The orig­i­nal skinny jeans

Win­nipeg-made pants proved pop­u­lar with teens

SundayXtra - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN EI­NAR­SON RE­MEM­BERS A ver­sion of this col­umn ap­peared in Win­nipeg Boomer in Fe­bru­ary 2012. Sign up for John Ei­nar­son’s mu­sic history class at the Man­i­toba Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic and Arts.

IN 1966, the catch­phrase, “Jay is out; Kay is in,” could be heard ev­ery­where af­ter lo­cal gar­ment man­u­fac­turer Monarch Wear switched the name of its pop­u­lar brand of blue jeans from Tee*Jays to Tee*Kays.

Launched with great hype in 1964, Tee*Jays in­stantly be­came a teen phe­nom­e­non. You just weren’t “in” un­less you wore the slim-fit­ting Win­nipeg-made jeans. Ev­ery teenager wore them. Lo­cal rock bands ap­peared at dances and pro­mo­tional events decked out in Tee*Jays, while ra­dio DJs ex­horted lis­ten­ers to buy them. You weren’t wear­ing jeans or even Tee*Jays jeans; you were sim­ply wear­ing Tee*Jays.

Yet a mere two years later, Tee*Jays (short for Teen Jeans, in case you were won­der­ing) were gone, re­placed overnight by vir­tu­ally the same style of jean, only now mar­keted un­der a new name: Tee*Kays. But would teens jump for the new brand name? The pro­mo­tional gam­bit and clever slo­gan worked with Tee*Kays, eclips­ing its pre­de­ces­sor in both pop­u­lar­ity and sales.

The story be­hind these two jean brands, with their dis­tinc­tive or­ange MW la­bel, of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse be­hind the birth of teen-di­rected mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion, as well as the growth of a once-lo­cal gar­ment gi­ant.

Monarch Over­alls be­gan mak­ing work wear for Cana­di­ans in the 1920s. The com­pany was started on Cum­ber­land Av­enue in Win­nipeg’s gar­ment dis­trict by Harry Steinberg. (I went through high school with his grand­son Lawrie Steinberg). Julius Berkowitz was mar­ket­ing man­ager.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the com­pany ex­panded pro­duc­tion to make uni­forms for the Cana­dian

Ev­ery teen had to have a pair of Monarch Wear jeans Forces. Fol­low­ing the war, with pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity in­creased and no more uni­form or­ders, the com­pany moved into chil­dren’s wear. In the mid-1950s, Monarch Over­alls struck a li­cens­ing deal with the Walt Dis­ney Com­pany to pro­duce and sell chil­dren’s over­alls with Dis­ney char­ac­ters silkscreened on the bib.

But by the ’60s, there re­mained a vast un­tapped cloth­ing mar­ket in teenage baby boomers. It was here that Berkowitz set his sights.

“My dad al­ways had the idea that you had to pro­mote your prod­ucts, not just sell them,” his son, Ivan Berkowitz, said.

Born in 1936, Ivan be­gan work­ing at Monarch Over­alls as a young­ster in the sum­mer months. By the early ’60s, in his mid-20s and armed with a busi­ness de­gree from Har­vard, he went to work for what was then Monarch Wear, lo­cated at 136 Mar­ket Ave. in the old Mar­shall Wells build­ing. (It was also the lo­ca­tion of Canada West Shoes, owned by Mait­land Steinkopf, hence the in­cor­rect as­sump­tion Steinkopf owned Monarch Wear). As vice-pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing in charge of li­ais­ing with re­tail­ers as well as pro­mo­tional media, Ivan would be­come the man be­hind Tee*Jays and Tee*Kays.

While Lee’s and Levi’s blue jeans had been around since the late 1800s, they were made and mar­keted as work wear for men and were most of­ten loose-fit­ting. In the ’50s, teens adopted jeans as part of their re­bel­lious im­age. The ’60s was the dawn of jeans de­signed with teenage boys’ and girls’ body shapes in mind: fash­ion­able, slim-legged jeans. Monarch Wear set its sights on serv­ing that mar­ket by de­vel­op­ing a qual­ity brand of jeans at a rea­son­able price (around $5) that ap­pealed to fash­ion-con­scious teens.

“The prod­uct was uniquely styled and coloured for the teen mar­ket,” Ivan Berkowitz said.

Jeff Black was men’s wear buyer for the Bay’s three stores in Toronto.

“It was just when perma-press fab­ric was de­vel­oped for boys pants,” he re­calls. “The main at­trac­tion was that Tee*Jays jeans were al­ways wrin­kle-free and stayed neat-look­ing. You didn’t even have to press them. They could come right out of the drier and you could wear them. They were the next gen­er­a­tion in boys cloth­ing.”

A fur­ther fac­tor in their ap­peal to teens was the tight, straight leg and butt-hug­ging de­sign.

