Fly through summer with Poro-Twist!

Hi all,

Today I’ve solved a long-standing mystery: a charming framed poster that you might remember if you visited Circa back when it was a shop.

It was acquired along with the rest of the contents of Sydney vintage clothing shop ‘Albert and Gladys’ in 2003, and we hung it on the Gertrude St wall of Circa’s menswear department. When I closed the shop a few years ago, it came home and is now on my office wall.

Despite all my years collecting (and selling) vintage, I had no idea what it was about, other than the obvious conclusion which was that it’s advertising a type of summer mens trouser suit. Poro-twist, whatever it was, remained elusive. But it’s unusual enough a term that it wasn’t hard to find out.

So here it is: Poro-twist was a kind of loose weave of worsted wool that was made into suits, exclusive to Farmer’s Department store and first introduced in November 1938. I have found a couple of mentions of it in North America but it seems to have been particularly popular here in Australia, as a lighter alternative to the usual wool suitings, which is not surprising considering our hot climate (which you may have been experiencing lately). They called it ‘the cloth with a million windows’.

Source: The Sun newspaper, November 2nd, 1938

NB: ‘coolth’ means ‘pleasantly low temperature’ as well as ‘the quality of being fashionable’ so its doubly apt here.

Remember that in those pre-polyester days, lighter fabrics usually meant lighter weaves, and wool has the advantage of being a breathable, natural fibre. Poro-twist appears to have been an early version of the ‘summer wool’ varieties that were developed in the 1970s. The name is perhaps a combination of its quality – porous – and a weave descriptor – twist, as wool fibres are twisted.

Want to know more? It was reported as being a ‘special weave that allows every movement of air to pass right through and keep you as comfortable as air-conditioning’, it will hold its shape and ‘actually be improved by dry cleaning’ (whatever that means!?) It’s woven from ‘Australia’s finest wools of grades 60 and 70, a 2-ply and 4-ply is twisted together to give a two-fisted toughness that’ll take rough wear’ and ‘every stitch will hold throughout the long life of the cloth’.

Your new suit is available in three ‘modern’ styles and will also fit perfectly thanks to the 66 to 80 fittings available (depending on the year you’re shopping) and dozens of ‘smart patterns’ and up to forty colours, giving ‘perfection’ of style and fit in only five minutes. “Cool suits for a cool price”.

Here are some of the colours that might be on offer: navy, light green, dark green, greys, blues, ox-blood, London tan, off-blue, powder blue. All weighing a ‘breezy’ 38 ounces (1.07kg, not exactly light by modern standards). Quite a lot of choice, and debunks any ideas of old suits all being bland and boring.

In 1942 they were promoting the feel of the fabric, with this charming advert. The presence of a fashionably dressed woman might be a recognition of who was likely to be doing the purchasing, especially during wartime.

Source: The Sun newspaper, 4th February, 1942.

This particular advert includes the exact price as my poster: seven pounds and ten shillings, which suggests that my poster is also from 1942. That’s about $660 in current Australian dollars.

In 1943 Farmer’s reported that, despite the war, they still have Poro-twists available for sale at eight guineas and 34 coupons (rations), and suggests that while there, you might also like to view their free exhibition of war photography supported by the High Commissioner for the UK.

But – perhaps with war time restrictions kicking in – that’s the last you see of them for a few years, until Farmer’s is advertising them again in 1947.

Source: The Sun newspaper 3rd December, 1947

I like this image, it invites you to identify with either the smart young man (perhaps a returned soldier) pleasing his boss, or the satisfied boss himself, who has both a pretty wife and a sassy secretary.

By 1954 – when polyesters are starting to arrive on the market – they’re offered in a reduced colour palette of three greys, browns, blues and ‘duotones’. The cut is now less padded, American-style and ‘easy-fitting’ with knife-edged lapels and ‘Melton-undercollar’ as befits mid-century style and ‘the same number of windows per square inch’.

In other words, the fabric quality has not deteriorated and the copy remains as full of hyperbole as ever.

Source: The Sun newspaper, 6th October 1954

Farmer’s were a major Sydney department store, which started as a draper in 1840, and was later purchased by Myer’s in 1960, but continued to operate under the original name until rebranding to Myer in 1974.

As an aside I have several pieces of Farmer’s everyday womenswear in my collection, mostly ’50s cotton print sundresses and blouses. Unfortunately no Poro-twist suits or tuxedos, and I couldn’t find any examples in the usual places either. Sadly so little vintage menswear survives as its usually worn to deterioration or disposed of, so I’m grateful to have the records provided by advertising.

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