Mr. Jennings, The Laundress, and Waiter There’s A Fly On My Lapel

Yesterday Sarah from Fewer And Better told us about The Laundress which is a line of cleaning products.   They have a decent blog over there too covering how to care for your clothes.  Worth a spin.  Their products got a few endorsements here.  I’ve never tried, but Sarah has and I trust her.

I got a lot of emails about Thomas Jennings, the first African American to get a US Patent.   Mr. Jennings’ patent was for a process known as “Dry Scouring.”  Today, dry scouring is what you call it when someone questions my use of the word “beneath.”  In 1821, Dry Scouring was, in Mr. Jennings’ words, “… a method of Scouring Clothes, and Woolen Fabrics in general, so that they keep their original shape, and have the polish and appearance of new.”   What exactly Dry Scouring was, though, is lost.  In 1836 The US Patent and Trademark Office was relocating, and stored their patents in Washington’s Blodget’s Hotel.  There was a fire, and the patents were lost.  In that day, fire hoses were leather.  And cracked in winter.

A close up of yesterday’s portrait. Check out the piece he is wearing around his neck.

Mr. Jennings had his letter though, and was so proud of it he framed it and hung it over his bed.  This was not his first success.  Prior to his patent, Mr. Jennings owned and operated a very profitable clothing store in Manhattan.  With the proceeds from that, and his patent, Mr. Jennings funded the start up Freedom’s Journal, the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the United States.  From dry cleaning.

The first edition of Freedom’s Journal, the first African American owned and operated newspaper in America.

Mr. Jennings did other tremendous things with his dry cleaning money.  His daughter, Elizabeth, was a school teacher in 1854 in New York.  She was riding a whites-only horse-drawn streetcar.  The conductor of same tried to throw her off.  She refused, and wound up physically clinging to the car by the window.  She wrote a letter about it that went viral, and Mr. Jennings hired a lawyer to litigate with the street car company.  Mr. Jennings and Elizabeth won, the judge ruled that it was ‘unlawful to eject black people from public transportation so long as they were “sober, well behaved, and free from disease.” ‘ (Smithsonian Magazine).  Jennings had an eye not just for clothes, but for talent as well – the lawyer he hired had a successful career himself, including on his resume’ a gig as President Of The United States (Chester A. Arthur).

Chester A. Arthur

I know Facebook isn’t everyone’s thing, but if you are on the fence, you should really check out the Ivy Style Group.  It’s like walking into a club where everyone is talking about something you are interested in. Here is this week’s banner, where we feature some of our members:

Reprinted with permission, of course.  And before we go down the Latin rabbit hole again, it’s right.


Some discussion in the group about lapel pins.  My rule about lapel pins is that if they represent an achievement, like military service or club membership (which is an achievement depending on the club) then have at it.  Otherwise, unless you are related somehow to Capone, don’t.

You can tell by the shirt that this is gonna be a bad idea.



10 Comments on "Mr. Jennings, The Laundress, and Waiter There’s A Fly On My Lapel"

  1. Sober, well behaved, and free from disease has always been my minimum criteria for new clients.

    That’s a high bar. – JB

  2. And yet, the most interesting ones don’t always meet all three …

  3. Thanks John for the mention, and the additional history of Mr. Jennings!

  4. The Clean Talk Blog recommends hanging out your whites for sun bleaching. If you are in the right climate, i.e., not too much humidity, not dusty, sunny, and preferably a slight breeze, this is highly recommended. It is great for white shirts, undies, sheets, towels, tablecloths etc. They dry crisp, bright, and fresh smelling without shrinking. FYI, hang shirts upside down by the side seams using clothespins. And then they iron out better for some reason.

  5. …and temperature needs to be above 32F for a few hours.

  6. Another fascinating read about Mr. Jennings. That he was a participant in civil rights history to such an extent (not to mention the success and importance of his patent) and I’m only just now hearing about him is a sad reflection on the limits of my generation’s education in this country.
    I’m not one for lapel pins, but definitely agree with your personal rule about them.

  7. Great Post! Seeing things in context adds so much to how we interpret history…and the present.
    After losing a few expensive items to bad dry cleaning I use the Laundress products for my wool and cashmere sweaters and other “good” clothes. They work great and the sweaters come out with a good “hand” and no damage.

  8. Charlottesville | February 9, 2022 at 9:58 am |

    I briefly worked at a bank in the 90s, and all employees were required to wear the company’s logo on a lapel pin. I hated every second of it.

    Lapel pins generally remind me of the required 15 pieces of flair for Chotchkie’s employees in the movie Office Space. However, I too would make exceptions for military service, and clubs worn at appropriate times and places.

    Also, if I were ever to be awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, or the Most Noble Order of the Garter, I think I would wear the rosette in my lapel. Hey – it could happen.

    I will so nominate. – JB

  9. Charlottesville,

    Thank you for reminding me of the great movie Office Space. Jennifer Aniston was looking good (still does), even with the flair. Brad Pitt is a moron.


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