“Those jeans were as tight as you could get,” said for­mer Monarch Wear sales­man Peter Thiessen. “That’s the way the kids liked it. If you farted, you blew them apart.”

As ’60s teenager Su­san Hast­ings re­mem­bers, “They were like the ‘skinny jeans’ of to­day. My girl­friends Sharon Davis and Mau­reen Largy and I wore our Tee*Jays with white bobby socks and penny loafers with dimes in them. We were al­ways iden­ti­cally dressed. We three girls thought our jeans and loafers look was pretty cool. We wore them ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day night to the Win­nipeg Roller Rink. How we skated in those jeans that you had to peel off is still a mys­tery to me,” she laughs.

“That was our uni­form,” said Jackie Savoie. “Tight Tee*Jays and black turtle­neck sweaters. My friends Corinne, Angie and I, we were the Deveron Girls, fol­low­ing the band around from com­mu­nity club to com­mu­nity club, and that’s what we wore.”

I, too, thought I was a rather groovy dude in my Tee*Jays.

The ini­tial chal­lenge for Monarch Wear was how to get teens into their jeans.

“We started with a DJ at CKY named Jimmy Darin,” Berkowitz said. “He be­came our Mr. Tee*Jays, if you will.”

The ra­dio con­nec­tion was an ob­vi­ous one. Teens were glued to their tran­sis­tor ra­dios.

“We by­passed the usual advertising medi­ums. Advertising of teen cloth­ing on ra­dio was al­most un­heard of, so we started buy­ing ra­dio spots on CKY. Jimmy Darin would just ad lib 15-, 30- and then 45-sec­ond spots, no scripts,” Berkowitz said. “DJs were ma­jor celebri­ties back then. It was an ex­ten­sion of ra­dio, by us­ing them to wear the clothes. We never paid them to do that. We wanted them to be seen in the clothes, and the whole thing just took off.”

“I liked Ivan right away,” said Jim Hil­liard (a.k.a. Jimmy Darin) from his home in Florida.

“They had a great prod­uct but didn’t know what to do with it. So to­gether, we threw around some ideas to get it started. Ivan gave me so much lat­i­tude to do it the way I saw it would work, and we pulled it off. What we started was a snow­ball that be­came an avalanche. Tee*Jays be­came a fad. We cre­ated a fad. And all I did was di­rect the com­mer­cials de­mo­graph­i­cally. We fo­cused on the ones who were po­ten­tially go­ing to buy the prod­uct. In­stead of a shot­gun ap­proach, we used a ri­fle. More fo­cused. You had to wear Tee*Jays or you weren’t cool. Cre­ate the de­mand, and the kids will knock down the walls to get the prod­uct. No mat­ter how much you pro­mote it, if a prod­uct is bad, it’ll bust. This was a good prod­uct.”

Work­ing with lo­cal im­pre­sario Fred Glaz­er­man, Monarch Wear or­ga­nized Tee*Jays Dance Party events. The first, in the sum­mer of 1964, fea­tured Chad Allan & the Ex­pres­sions (later the Guess Who) out­side the Simp­sons- Sears store at Polo Park.

“It was a per­fect spot, with its park­ing lot,” said Ivan. “There were hun­dreds of kids, and they were buy­ing the jeans.”

Another such event fol­lowed, this time with the Jury and hosted by CKY’s Gary Todd and Dean Scott.

“All I re­mem­ber,” said Jury gui­tarist Ge­orge Johns, “is girls were scream­ing and push­ing us into ta­bles of jeans, which were fall­ing over. Fun times.” The Hud­son’s Bay Co. was on­board early. “The Bay al­ready had a shop for teens but needed mer­chan­dise to stock it,” Berkowitz said. “They em­braced the pro­mo­tional pos­si­bil­i­ties of Tee*Jays right away.”

The con­cept, Ivan said, was to mer­chan­dize the advertising; hav­ing prod­uct where the advertising was tar­geted. If kids heard the ads or at­tended the events, you had to have the prod­uct in stores or on hand.

“Monarch Wear put to­gether a re­ally strong pack­age with advertising, fash­ion shows, pro­mo­tional events and give­aways,” said Black. “We put them on the shelves, and I’ve never seen a prod­uct sell so quickly. It was a phe­nom­e­non. It ab­so­lutely took off. I don’t think the com­pany was even pre­pared ini­tially for how big the de­mand was so quickly.”

With the suc­cess of the brand, Ea­ton’s even­tu­ally ap­proached Ivan to jump on the band­wagon. Be­sides Western Canada, Que­bec and south­ern On­tario be­came strong mar­kets for Tee*Jays.

