ICONIC KIWI MENSWEAR

There are not many male garments that are unique to New Zealand and anyway, Kiwi men are not generally into the latest fashion. In fact, one of the world’s top fashion writers, London based Kiwi Tim Blanks has labelled New Zealanders as shabby dressers. Shorts and t-shirts are the standard summer uniform for the majority of New Zealand men. I spent a number of years living in London and New York and was always impressed with the snappy dressing of the average male in those cities. Being historically a rural based society, New Zealand men were not encouraged to dress up. It was all about comfort, not looks. However, things are changing as the country becomes overwhelmingly urban with Auckland’s cosmopolitan population pushing 1.7 million.

THE SWANNDRI

Perhaps the most iconic piece of Kiwi men’s clothing is the Swanndri. This is also known as a bush shirt. This unflattering woollen garment is worn loosely over a shirt and reaches halfway to the knees. Its main function is to keep the upper body warm and dry while working out in all weathers on the farm or in the wilderness.

In 1913, after a few years experimenting with a wet dipping process to waterproof a garment that would keep Kiwi men warm and dry, William Broome, a New Plymouth tailor, registered the trademark ‘Swanndri’. He chose the name because he claimed the rain rolled off the back of the shirt as it does from the back of a swan. He saw potential in a weatherproof woollen shirt after becoming frustrated with the cool and often wet New Zealand climate. The ‘swanny’ quickly became popular with Kiwi men who worked outdoors.

A number of machinists around Taranaki made the one-size-fits-all garments for William Broome until 1955, when he sold the trademark to John and Lillian McKendrick, who operated a clothing business in Waitara. The McKendricks dumped the wet dipping process and instead purchased closely-woven woollen cloth from Timaru’s Alliance Textiles. During the 1950s and 60s the long green bush shirts became the accepted clothing for farmers, hunters, deer cullers, timber workers and shepherds throughout the country and production increased as the Swanndri’s popularity continued to grow. In 1991, Alliance Textiles took over the operation completely and moved production to the southern city of Timaru. By this time, the garment was available with long sleeves and in different sizes. The lace up neck was replaced with a zip. It also came in checks and a range of muted tones. Manufacturing of the Swanndri range moved to Asia in the early 2000s but the business is still in Kiwi hands and is known as Swanndri New Zealand. There have been attempts to make it a fashionable item of clothing but its design makes it a tall ask to get urban Kiwi men to wear it around the streets of a city. However, it remains ever popular with men who work outdoors and its iconic status has helped it become a much loved item of work gear for New Zealand males.

Y-FRONTS

Men’s underwear has seen a transformation over the years and one iconic brand that Kiwi men have loved through the generations, is Jockey. The brand Jockey launched in the U.S. in 1935, and in 1940, it became available in New Zealand. Since then, Kiwi men have worn the iconic Jockey Y-front. ‘If old-fashioned underwear makes you squirm, switch to Jockey.’ was the sales pitch from Kiwi clothing manufacturer Lane Walker Rudkin when it began marketing the Jockey Y-front to New Zealand men in March 1940.

(nzhistory.govt.nz)

Initially, advertisements for these uncomfortable underpants were aimed at the Armed Forces who were engaged in the Second World War. One such advertisement proclaimed: ‘On route march, field manoeuvres, drill, that exclusive Jockey Y-front supports important muscles, conserves vitality, saves fatigue!’ When the war was over and men returned to civilian life, ads for the Jockey Y-front focused on the ‘Men’s men are switching to Jockey for business, for work, for play. It’s cool, it’s sensible, it’s magnificent. Three leg lengths and a choice of several summer weight fabrics.’

Although uncomfortable by today’s standards, the cotton Y-front underpants quickly gained popularity because they were more comfortable than the bulky woollen Long Johns with fiddly buttons and knee slits that men had previously worn. Another reason behind their popularity was a change in lifestyle after the war. There was an increasing participation in sport with cycling and boxing the most popular, so the shorter underwear was more functional and convenient.  Jockey Y-fronts are still widely sold in New Zealand but they have evolved to keep up with the latest technology in fabrics and styles.

JANDALS

Some call them ‘flip flops’ others call them ‘thongs’. Kiwis call them Jandals.

(stuff.co.nz)

There is some confusion over who created the Jandal. One story supports John Cowie who, living in Hong Kong in the late 1940s, started manufacturing the traditionally wooden Japanese sandal out of plastic. He immigrated to New Zealand in 1959 where he began producing his footwear out of rubber. The name ‘Jandal’ is short for ‘Japanese sandal’. Another story says Morris Yock invented the iconic item. At its peak of popularity in the 1980s, New Zealand company Skellerup, produced the summer footwear by the hundreds of thousands. I always found them incredibly uncomfortable to wear. The small column that held the upper ‘y’ top to the base sat between the big toe and the second toe. Until you got accustomed to this intrusion, there was plenty of discomfort on the side of both toes as they became chaffed from the column. They were also dangerous. I once sprained my ankle when my Jandal got wet and my foot slipped sideways from it and became wedged between two small rocks. After that experience I threw the things away and have never worn them since.

Baron Sandford is the current owner of the Jandal trademark and his factory continues to produce the iconic Kiwi footwear. National Jandal Day is held every year to raise money for Surf Life Saving New Zealand.

It is clear to see that these iconic Kiwi items of clothing for men have been designed to reflect the New Zealand climate and to accommodate the outdoor way of life. They may not do much for fashion conscious men in Europe but they certainly do the job they were designed to do for many men in New Zealand.

Ceidrik Heward