Soon after the first of the year the airwaves will be alive with commercials for products and services enabling you to shed those unwanted pounds. With that in mind, let’s begin the discussion weight loss a bit early. Back in May of 2008, I published an article titled “Myth Busters & Weighing in On Fabrics”. That piece, through comparative analysis and experimentation, looked at the differences in the physical properties of jerseys from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s. What we saw is what we expected to see, but now we had data to support contemporary accounts by players that the modern knits weighed less, retained less moisture, and were cooler than their flannel counter parts.
Today we will take that look back a bit farther in time and examine the change in flannel fabric throughout the 20th century. To begin with, let’s put some context into our discussion. If you happen to look through period manufactures catalogs as I have, you will see that they often describe their products by weight. For example “made from 6oz” or “made from 4oz” flannel. What this refers to is the weight of a yard of the fabric in question. The typical baseball jersey is made from approximately two yards of fabric (PLATE I). Of course the actual weight of a jersey will be somewhat greater than 2 yards of fabric since the total weight of the jersey will also include allowances for buttons, zippers, numbers, letters, patches, etc.
From the turn of the century through the early 1930, the professional quality flannel jersey was made with an eight 8oz wool based flannel fabric. This is important to know since not all product lines (major league through the youth league offerings) were made from the same quality or weight per yard of flannel fabric. This is but one of factors to consider when evaluating uniforms from any given period. In order to make an informed assessment, the person looking at the uniform should have some idea what they should expect to see, or to reuse a common phrase of mine, “what right looks like”. If your knowledge base only includes the fact that older jerseys were made from heavy wool flannel, then you don’t have much to go on.
For me, I have assembled an exemplar library that includes period major league jerseys, manufactures’ fabric sample catalogs, and various jerseys in grades of less than major league quality. I also have a digital microscope that allows me to analyze the weave the fabric in a comparative nature. All of this was very helpful recently when I was asked to evaluate what was thought to have been a c 1905-1910 Chicago White Sox road uniform. The potential attribution was made because of the general style of the uniform and small tag affixed to the pants. What I was able to see and convey to the owner of this uniform was that the fabric by weave and color was consistent with what Spalding listed as their No.409, Navy Blue, Spalding Club Special Uniform No.3. All of this helped explain the information contained on the tag in the pants; White Sox (Style); 3 (Uniform Quality) and support my position that it was not a Chicago White Sox offering. (PLATES II-IV)
Getting back to our weight consciousness theme, by the mid-1930s, at least one manufacturer began to offer a lighter 6oz fabric as an alternative to the standard 8oz product. Within a few years, this same manufacturer was only offering the 6oz flannel so one can assume the preference for a lighter product was confirmed. As such, we should expect to see other manufacturers follow suit (no pun intended) since they were all in the same business and competing for the same customer base (PLATES V-VI).
While World War II caused limitations and constraints on materials made available for non-essential war activities in the garment industry. As such, we saw such things as prohibitions on pleats and cuffs in order to conserve fabric. The war effort of the 1940s also gave rise to lighter and stronger synthetic fabrics that would make their way into mainstream America in the post war time frame. By the early 1950s, these began to find their way into the fabric of our National Pastime in earnest, and within a few years, the weight of a professional quality flannel uniform had almost been cut in half, down to 4 ½ ounces.
What you will also see is that there was a growing disparity in the weight of the fabrics worn at the professional level vs. what was worn below that. With that being said, please allow me a slight digression. I feel this is a good as time as any to point out that you should expect to see both a difference in the fabric used for jerseys and pants, with the pants having a functional requirement for greater durability. You will also find contemporary accounts of pants being ordered in greater quantity than jerseys as well. I bring this up as a cautionary note against using the fabrics in pants as a comparative metric for analysis fabrics for jerseys by this time. (PLATES VII-VIII)
Earlier I mentioned the competitive nature of the sporting good s industry with respect to uniforms, each entity constantly striving to produce a product superior to that offered by their counterparts. By 1958, just six years after introducing their “5.71 oz. Hall of Fame” fabric, Rawlings would go to a 4oz fabric for their jerseys. As we read their product advertisement, we are left to interpret this as either a suit of a 4oz jersey and 6oz pants or the option of either weight for the jersey. This is same fabric convention we see in the early 1960s as well. We also see the continuation of the trend in heavier fabrics for less than professional quality garments. (PLATES IX-XI)
By the mid-1960s, we see that wool is no longer the dominate material used in construction of major league flannel uniforms, with the wool having been surpassed by synthetic fabrics. For Rawlings, this appears to have been stabilized at a 5oz fabric which is just between the 4oz and 6oz offerings of roughly a decade prior. It is also interesting to note that the 65% acrylic – 35% wool fabric blend of this period is the same one used in the modern replicas provided to the hobby by Mitchell & Ness. This by no means is to suggest that the modern Mitchell & Ness replica is not discernable from a late 1960s-early 1970s flannel with respect to fabric analysis. They are since the weave of the M&N product is not as tight as that of the vintage offering. (PLATES XII-XIII)
So what are the take-aways from all this:
1. Context as to what it means when a jersey is described as being made from 8oz, 6oz, or 4oz flannel fabric.
2. Templates and or timelines to track and evaluate “what right should look like” with respect to weight/grade of professional flannel fabrics over time and to some degree by manufacturer as well.
3. Knowledge that the ability to analyze and discern fabric weave with respect to weight and overall quality of the fabric is essential in the evaluation process of flannel uniforms.
Whether you are doing you own research/evaluation work (which I highly recommend) or considering others to assist you or work at your behest, make sure the basis of any effort is grounded within a framework of solid references, process, and knowledge. If not, then your wallet is the only thing that will likely become lighter with nothing to show for it. That’s an area where none of us wants to lose too much weight in when it’s entirely avoidable.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com