brand bias: pendleton woolen mills

Hi there, and happy Monday!

Today, here in Minneapolis, it’s snowing again. Yes. MORE SNOW. So, it’s seems like an appropriate day to share a little about an American brand that’s been a wintertime staple for more than 100 years.

Brand Name: Pendleton Woolen Mills

Years in business: 1889-present day

Headquartered: 20 NW Broadway, Portland, OR

12 Things You Should Know About Pendleton

 Pendleton has been hands-on managed by the same family for six generations. The business began in 1889, when Thomas Kay opened a woolen mill in Salem, Oregon. His daughter Fannie became his right-hand gal, learning the operation and management of the mill. When she married a retailer, Charles Pleasant Bishop, their skills complemented each other, profiting the business greatly. The current president, C.M. Bishop III, is the great-grandson of C.P. Bishop.

The family moved east to Pendleton, Oregon in 1909 to take over the idle, defunct Pendleton Woolen Mills. One of the first things they did, with financial support from the town, was build a larger and more efficient mill.

The mill soon resumed production of the Native-American blankets Pendleton was known for. Along with introducing new colors and patterns, the company also began trading with Native Americans in the Southwest, including members of the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes. The blankets were not only basic apparel, but were standards of trading and ceremonial use.

With the takeover, the family also changed the construction of the mill’s Indian blankets, making the rounded corners square. Pendleton round corner blankets are highly coveted by vintage Indian blanket collectors. Here are some examples of the Chief Joseph blanket, named for the Nez Pierce leader.

As the company grew, so did their product line. In 1924, one of Fannie and Charles’ sons, C.M., started a line of men’s woolen sport shirts in bright colors and patterns. Prior to that time woolen shirts had been considered work shirts and came in drab colors. By 1929 the company was producing a full line of woolen sportswear.

During World War II, Pendleton churned out blankets, uniforms and clothing for the U.S. Armed Forces.

After postwar market research showed a desire for women’s sportswear, the company introduced a line of wool sportswear for gals. The 49er jacket and their reversible pleated skirt were two of their most popular items. Here’s an ad for the 49er jacket from 1953.

 In 1960, a  singing group known as the Pendletones formed, taking their name from the classic Pendleton wool plaid shirt. The group later changed their name to The Beach Boys. The band favored the Umatilla shirts, and wore them on album covers, sparking teens around the country to follow suit.

 1960s girl group, The Majorettes, had a hit with this jam, “White Levis, Tennis Shoes, Surfin’ Hat and A Big Plaid Pendleton Shirt.” I dig it.

In 1972, Pendleton came out with a line of non-wool clothing, to fulfill the demand of customers looking for Pendleton-esque styles that wouldn’t leave them sweltering in the summertime.

In an attempt to introduce the brand to a new generation, Pendleton’s paired up with a variety of brands and designers, including Hurley, Opening Ceremony, Levi’s and Worksman Cycles. Here are some looks from the fall/winter 2010 line they produced in collaboration with Opening Ceremony. (You can shop the line here.)

Peep this bicycle made by Worksman Cycle, featuring the Chief Joseph pattern on the frame and fenders! This baby is available here only.

I find Pendleton’s clothing frequently at thrifts in both the men’s and women’s section. Common areas to spot items are in the blazer or jacket section, or with the suits. Their labels look like this. Since most Pendleton items are wool, look the garments over carefully for moth holes and stains.

I hope you all liked learning a little bit about this brand! Curious about a brand you spot a lot at the thrift? Shoot me an email at and let me do the detective work. I hope you all have wonderful days!



P.S. Curious about a photo source? Click the image!

7 thoughts on “brand bias: pendleton woolen mills

  1. Dear Megs,

    During my high school days, the Pendleton pleated skirts were all the rage. They were out of my price range but I did think about them a lot. When a bit older, I was able to buy an unlined jacket with pockets and large mother-of-pearl buttons in lovely shades of blue. (I should have kept it or at least urged Grandma to incorporate it in one of her quilts)Alas! Thanks for the Pendleton info; I never knew its history until today, so your detective work is appreciated.

    See you soon.

  2. I love their skirts (and finding them at thrift store is always a thrill!). They are perfect for my body type. Right now I have my eyes on a couple of ebay auction for pendleton capes! They are so awesome!

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