Sunday, September 22, 2013

Palm Beach: the Summer Fabric

Palm Beach was a famous brand that created a uniquely blended fabric for warm weather wear.  It was very popular during the Golden Era (before dying out in the 1950s) because it offered men one of the best and most stylish ways to stay cool in the heat while wearing a suit.

click to enlarge images

What was Palm Beach fabric?  It was a warm weather blended fabric created in the late teens/early 1920s.  The blend was kept secret and is still up for debate, but general consensus is that it's a blend of linen, mohair, and, added in the mid-1950s, rayon and nylon.  One 1950s Palm Beach material tie is tagged with the following blend:

50% rayon
32% mohair
6% nylon

It should be noted that this is a later blend after Palm Beach was sold by Goodall in 1953.  The previous original blend did not contain rayon nor nylon.  While the Palm Beach fabric died in the 1950s, it should not be confused with the Palm Beach brand, which existed separate from the fabric from the 1950s up to at least the 1980s if not later.  After the 1950s the Palm Beach brand name was just that: a name.  Unimpressive wool and polyester Palm Beach brand suits and jackets litter thrift shops across the country; these later garments share no heritage to those made out of true Palm Beach fabric.

I was able to pick up a Palm Beach suit the other day.  Surprisingly it fits me pretty well.  It has stains throughout but I'm currently working on them.

The interesting thing about this suit is that the two pieces are not original to each other.  If you look at the photo of the jacket above you'll notice by the low button stance, highly padded shoulders, and very generous lapels that this jacket dates from the Bold Look, or the mid-1940s to the early 1950s.  It dates from before the Palm Beach name was sold by Goodall in 1953 because the brand tag still mentions Goodall.

The trousers, however, have a button fly as well as an NRA tag in them, dating them from 1933-1935.

Thankfully for me the material blend and weave didn't really change in the time between when these two pieces were manufactured so they match perfectly.

With so many stains throughout this suit it will be somewhat difficult to clean well.  Palm Beach fabric can easily develop dry rot if stored in a hot, dry area and can shred at any attempt to clean it.  Oxiclean has been known to also destroy the material as it's a fairly harsh cleaning method.  From a couple experts I've talked to, the best bet for cleaning vintage Palm Beach fabric is in soapy water with a mild soap.  However, if dry rot has occurred even a gentle hand-wash in soapy water can still shred Palm Beach.  Avoid dry cleaning.

Anyone lucky enough to find a good-condition garment made of Palm Beach fabric can attest to its usefulness in the warm summer months.  I've thankfully finally joined their ranks with this great suit that, with a little elbow grease, will serve me well.

And just in time for winter...


Carmelo Pugliatti said...

The coat seems more 1939 to me....anyway how it went the cleaning?

Marc said...

Rayon is an old product, so there's no reason it wasn't in the pre-50s blend. It's also cooler than cotton (and mohair) and cheaper than both of them and linen. It seems to me that Palm Beach cloth very much capitalised on the widespread use of rayon at that time.


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