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What's In Your Closet?- LeGrand Parish's Appraisal Report

By: Tessa Payer, Museum Specialist at the Wayne Museum and Passaic County Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs


The ongoing review, cataloging, and processing of the Wayne Museum’s archival collection means we’re constantly finding new stories to tell and new sources to highlight; all of which help us to tell the broader story of the Township’s history. One of the sources that’s caught my attention recently is an appraisal report for the ‘Residence Properties of LeGrand Parish, Mountain View, N.J.’


An appraisal report is a written statement that lays out the estimated value of a property. As legal and financial documents full of jargon, convoluted property descriptions, and more, they can be a little daunting. Not all appraisals are the same, too; some are very detailed, including a listing for every piece of property, while some are more general. Persevering through the jargon, however, reveals a written record of a person’s life. Through appraisal reports, we can explore someone’s financial status, their material world, and start to paint a clearer picture of their life experience.


LeGrand Parish (1866-1933) is a little know, but incredibly impactful Wayne resident.[1] After getting his start working for Thomas Edison, he became an inventor himself, patenting several railroad improvements, and amassing a fortune in the millions. In 1896, he married Madge L. Little and in 1914, the couple moved into one of Madge’s family homes in the Mountain View section of Wayne. Their property spanned countless acres, but today all that remains is a part of their main residence, now the home of the Lakeland Unitarian Fellowship. Parish was known for his philanthropy, donating money and produce from his farm to Wayne residents in need, setting aside acreage for a golf course and fire department, and serving as a member of the Passaic County Park Commission.


Figure 1- A photograph of LeGrand Parish. From the Wayne Museum.

We’re lucky to have two appraisal reports for the Parish estate. With this wealth of information (literally, considering Parish’s millionaire status), we can start to reconstruct a property that doesn’t exist anymore and the lives of the people who lived on it. Parish’s appraisal report is very detailed, and we expect to write several more articles about different parts of it. However, we’re starting off with familiar territory; a clothes closet! What better way to get to know LeGrand Parish than through the clothes he wore?

Before we can discuss individual clothing items, however, we have to get to them. According to architectural drawings from the report, a private staircase off of the billiards room led up to Parish’s bedroom. We’ll step past the “full size mahogany bed” and 58” tall chifforobe into the Clothes Closet, a separate space in its own right.[1] According to the appraisal, a rug measuring 3 feet 4 inches long by 4 feet wide covered the floor. The rug’s description as “Daghestan” suggests it may have been woven in the modern day Republic of Dagestan, located in the eastern Caucasus. Today, the region is one of 22 republics in Russia and is well known for its textiles. Trends in Dagestan’s textile weaving suggests that Parish’s rug may have been blue wool with floral patterning. Moving from the floor to the walls, the room had at least one window, hung with muslin curtains and a decorative valance matching those in the bedroom.


Figure 2- Taken in the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, this image shows George Vanderbilt II’s bedroom, with his closet in the back. The view into Parish’s closet, also accessible from his bedroom, may have been similar. Image from the Biltmore Company, Unlocking the Hidden Doors Inside the Biltmore Estate - ABC News (go.com).

Now, to the clothing. The Atlantic City Daily Press reprinted an article from Chicago on the front page of their August 27th, 1925 issue advising readers on “what you need to escape being ‘hopefully behind the times.’” Well-dressed men were expected to have,


A dinner coat for semi-formal occasions.

A full dress suit for formal occasions

Four sack suits for business wear

A sport suit

A frock coat for formal day wear

A high hat to be worn with frock coat and full dress suit

Two overcoats, one of dark material for formal wear and one of lighter color for business wear.[2]


LeGrand Parish had all of these items and then some.


Though we might consider a suit a formal garment today, it was daily wear for men at the time, usually consisting of a matching coat, waistcoat (or vest), and trousers, paired with a shirt and other accessories. Suits came in a range of styles for different occasions. Sack suits were the basic style. They had a more relaxed fit than the more striking dinner and dress suits; think business casual today. A 1923 advertisement declared the universal nature of the outfit; “the plain sack suit, if well made and cut with refined lines…may be worn on any occasion.”[3] Suits came in a variety of colors, too; Curator and Archivist Joy Bennett lists “browns, blues, dark green, grey, ivory…They also embraced more unique colors in suits as the decade wore on, including pink, light green, lilac, blue-grey, and green-grey.”[4] The Atlantic City Daily Press recommended four sack suits in a man’s wardrobe, but Parish, not to be outdone, had ten.


