Shopping Vintage: Big Mac flannels

When vintage shopping goes well, it warms the cockles of my thrifty heart. A great suit that can be altered to fit, like John’s Gieves and Hawkes featured in Derek’s post? Excellent. But I have a garbage bag full of shrunken sweaters and improbably proportioned suit pants that reinforces that for every vintage hit, there are misses.

One of my favorite and most reliable vintage brands to hunt for is Big Mac, a private label of workwear sold by JC Penney from 1922 to the 2000s. They made denim and outerwear as well, but for wearable value the flannel workshirts are the winners. Vintage Big Macs feature bias-cut pockets that set off the great plaid fabrics they use. Solid, chamois-style Big Mac shirts are out there, but I prefer the plaids, often colorful and large in scale. I picked up the red plaid shirt above at Mister Freedom a few years back, the blue is on ebay. The shirts have slightly long point collars, and in my experience, a larger yoke than most. They’ve inspired literal reproductions, and the influence of Big Mac-style plaids is visible in offerings from brands like Post Overalls. For anyone tired of the seasonal plaids at the mall and who balks at $200 workshirts, Big Macs are a great option.

The fit of Big Macs is less reliable. Like a lot of vintage work shirts, the arms are shorter than we expect on modern shirts (not a problem if you roll your sleeves a lot). Likewise, the armholes are usually generous. These features are helpful for not getting your sleeve caught in a machine and not limiting your movement, but these are not our prime concerns when browsing Etsy on our Macbooks. Big Macs are also difficult to date specifically to a particular era, since they were so common for so long. Most are cotton and many are made in the USA, but there are poly cotton blends (in my opinion, totally OK) and various countries of manufacture on the market (also totally OK).

The good news is that they’re usually cheap. Every one I’ve seen is machine washable, so they’re unlikely to have been damaged by a washer or dryer (of course, many are worn out, but that’s easier to see in photos). Most Big Macs sell for $30 or less on ebay, and for as little as a couple of bucks on the rack at the thrift store.

-Pete