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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Are they pants or trousers?

By Dick Hirsch

Of all the observations that Julius Hertling has made in his nearly 60 successful years in business the one that was clearly most insightful was this: No matter what new fashion trends develop, men will always wear pants.

There may be those who might claim that was an obvious conclusion, but Hertling made it at a time when the attitude in the business world was changing, shifting toward a code of informality often described as “dress down.” It started with casual attire on Fridays and soon, in many places, that approach became standard in offices throughout the week, swamping the typically conservative world of men’s fashion.

Suits and ties remained in the closets on most days, in favor of sweaters and sport shirts. That was bad news for the men’s clothing industry; many old line manufacturers failed. Clothing is Hertling’s business, as the owner of a company founded by his father in 1925, a company that manufactured quality suits, sport jackets, blazers and other essentials, including trousers, all of which could be classified as traditional.

Hertling calls them trousers although he agrees the term pants is just as accurate.

“Trousers sends the message of quality, made from better goods by more skilled workers,” he explained. “It’s also a more polite term.”

So it was in 1997 that Hertling aimed his company in a different direction, based upon his conclusion that men would always wear trousers, no matter what other unexpected trends engulfed the market. Since that time, his Brooklyn factory has made only trousers, the type of traditional clothing sold by upscale stores around the country. Each merchant establishes their own price, but the Hertling trousers generally retail from $145 for a pair cut from cotton fabric to around $225 for wool.

Hertling is 84 now, but is in his office on Greenpoint Avenue before 8:30 most mornings and says he has no plans to retire because he enjoys his work too much. He says what is “in” or “out” of fashion has always been difficult to predict, but he has no plans to return to the manufacture of suits and jackets.

“I have no hard evidence but I have the feeling that the suit and more formal business dress may be coming back,” he said. “In bad times men have had a tendency to dress up again. Busy times for suit makers have gone hand in hand with past recessions. We have also seen the closing of many fine independent men’s shops around the country, but I suspect we may soon see a reversal of that trend. Men can’t get the same service shopping in the big stores or ordering from the catalogs.”

Hertling grew up in the clothing business, often accompanying his father, Morris, to the factory on Saturdays. He did occasional odd jobs but didn’t become an employee until he returned from military service in 1946 following the end of World War II. he worked in manufacturing learning the rudiments of cutting, sewing, pressing and all the tasks required to assemble an article of clothing. Eventually he bought the company. Neither of his two sons ever evinced much interest in the business; one is an attorney in New York, the other a journalist in Paris.

How did I come in contact with Hertling? That’s a reasonable question. I noticed one day recently that several of the trousers in my closet seemed to have what I considered to be an extra belt loop. If you investigate in your closet, you’ll find that your pants will have either six or seven loops. Why do mine have eight and what good is the eighth? I asked that question of Ethan Huber, whose family owns a local store that is a cathedral of traditional clothing, and the source of my trousers.

“Those are Hertling trousers and all of them are made with eight loops so they don’t need a hanger loop in the back,” Huber said.

I accepted that explanation but felt there had to be a better reason, so I phoned the source, describing to Julius Hertling the pair of trousers I happened to be wearing that day.

“That’s true,” said Hertling, “but that extra loop makes the belt be better balanced and it is also another visible way of differentiating our products from the competition, a mark of excellence. We do everything we can to make a better trouser.”

Then as an afterthought, he added:

“I have the same pair of trousers you do, and they’re one of my favorites. I hope you’re glad to hear that.”

I was.


At 11:14 PM, Blogger Ria said...

Thank you for having such curiosity. I actually came to know of Mr. Hertling and his story in an article that I read. He is truly an inspiration.
The timeliness of finding your article is perfect as I found it to be a reinforcement as to why I find him intriguing.


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