Parish checked off the other suit requirements from the Atlantic City Daily Press. In place of a sport suit, he had two golf suits. A 1923 advertisement in The Paterson Morning Call hyped up this unique form of sporting wear, stating (with way too many golf puns),


“Put On a Good Golf Suit and You’ll Putt Out in Better Figures! Some men think that any old thing is good enough to play golf in. Wise golfers know better. Old clothes may be all right for fishing but they’re no good on the fairway. There is a genuine feeling of exhilaration about a well set-up golf suit, which gives the confidence that makes better scores. Golf is hard enough anyway, without having to overcome the additional handicap of old clothes.”[5]


Figure 3- Professional golfers from the 1920s. From Grey Journal, https://greyjournal.net/play/style/fashion/history-of-mens-golf-fashion/

Parish’s golf suits likely consisted of a matching jacket and knickers (pants cropped at the knee), to be paired with a vest, shirt, tie, high stockings, shoes, and cap. Sporting wear, like golf suits, often came in bold prints. Nicholas Lawford noted of the golf wear of the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor), “he was quite loud in the way he mixed his checks, but he represented style to his generation.”[6] Unfortunately, the appraisal report doesn’t specify if Parish was a fan of bolder colors or more subdued tones, so we don’t quite know what kind of style he showed off while overseeing work on Preakness Valley Golf Course here in Wayne.


Parish also had a cutaway coat (a formal choice for daytime, like the frock coat), a dinner suit (his semi-formal evening choice), and a full dress suit (his formal choice). In fact, the latter was his single most valuable clothing item. The Washington Times broke down each part of the garment, along with some sarcastic commentary. First, “you put on a shirt with a bullet-proof front. Then you put on a high collar made especially to choke you, and if it doesn’t the haberdasher will refund your money.”[7] Then came a tailcoat; “[the tails] remind you of streamers down your back. You feel sure they will get tangled in something as you walk about.”[8] The trousers were “the only things that feel regular about a full-dress suit.”[9] A bow tie, either black or white, was a recommended accessory, though the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat added that “the only correct shoe for wear with a full-dress suit is of black patent leather,” and vests and silk hats were also added to the list.[10] A.T. Gallico described the full dress suit as a uniform, but there was some variety in fabric weave, black versus blue, and so on.[11] “Now you know just what to expect when you wear your first full-dress suit,” The Washington Times concluded. “We dare you to try and enjoy yourself with one on.”[12]


Figure 4- A very dapper full dress suit made in 1923. From the V&A, https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O34494/evening-suit-charles-wallis-ltd/.

Many of Wayne’s residents may have only pulled out a full-dress suit on the occasional holiday, but Parish’s status as the township’s millionaire meant that he likely had invites to the “dozen or so formal dinners and balls, with half a dozen evening receptions thrown in” that Gallico joked about.[13] The sheer value of LeGrand’s formal suit set him apart from the rest of the township, as well; Goldstein’s Department Store in Long Branch offered a full dress suit on sale for $14.50 in 1919, but Parish’s was valued at $195.[14]

Parish’s wardrobe, however, included some suits beyond the basics. He had a Palm Beach suit, likely a lighter weight, summertime version of the garment. The most unique suits on the report are the six “Dr. Diemel union suits.”[15] They’re not suits in the modern sense of the word, but are what we would consider long underwear or onesies; a one-piece undergarment, typically woven from cotton, linen, or wool. They were worn by both men and women and came in a variety of styles; Taylor & Bartelt’s August 1923 Dollar Day advertisements mentions Gotham, Porosknit, Superior, Country Club, Scrivens, and Del Park Union Suits. Dr. Diemel was likely one brand of many.


