The classic shirts introduced in the sixties by the Mr. California label are now as unmistakabe as the leisure activities and methods for which they were designed. An historically recent development, spare time, that which is free from employment, appears to have lost ground. Americans now work more hours than anyone else, even the Japanese. But during the heyday of Mr. California, the philosophy surrounding idle time had blossomed into mid-century leisure culture.
Many garments have been devised expressly for leisure use. Important examples being Bill Parry’s ever-popular Pasadena jumpsuits and of course, the ubiquitous leisure suit. But, it may be Mr. California that best captures the true flavor of leisure. It is no accident these shirts are named for a state that pioneered in casual habits with its zeal for outdoor living.
The line included a sporty, waist-buttoned Jac Shirt, allowing a maximum range of motion and particularly well suited to golf or bowling. A handsome interpretation of the timeless Cuban Guayabera, with its richly embroidered frontal fields, was provided for more stately occasions. The standard model featured innumerable variations based on decorative stitching, sleeve buttons, collar style, breast pocket(s) and visually exciting heraldic crests.
During the seventies, the label’s trend-conscious innovations added dramatic, attenuated collars and bold wallpaper or geometric prints. New garments with these features were proudly 100% polyester instead of the typical 65/35 cotton/poly blend.
By 1983 the corporate ownership of Mr. California was scrambling to distance itself from its own offspring. It was apparent that their original market had “cooled considerably” and a new division offered a product called the Bentley. New management spoke of the “connotation” of the Mr. California label and was critical of its “polyester customer”. The label had become an albatross, but its shirts were still available until the late eighties, at JC Penney’s, in Glendale, California.