The story of the J.Peterman Company is livelier than most catalog clothing brands’. Founded by charismatic ex-minor league baseball player John Peterman, the company stepped into the travel- and safari-themed clothing market that Banana Republic eventually vacated for more yuppie mainstream waters. The catalog features drawings instead of photos of items and sometimes elaborate backstories encompassing everything from how and where in the world an article of clothing was unearthed to the kind of man who might own it and the life he lives wearing it. “Seinfeld” famously parodied the eccentric catalog and its namesake when the character Elaine goes to work for J.Peterman, played by actor John O’Hurley. When the brand’s parent company went bankrupt shortly after Peterman had sold it in 1999, the real J.Peterman bought the name back with investment support from the actor that played him and re-started the company in 2001. A little life imitating art imitating life.
Maybe it’s strange for a vintage blog to post about a brand started in ’87 with clothes that hardly qualify as vintage yet. In fact, the motivation for this post came from listing a J.Peterman piece in the shop before my research uncovered just how recent it was. Despite their relative youth, J.Peterman products tell a story—literally—in the pages of the catalog, now online as much as in print. At its best, vintage clothing is all about telling a story too, all about something to wear that has heart, character—a past. And 1987 is not as recent as it used to be, with plenty of sellers already touting the Seinfeldian 90s as vintage. With its emphasis on quality and character, J.Peterman has already earned a place as the vintage of the future. Also of vintage interest are the company’s origins reproducing antique clothing and clothing worn in specific films. There’s also a section of the catalog online that features explicitly vintage pieces, although I’m not sure you could justify a $600 soup tureen no matter how thrilling the backstory. I know I couldn’t.
Well, I guess it depends on the story.