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

29 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.

  19. Howard Rosenberg | July 17, 2015 at 9:30 am |

    I knew Henry I Siegel Jr when he was a kid
    He and his brother Howard would come to Orilla Ontario Canada for the summer to visit his cousin
    If you get this message please contact me
    It would be nice to hear from you
    Howard Rosenberg

  20. Who would have been Henry I. Siegel, Jr’s father as Jesse Siegel did not have any sons, only daughters.

  21. Reliance MFG. Co. “BIG YANK” brought out the first IVY BUCKLE IN THE BACK KHAKIS FIRST IN BLACK IN 1954. I wore a pair to Helena Jr High and was embarrassed not wearing 501 Levis. That week end C.E. Mayer’s in Helena Ark. sold 50+ pair in Black & tan. We added pink & red later with other colors later. My brother wore a hole in the back of the drivers seat in his 1953 Ford Convertible and others began to ask us to remove the bucle 7 strap in back. Jim Mayer Mayer Co. Clothiers Baton Rouge,La.

  22. loves their casinos and blades circa 1961 -62

  23. benjamin jaffee | May 2, 2019 at 12:53 pm |

    I know the story about this very look(the corduroy suit in the ad) from the mouth of the man himself! Jesse was my maternal grandfather, and I am named after Henry, his father. Just as a follow up; the clothes were made for the middle market to sell for the WWII generation and the boomers.

    During the WWII, all the factories in TN began manufacturing uniforms for the War Department, and late in the war, Henry died, leaving the company to his sons, Jesse and his brother, George(who was kind of an academic hermit type, russian literature professor, liked to live alone), both of whom were in new york, pursuing careers as literary scholars. anyhow, Jesse(who was only 19 at the time) had to take over the company(George, the elder of the two, was not going to do it). He went down to TN to see the factories and learn about the business, and when the war ended, he figured why not just keep making this cheap clothing that we already do so well for the army?

    So thats what he did, and they mostly were a denim company from then on, but made all sorts of mens clothes for the middle class, and he used to claim credit for making Chino’s mainstream, and inventing corduroy suits and that sort of thing. For people calling the company crap, yeah, kind of true, but that was the market. Does not mean they weren’t innovative. The old ads they came up with were great, I’ve poured over boxes and boxes of these things, Mad Men type stuff, very entertaining! And Chic Jeans, their women’s line, was run by my grandmother, who is still alive living in NYC.

    Jesse sold the company in the later 80’s to some venture capitalists, who proceeded to run the business into the ground. It then sold to a German manufacturer, and only sells to the European market now, IIRC.

    P.S. @KMQ Jesse had no son-in-law named Roland from Tennessee. Both of his sons-in-law, my father and my uncle, are New Yorkers.

  24. MacMcconnell | May 23, 2020 at 11:39 am |

    I know of no Ivy / Trad men’s shops that carried H.I.S., but the Kansas City Macy’s stores did. Macy’s had sections for H.I.S. and H.I.S for Her.
    My first actual winter coat was a H.I.S. forest green bench warmer bought at Macy’s. That would have been the fall of 1966 my freshman year in high school after the move to Kansas City. Prior growing up in the deep south my winter coat consisted of a Baracuda with or without a sweater.
    The construction was similar to a Gloverall duffel coat, only it had saddle shoulders and a hood like a hooded sweatshirt. The cloth was the same as a Gloverall, but thinner. It had a zipper front with a snapped storm flap. It did have a cheesy zip in fake shearling liner which remained on my closet floor. Last time I saw it my younger brother was wearing it in junior high. I bought a Gloverall just prior to leaving for college, I still wear it going on fifty years later.

  25. Lynn Kimberlin Burkett | February 28, 2021 at 1:48 pm |

    Roland Kimberlin came to work for H.I.S as an engineer in the late 60s. By 1978 he was the “CEO” of the manufacturing division, and later became a partner when Jesse sold the company to his top executives at the time of his retirement. Roland was not Jesse’s son-in-law, but was in fact my amazingly wonderful father, and despite having a few details wrong the gentleman who posted about him did a beautiful job describing him to a tee.

    Jesse sold the company to his top executives in the 80s – Burt Rosenburg (CFO), Bob Luehrs (sales), Milan Danek (German division), and my dad Roland Kimberlin. The partners took the company “public” and soon after suffered a hostile takeover by the board of directors. The company was then chopped up and sold off in little pieces. Some of these “pieces” can still be seen from time to time in a few retail stores, the last I saw were awful elastic waisted jeans with the official “Chic” label. You can also find consignment Chic jeans on “Retro” sites popular with the millennium crowd (my daughter loves her pair).

    To those who said the product was “crap”, Jesse Seigel used to say H.I.S was for “the masses of asses”. They intentionally marketed to the “everyman”, so no shame in their game.

    Besides moving to Bruceton in 1st grade when Dad went to work for H.I.S, I also took part in running the outlet division from the late 80s until just after the hostile takeover in 2000. H.I.S remains the most wonderful, family oriented, ethical company I have ever been a part of to date. I miss everything about it, and everyone associated with it. My Dad is alive and well, has just been sent a link to this website, and I hope will be adding a comment of his own!!

  26. Deborah Kimberlin | March 1, 2021 at 11:42 am |

    Thank you to my sister, Lynn Kimberlin Burkett, for setting the record straight so eloquently. As I read all of these comments about HIS and my Dad, Roland Kimberlin, I felt pride and then dismayed at the inaccuracies in some of these comments. Thank you Lynn, for being the gate keeper on this topic.

  27. Bill Kimberlin | March 1, 2021 at 12:32 pm |

    What a nice story, which continued on for the next generation of owners. To eco my sister’s comments, our farther Roland Kimberlin went to work for H.I.S.
    August 3, 1966, then with his two partners Burt Rosenburg and Bob Luehrs when they acquired 51% from Jesse in a leveraged buyout “LBO” coincidentally on Aug 3, 1986. Exactly 20 years after starting work there as an engineer. Chic jeans served as the fuel for their growth.

    Under their control, they took the company from 1800 employees and $118m revenue in 1986 to 6000 employees with $350m revenue in 1990’ish and took the company public.

    My Dad fought hard against NAFTA and believed it would take the heart of us manufacturing jobs overseas. He was right about that. H.I.S. was one of the last manufacturers to leave the US for Mexico as a result.

    Then some bad and nasty business men took us through a hostile take over and it all ended with them.

    We grew up in Bruceton, TN with H. I. S. being an important employer for small town eco systems throughout West Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. My Dad was most proud of the jobs they created.

    Thanks for the nice article.

  28. I’d like to see a picture of the h.i.s trimsters

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*