On Nov. 12, 1965, Glaz­er­man launched the MW Tee*Jays Cav­al­cade of Stars show, pro­mot­ing the line with a se­ries of con­certs be­gin­ning at Win­nipeg’s Civic Au­di­to­rium be­fore mov­ing on to Portage la Prairie and Bran­don. Fea­tured per­form­ers in­cluded the Deverons (fea­tur­ing a teenage Bur­ton Cum­mings), the Jury, the Shon­dels, Kenora’s Satan & the D-Men and folk duo Jack & Jill, along with the MW Tee*Jays dancers. The shows in­cluded mer­chan­dise give­aways and drew packed halls at each stop.

Soon af­ter, the man­u­fac­turer was alerted its reg­is­tra­tion of the Tee*Jays name was sub­ject to a le­gal chal­lenge from an Amer­i­can cloth­ier that owned a T. J.’s brand. Rather than start from scratch build­ing a new brand, the jeans were sim­ply re­branded Tee*Kays and the tag, “Jay is out; Kay is in” was launched in early 1966.

“That turned out to be a bril­liant idea,” said Berkowitz. “That be­came a slo­gan the kids liked.”

When the com­pany went in search of a model to rep­re­sent the new brand, it found 16-year old Lu­cille Emond (now Mer­ritt) from St. Boni­face. She be­came Miss Tee*Kay.

“I trav­elled all over Canada and mod­elled their clothes,” Mer­ritt said. “I did it for three years. They just shuf­fled me from event to event each week.” Her pic­ture ap­peared ev­ery­where, mak­ing her a celebrity.

“I also had to sing with other bands to pro­mote the clothes,” she said.

“I sang with the Pink Plumm (fea­tur­ing Fred Turner of BTO), the Cordells, Fri­day the 13th — all of this while I was still in school. They gave me a salary of $100 a week.”

An at­tempt to get Neil Young’s Squires on the Tee*Kays band­wagon by back­ing Mer­ritt ran afoul of the band’s mer­cu­rial leader.

“Neil didn’t want a girl in his band,” she laughs. “It was aw­ful, but I did do a cou­ple of com­mu­nity club gigs with them. It just was not meant to be.”

Mer­ritt did dou­ble duty as a reg­u­lar on CBC TV Win­nipeg’s weekly Mu­sic Hop show. “I was mak­ing more money than my par­ents were.”

In re­turn for Monarch Wear out­fits, the Jury in­cluded the line “Now I can wear my new Tee*Kays” in their 1966 sin­gle It’s Been A Long

Time. Satan & the D-Men wrote All Cana­dian Boy with the lyrics, “So lis­ten close cats to what I say; you’d bet­ter get a pair of new Tee*Kays. Slim legs, cool style, show ’em off. Yeah, you’ll like ’em, get a pair to­day.” Monarch Wear even re­leased an al­bum, Mu­sic To

Wear Tee*Kays By, man­u­fac­tured by Columbia Records Spe­cial Prod­ucts and fea­tur­ing mu­sic from Si­mon & Gar­funkel, the Byrds, Cyr­cle and Paul Re­vere & the Raiders. Que­bec group the Chan­tels were com­mis­sioned to write and record a 45 sin­gle dis­trib­uted ex­clu­sively at Monarch Wear pro­mo­tions in Que­bec and On­tario.

The com­pany pro­moted nu­mer­ous teen-ori­ented events, in­clud­ing ra­dio con­tests (a trip to Lon­don, Eng­land and flights over Win­nipeg) and the Red River Ex­hi­bi­tion’s an­nual Teen Fair. In the sum­mer of 1966, it launched Krazy Kloth with a big pro­mo­tional event called the TNT Show at the Gar­rick Theatre. Miss Tee*Kay ap­peared with the Cordells and host CKRC’s Jim Paul­son all kit­ted out in the new out­fits, which boasted you could write on them. A brief foray into socks and shoes failed to catch on.

Monarch Wear found mar­kets as far away as Ja­pan for their jeans, while in the U.S., the fledg­ling Tar­get chain em­braced Tee*Kays with sig­nif­i­cant or­ders. The brand con­tin­ued into the 1970s, but by the mid­dle of the decade in­creased com­pe­ti­tion from Amer­i­can jean com­pa­nies in Canada and dif­fi­culty get­ting ac­cept­able indigo denim from Cana­dian textile mak­ers forced Monarch Wear to sell out to HIS jeans in 1976. “We lost our unique­ness,” said Berkowitz. Sur­pris­ingly, the man be­hind Win­nipeg’s coolest cloth­ing fad of the ’60s didn’t wear his own prod­uct.

“They were for skinny kids, and I wasn’t skinny,” Berkowitz laughed.

As for the mu­sic that was so closely as­so­ci­ated with his com­pany’s brand, Berkowitz said, “I went to plenty of these teen pro­mo­tional events we had, but I never cared for rock ’n’ roll mu­sic. It was too noisy and too loud.”

Lu­cille Emond (now Mer­ritt) per­forms with the Cordells dur­ing a pro­mo­tional event for Monarch Wear prod­ucts at the Gar­rick Theatre.


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