San Luis Obispo was never a fashion center, but it was known throughout Central California as having first-rate clothiers for men as well as women.
Men’s clothing stores played an essential role in the lives of young men growing up in the 1940s and ’50s.
Bill Cattaneo recalls several of those stores as he relates a two-part “Tale of the itchy woolen suit.”
Many readers will recall Bill’s wonderful “Our Town San Luis Obispo” broadcasts on radio station KVEC between November 1989 and 2000, when Bill moved to Louisville, Ky., to be with his bride, Marsha.
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Bill began his career as a “public historian” in the Times Past column in 1984, writing an article on the cultural history of polenta along the Central Coast. That article about the specially milled cornmeal-based delicacy was one of the most popular columns ever. Store managers called me to complain that I should give them some warning before writing about a specialty item.
Bill has recently sent me his archives and is writing again for Times Past:
“I suspect that my clothing in my early preschool days and my Hawthorne School days was purchased at the J.C. Penney store or perhaps at Sears Roebuck.
“The Green Bros. men’s clothing store at 871 Monterey St. began to replace the chain stores during my San Luis Obispo Junior High School years between 1945 and 1948.
“Green Bros. was owned and operated by Mr. Morris Green and his nephew, Kenneth ‘Pinky’ Green.
“Years later, when I had graduated from Mission High School and had entered young adulthood and was earning regular wages, I became a customer of Wickenden’s Men’s Wear at 837 Monterey, the ground floor of the Wade Building.
“Mr. Louis L. Guidetti, a 1941 graduate of San Luis Obispo Senior High School, was Wickenden’s main salesman in the 1950s.
“Louis Guidetti had earlier been an employee of Genardini’s Men’s Wear at 779 Higuera St., famously advertising themselves as ‘Between the Banks.’ (The Security Pacific Bank was at the corner of Higuera and Chorro and the Bank of America was at the corner of Garden Street.)
“Once I began to frequent Wickenden’s, it did not take me long to place complete trust in Louie Guidetti’s tasteful eye when making a final selection of wool cashmere sweaters ($25 each in those days) or sport coats and slacks.
“On one especially memorable occasion at the 837 Monterey store, Louie Guidetti taught me how to tie a necktie by standing behind me in front of a full-length mirror.
“Luxurious cashmere sweaters aside, my most memorable men’s clothing store experience took place at the venerable Green Bros. establishment.
“I cannot remember the specific year, but I have the most vivid recall of one particular item of clothing purchased at Green Bros.
“On most likely an early Saturday afternoon (my mother’s regular downtown shopping days were always on Wednesdays or Saturdays), my mother took me to Green Bros. to buy my first suit of clothing.
“With Pinky Green presiding over the selection and fitting, my mother decided on a wool suit of a brown and green weave.
“The wool pants were excruciatingly rough and itchy.
“To myself, I was already thinking, not yet outside the store, that wearing that suit was going be to a most unpleasant experience.
“To the best of my knowledge, once the suit was purchased and at home in my bedroom closet at 756 Alexander St., I may have worn the suit on only one occasion.”
That occasion was more than memorable, as you will read in next week’s Times Past.
Last week, my spell checker apparently changed “troller,” a kind of fishing boat used for trolling fishing lines, to “trawler,” a boat often associated with the use of nets. I regret my failure to correct this misnomer.
Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.