Parish’s three overcoats and two sweaters exceeded the Atlantic City Daily Press’s recommendations and showcased some unique fibers from the period. His sweaters were made of camel hair- yes, fleece sheered from Bactrian camels, native to deserts in Central Asia. The fiber came into fashion when woven and cut into polo coats, first in England, then popularized in the US in the 1920s and 1930s. Meyer Brothers, who advertised themselves as “Paterson’s Foremost Store”, stated in a 1922 ad that “among the many smart sweater styles recently advanced, none excels the smartness of those made of Camel’s Hair.”[16] Parish’s most pricy overcoat, valued at $175, was his “fur lined overcoat, melton shell, muskrat lined, beaver collar.”[17] A coat like this was not only warm in the wintertime, but also a status symbol; Marie Blizard of the Atlantic City Sunday Press recommended purchasing one in November 1926, but only “if your pocketbook can possibly stand.”[18] Faux fur emerged in the 1910s and was becoming more popular in the 1920s, but there was still a wide variety of real fur on the market; besides Parish’s beaver and muskrat, Jersey newspapers advertised fitch (or polecat, a ferret-like animal), opossum, civet cat, seal, skunk, raccoon and squirrel.


Figure 5- Fur overcoats circa 1921. From Vintage Dancer, https://vintagedancer.com/1920s/1920s-mens-coats-jackets/.

The remainder of LeGrand Parish’s wardrobe was made up of accessorizing garments; bits and bobs to go with his staple suits. Other Wayne residents likely had similar pieces, including shirts, collars, hats, and shoes. What sent Parish apart was the quantity and quality of these clothing items. He had twenty-four madras shirts, six evening shirts, two flannel shirts, and three silk shirts, to be paired with one of the five dozen linen collars or one of the two dozen soft collars. He had two dozen silk cravats, a predecessor of today’s neckties, and five dozen made of crepe de chine, another distinct silk weave. Parish had four dozen pairs of socks- to go with his 11 pairs of shoes. Like his suits, the shoes had their own distinct uses; high and low shoes likely referred to how far the shoe ran up the ankle and leg, while golf shoes, formal pumps, and hunting shoes were applicable to various social occasions.


And, of course, to wrap up, Parish had three pairs of pajamas and eight night shirts.


In total, LeGrand Parish’s clothing collection was valued at a whopping $3985.60; nothing to scoff at when, only a few years later, the average wage for a farm laborer was about $600 a year with board. The appraisal gives us a sense of someone with an interest in keeping to the dictates of fashion, checking off the clothing requirements for a ‘well-dressed man’. He also had the financial means to do so. His clothes were valued rather high; $150 per sack suit, $160 for a winter overcoat, $45 for a sweater. His bathrobe was valued at $25, half a month’s paycheck for a farm laborer. Since cheaper alternatives were available and advertised in local newspapers, this suggests that he purchased very high quality garments; the best materials, construction, and fit.

This appraisal report, of course, doesn’t give us all the answers about who LeGrand Parish was. There may be garments missing that weren’t considered valuable, and it is sometimes difficult to account for personal tastes in a financial document like this. However, by providing us with the details of his wardrobe, the report brings us one step closer towards understanding who Wayne’s mysterious millionaire was.


The Wayne Museum operates under a shared services agreement between the Township of Wayne and the County of Passaic. The County manages and operates the Wayne Museum on the Township’s behalf through the County’s Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs.


Notes


1. The Home & Club Department. Appraisal Report: Residence Properties of LeGrand Parish. Milwaukee: The American Appraisal Company, 1925. 251.


2. “What You Need to Escape Being ‘Hopelessly Behind the Times,’” Atlantic City Daily Press, August 27th, 1925. https://www.newspapers.com/image/918785109/?


3. “Refinement,” Allentown Messenger, April 5th, 1923. https://www.newspapers.com/image/445574496/?terms=%22sack%20suit%22.

4. Bennett, Joy. “Men’s Fashion.” Hancock Historical Museum. https://hancockhistoricalmuseum.org/i-love-the-1920s/mens-fashion/.


5. “Put On a Good Golf Suit and You’ll Putt Out in Better Figures!” The Paterson Morning Call, April 18th, 1923. https://www.newspapers.com/image/552423917/?terms=%22golf%20suit%22&match=1.



7. “Our Own Beau Brummel.” The Washington Times, September 11th, 1921. https://www.newspapers.com/image/79897971/?terms=%22full%20dress%20suit%22&match=1.


