Ivy For The Masses: The h.i.s. Brand

H.I.S Inc. may be the missing link between workwear and Ivy-styled clothing.

The company was originally founded as Honesdale manufacturing in 1923 by Henry I. Siegel. It specialized in workwear, including denim, and was a contract manufacturer for JC Penny and Montgomery Ward. The firm was headquartered in New York with manufacturing facilities in Tennessee. HIS continued its contract work through World War II, making field jackets for the war effort.

Upon Siegel’s death in 1949, his son Jesse, who was only 19 years old, took control of the company. A graduate of Columbia, Jesse Siegel decided to move the company into the fashion realm by making modifications to its existing lines. Among other things, he is credited with putting a buckle on the back of khakis, which started a campus fad.

In 1956 Siegel introduced the company’s first house brand. It was called h.i.s. and named after his father. The brand targeted the middle-market teenager and college student, and was very successful tapping postwar Baby Boomers. The company went from $9 million in sales 1949 to $18 million in 1956, and b 1964 the company was doing $42 million a year in sales.

The h.i.s product line included odd trousers, shorts, sportcoats and suits. As a mass-market Ivy-inspired brand, h.i.s was sold in stores like Irv Lewis, Morris’, and The Squire Shop in Ithaca, New York. A 1964 joint advertisement for the later two Cornell outfitters claimed, “They provide the classics — the ‘bread and butter’ — the uniform items in the curricula of college clothes.”

According to the advertisement, those other brands included Botany 500, Hathaway shirts, Keds, Alder socks, Pendleton and Viyella. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

19 Comments on "Ivy For The Masses: The h.i.s. Brand"

  1. One more Jewish contribution to Ivy style.

    Wondering what Laguna Bitch will have to say about that.

  2. I had the pleasure of working several years ago with Roland Kimberlin, President and CEO of H.I.S., when their corporate offices were in Henry, TN. He was one of the most gracious and accessible corporate executives with whom I’ve worked in a nearly 30-year career in non-for-for profit work. Mr. Kimberlin was Jesse Siegel’s son-in-law, and took the company through the early turbulent years of NAFTA, the advent of stonewashed denim (H.I.S. convinced the town of Henry to improve its water system so that the company would have enough water and pressure for the stonewashing process. Local lore had it that the inventor of the stonewashing process, whose name I cannot now remember, lived in nearby Union City, TN, in a stucco-walled estate), and the influx of immigrant labor. By that time in the early 1990’s, H.I.S. had begun contract manufacturing for KMart, Wal-Mart and Sears, and were experimenting with gluing on back pockets rather than using stitching to save on time and labor cost.

    Roland Kimberlin’s son was also experimenting at the time with vending machines for panty hose, when women still wore such awful constrictions.

    Mr. Kimberlin also had one of the most tastefully-appointed offices ever — lots of brass, walnut paneling, and worn leather. He collected fountain pens, and quite humorously met me at his office door one day with a six-inch circle of ink on his otherwise perfect shirt – the result of a faulty ink insert in his Mont Blanc.

    And as a driver who imported his personal BMWs from Germany, he always wore H.I.S. trousers.

    He was a class act, and I wish him well if he stumbles across this tribute.

  3. Canoe Toiletries! Wow, I forgot about that stuff. Since they brought Old Spice back from the dead, maybe they will do that one next.

  4. I have one Botany 500 overcoat and it is one hell of a piece(judging by the fact that it was probably made in the 50s, as it has roll back sleeve), good as new. Also, isn’t Viyella the name of a fabric? I have seen F.A. MacCluer Viyella with the old blend(55% wool, 45% cotton).

  5. As a Chinese, I also have to say these old brands are the true testament of United States at its best, and now made in US is largely synonym of garbage. Same thing can be said on other industries too, in the early 50s the best car is Cadillac and now we see government has to bail out Ford…

  6. Button-Down Mind Strikes Back | October 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm |

    @chenlong

    um…actually Ford was the one car company that the government DIDN’T bail out.
    Ford doesn’t make the Cadillac anyway.

    Although i find most contemporary American cars to be rather ugly, their reliability ratings have improved tremendously to be almost equal to the Japanese.

  7. I sold HIS clothes back in 68-69. Compared to other brands, they were crap.Whether they were suits, pants, sportcoats or shirts. They were on the low rung at our stores. Cortefeil (sp) was a higher end cordurory suit offered, and Im not sure, but believe even Haspel offered a few. Sportcoats came in Corbin and a couple other names. For suits, we sold Oxford, Hart, GGG, hickey, the good stuff. Wm H. Block co, late 60’s early 70’s in Indy.

  8. fascinating stuff CC- how’d they meet their end?

  9. You mean CS, not CC.

  10. @Zambonesman -h.i.s. continued to make menswear into the late 70’s but suspended that segment to concentrate on Womens clothing. The popular brand was Chic. The Company called Chic by h.i.s. was acquired by the VF Corp in 2000.

    h.i.s. Ivy period in menswear corresponds to the boom period. You can trace the stylistic rise and fall through their advertisements.

    @RKW- I agree h.i.s was not top shelf. A veteran trade source told me that h.is. was a part of a trio called the “gruesome threesome” which also included Munsenwear and Mcgregor.

    @Chenlong-Viyalla was the brand name for a fabric that was 55/45 and made by William Hollins & Company/Viyella International. The Viyella brand appeared on shirts along with the manufactures name like Hathaway, Manhattan etc. MacCluer made Viyella shirts for Orvis and J. Press.

  11. Another great article by Mr. Sharp.

    I was particularly interested in the story about the development of the back buckle on the chino. I am curious who gave credit to H.I.S. for this development. Sometime, in the early 1950’s a particularly Ivy League style khaki w/ tapered legs, cuffs and back buckle distinguishing it from the original Army khaki.

  12. Alden, Thanks for the kind words. I remember your thread well. I wanted to respond to you ASAP, source is a popular magazine of time. Anticipate I will be able to give you more info at a later date.

  13. Thanks, that would be interesting to hear about

  14. Thanks Bob. Appreciate you putting me on the trail of this one.

  15. Scrimshaw Redemption | February 7, 2012 at 7:08 am |

    Just scored a blue chambray three-button h.i.s. blazer for $1.00. The best part is the sick navy-and-white half lining.

  16. There was a time when adherents to Ivy style were as particular in their choice of words as in their choice of clothing and didn’t use verbs like “score”.

  17. What a wonderful surprise when I saw the reference to my father’s (Morris’ and the Squire Shop) stores. In Ithaca, NY, with Cornell University as the mainstay, tthese stores were the go-to suppliers for the best dressed Ivy Leaguers.

    My father unfortunately passed away in the ’90s but I know he would be proud to know that his history was written about on these pages.

    Thanks!

  18. Amy Thanks for the kind words. I am glad to hear your father would approve.

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