluth Woolen Mills of Duluth, Minnesota launched a new, refined mackinaw design. It was double breasted, belted and sported a collar described in the ads of the period as a “nansen” collar. Though the term also existed then, we now refer to this style as a shawl collar. The coat was 35″ long and was available in 24 and 32 oz wool mackinaw cloth, in a wide variety of colors. Salesman Harry Harrington began to pitch the Patrick Mackinaw to clothiers in college towns. “It was not long after that that mackinaws became a fad with students generally, and as the college student invariably sets the styles for young men’s clothing, it quickly spread over the whole country”. The early mackinaw trend was marketed in a similar way to the current workwear trend, trading on the rugged associations of the workers for whom the garment was originally designed. The mackinaw fad boomed, and shortly, a number of other manufacturers sprung onto the scene, producing mackinaws of varying quality from a variety of cloths. Large quantities of Patrick mackinaws were sold through such high end stores as Brooks Brothers, Rogers Peet, Wannamaker, Abercrombie and Fitch, Brokaw Brothers, and A. Raymond.
It is around this 1912-1913 period where the name “Mackinaw” begins to be more associated with the short, double breasted, shawl collar style, and less with the mackinaw cloth material from which it was made.
The Mackinaw was re-branded once again, marketed to farmers, children, hunters and outdoorsmen, workers, and sportsmen. Its durability, warmth, low price compared to comparable overcoats or sheeplined coats, made it an easy sell to these markets. Alongside sheeplined canvas coats, shawl collar Mackinaws became the de-facto winter coat of railroad employees.