Boys' Marlowe Suits

Figure 1.--Advertisement from a 1947 newspaper for a Mrlow suit, placed by the exclusive New York men and boys clothing store, De Pinna.

On page four of the November, 1947 Camp Leo News, and also in the back of the 1948 Camp Leo catalog, is an advertisement reproduced from the former prestigious New York clothier, De Pinna, then at Fifth Avenue and 52nd. Street. The cut shows a boy of about 10 or 11, dressed in short pants suit, with a three button jacket, shorts above knee length, with knee-socks and holding a Brtitish school-boy type peaked cap. The advertisement copy reads:

The Famous DePinna Marlowe
This is it...our own Marlowe suit that's received such a wide acclaim. A tradition with well-dressed boys (in) size 7 to 14. It is available once again in three choice wools. Tailored with usual De Pinna skill in grey flannel (at) $12.95; navy serge $25.50; tan cheviot tweed $22.95.

The Marlowe Suit seems like a step up from the now-vanished Rugby Suit, which was itself a rung up the sartorial maturity ladder from the American little-boy's Eton Suit. The Eton outfit for younger boys had a collarless jacket and short pants, while the Rugby suit, seen in contemporary Sears and Wards catalogs, had a collared jacket with shorts. One would expect a Junior Longie Suit to be the next step, but, perhaps for the "Young Elite" the Marlowe was an intermediate phase. Whether there ever was a Marlowe School in the U.K. (akin to the real Eaton and Rugby Public [i.e. exclusive private] Schools) is not presently known. (Note: HBC knows of no Public school in England named Marlowe School.) The copy phrase, "...available once again...." suggests, however, a British import, reappearing after World War II.

Its Pre-war American market was now considerably shrunken, save for such highly specialized consumers as the Camp Leo boys. That the "Marlowe Suit" or its equivalent, was mandetory for group travel, is shown in a photo in the Camp Leo News for October, 1948. Three named boys, about 12 years in age, are seen leaning against a lamp post in Quebec City. They, and a number of other campers, were present for the ordination of Father Vincent Sarmiento, formerly Brother Vinnie, a popular camp councilor. (The Catholic French connections suggests a French Canadian connection.) Each wears a school-cap with emblem, white shirt and dark necktie, dark suit coats and darker shorts with matching knee socks. The picture title is "Three Of A Kind."

That some parents might want their sons similarly attired, is evidenced in the November, 1948 "Questions and Answers" column, sandwiched between querries about what sort of weed killer the camp uses, and just what "First Honors" constituted in the Camp Leo award pantheon.

"Q. Where can the suits which the boys in the "Three of a Kind" picture in the October issue be bought?
A. Similiar suits may be bought for ages up to twelve at Macys and in probably most New York department stores. Suits with short trousers for older boys are available at DePinna's (as in the ad) and Rogers Peet, 5th Ave, in New York City, and at Kennedy's of Boston and Providence. We have also received advertising from Eaton's of Montreal, showing imported wollens from England, if you want the best."

Commentary: The Wards and Sears catalogs for this period offer a few Rugby suits, with collared jacket and shorts, only to ages 8 or 9. So it is unlikely that Macy's or Gimbels would have larger sizes.

It is quite curious that the man who founded the St. James School in Berlin Connecticut (1954-1978) Leonard Francis (1918-1992) picked up some of his educational philosophies (and school uniform ideas) while a Sea Bee convalescent in an New Zealand hospital (1943-44). As you can see by the items I will send he was much influenced by the New Zealand scene (and may even have been married there briefly) leading to the "Marlow Suit" uniform mentioned earlier.

The list of "class shops" enumerated by Francis shows his determination to keep his lads in bare knees at any cost, both to the parents' purses and to the wearers' discomfiture. One parent reported that Francis explained the distinctive dress was to aid in "keeping an eye on the kids" especially during group outtings of up to 50 active boys. However, bright colored jackets and/or caps could have accomplished the same result with equal if not greater facility. On another occasion, he explained that shorts were cheaper than long trousers for the boys. This is most suspect, as it is material and workmanship which govern a garment's final cost. From this aspect, blue jeans, which Francis hated with a passion, should have been the economic choice for St. James' uniform! In sum, then, Francis evidenced either an affectation for British (and perhaps New Zealand) Traditions, an obsession with his own boyhood attire, or an authoritarian bent.

The Marlowe suiy appears to have been created in England. It was then used at some American private schools. A HBC contributor tells ne that he has heard of the Marlowe suit, but can't recall any specific details.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: December 14, 1998
Last updated: August 22, 1999