8. Ibid.


9. Ibid.


10. Ibid.; “For Well-Dressed Men,” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, December 6th, 1927. https://www.newspapers.com/image/572735785/?terms=%22full%20dress%20suit%22&match=1; Gallico, A.T., “Men’s Fashions,” Chicago Tribune, December 3rd, 1922, https://www.newspapers.com/image/355235148/?terms=%22full%20dress%20suit%22&match=1.


11. Gallico, A.T., “Men’s Fashions,” Chicago Tribune, December 3rd, 1922, https://www.newspapers.com/image/355235148/?terms=%22full%20dress%20suit%22&match=1.; Gallico, A.T., “Men’s Fashions,” Daily News, December 25th, 1921. https://www.newspapers.com/image/410090393/?terms=%22full%20dress%20suit%22&match=1.


12. “Our Own Beau Brummel.” The Washington Times, September 11th, 1921. https://www.newspapers.com/image/79897971/?terms=%22full%20dress%20suit%22&match=1.


13. Gallico, A.T., “Men’s Fashions,” Chicago Tribune, December 3rd, 1922, https://www.newspapers.com/image/355235148/?terms=%22full%20dress%20suit%22&match=1


14. “Goldstein’s Department Store,” Long Branch Daily Record, January 25th, 1919. https://www.newspapers.com/image/495873724/?terms=%22full%20dress%20suit%22&match=1. ; Appraisal Report: Residence Properties of LeGrand Parish, 255.


15. Appraisal Report: Residence Properties of LeGrand Parish, 255.


16. “Meyer Brothers.” Passaic Daily News, November 22nd, 1922. https://www.newspapers.com/image/556369475/?terms=%22camel%20hair%22&match=1.


17. Appraisal Report: Residence Properties of LeGrand Parish, 255.


18. Blizard, Marie. “Yours for Chic-” Atlantic City Sunday Press, November 14th, 1926. https://www.newspapers.com/image/917976557/?terms=%22fur%20coat%22.


Bibliography


You can learn more about Parish’s life and work on our blog: “Getting to Know LeGrand Parish” by Patrick Byrnes, and Wayne Township’s Very Own Inventor by Paul Maloney


The Home & Club Department. Appraisal Report: Residence Properties of LeGrand Parish. Milwaukee: The American Appraisal Company, 1925.


“Dagestan profile,” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20593383.


“Dagestan rug,” Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/art/Dagestan-rug.

“Reproductions: Men’s Costumes 1885-1910.” History in the Making. https://www.historyinthemaking.org/1885-1910.html.


Bennett, Joy. “Men’s Fashion.” Hancock Historical Museum. https://hancockhistoricalmuseum.org/i-love-the-1920s/mens-fashion/.


“A Gentleman’s Morning Coat, 1930’s Weddings,” Witness 2 Fashion. August 3rd, 2016. https://witness2fashion.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/a-gentlemans-morning-coat-1930s-weddings/. Church, Joanna. “Union suits, 1920s-30s.” A Fine Collection. October 17th, 2012. https://afinecollection.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/union-suits-1920s-30s/.

“Dollar Day,” Passaic Daily News, August 6th, 1923. https://www.newspapers.com/image/556382119/?terms=%22union%20suit%22&match=1.

“Dollar Day Tomorrow at Steinbachs, Asbury Park,” Long Branch Daily Record, January 5th, 1923. https://www.newspapers.com/image/496023788/?terms=%22Diemel%22&match=1.


“Bactrian Camel,” Denver Zoo. https://denverzoo.org/animals/bactrian-camel/.


“Anniversary Sale,” Plainfield Courier-News, October 4th, 1921, https://www.newspapers.com/image/220765098/?terms=%22fur%20coat%22&match=1.


“M.E. Blatt Co.” Atlantic City Daily News, December 28th, 1925. https://www.newspapers.com/image/917774776/?terms=%22muskrat%20lined%22&match=1.


“Crepe de Chine.” Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/crepe-de-Chine.


Marshall, Mary. “Wise and Otherwise.” Asbury Park Evening Press, May 22nd, 1924. https://www.newspapers.com/image/143308086/?terms=%22high%20shoes%22&match=1.


Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Farm Wage and Labor Situation, October 1, 1930," Labor Review 31, no. 6 (December 1930): 164-167.

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