Department of Since You Asked: A-okay with Jo-o-Kay

The Grits n Ham suede jacket — came through the doors at the luncheonette, made a brief stint on etsy, and wound up in Utah, beloved at last.
Amazing, and amazingly weird at the same time!! It is so retro, but in such GREAT shape!! Was it yours? Thanks for everything ... Do you know anything about it?
—Feedback from the woman who bought the 1970s Grits n Ham suede jacket, from the luncheonette.

My answer: It wasn't mine, though it would have been if it and I had crossed paths in the past.  Especially if I'd come across it in college, when I was a double major, one of those majors being History, which serves pretty well when it comes to researching a jacket like this.

Nearly everything that comes through the luncheonette gets a pretty thorough working over: I start with the label, go through trademarkia, patent archives,  old ads (often found on *bay), legal records.

Letter written from Ardmore Air Force Base, 1943. The writer says, I have been to Ardmore once and I don't think a hell of a lot of it.
From a site on Oklahoma history, I found out that Jo-o-Kay is a trademarked name that isn't in the trademark archives. But it stands for John and Kay (Katherine) Simpler, of Ardmore, Oklahoma. Actually they weren't technically of Ardmore, they were of somewhere else, but they moved to Ardmore in the 1950s, after the owner of the Western Supply Company encouraged them to. Western Supply made leather goods, specifically the hand-tooled kind, and the owner's family and the Simplers would have cookouts every Saturday night once things got going. The suede and leather coat business started, probably, as a discussion over hamburgers on a buggy night. Imagine everyone, filling up on good Okie beef and looking towards fall. Everyone needs a good jacket, after all.

Main Street in Ardmore, 1958.
 John and Katherine wanted to call it Jo-Kay. But Jockey, already making underwear, paid for them to add an extra o into the name. As if someone might confuse a two-tone, snap-close cowhide leather jacket with a snazzy cowboy yoke for a pair of Y-fronts. At any rate that's what the Simplers did, though locals always called it Jo-Kay.

A later 1970s label (which, upon second thought, makes me wonder if the Grits n Ham jacket was actually from the 1960s)
And here's an excerpt straight from "The Year of the Campus Cowboy" in a 1964 Sports Illustrated:
Rough-out leather jackets, cut, stitched and snapped like a wrangler's denim model, are hotly popular in the West and are now turning up in the East as well. One firm, Jo-O-Kay of Ardmore, Okla., has sold 100,000 of them this year in 42 different models. They are made of brushed cowhide, lined in warm Orion fleece. Mike Irving and Justine Purdy wear rough-outs over snug-fitting cowboy shirts in Ivy League stripes.
Can't find the photo, but here's the caption: 
This page, above: Both jackets are by Jo-O-Kay; the man's, in Aztec gold color, is $30, the lady's $29. Both are at Granby's Trading Post; Miller's; Western Ranchmen Outfitters.
 Western Ranchmen outfitters is still in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Members of the Simpler family are still in Ardmore, having cookouts. At some point, the Tandy Company bought Corral Sportswear, which carried — or oversaw some aspect of (and this is where the research gets spotty) Jo-o-Kay. At some point Jo-O-Kay began making coats and jackets for Corral. And someone named Simpler — and it might have been John Simpler himself — was interviewed during a National Labor Relations Board Hearing on whether or not the Ardmore plant had conspired against AFL-CIO members who wanted to organize. That was in 1966-1967, when Corral Sportswear's Ardmore Oklahoma plant — at least this is how it's described in the NLRB transcripts — was found guilty of conspiring against union members by the National Labor Relations Board. The union had petitioned to hold an election at the plant, and among the winners were union members then contested, said the NLRB, by management. Managment being a Mr. Simpler. The plant had 96 employees, but there were only 76 voters:
76 voters-- 1 janitor, 1 patternmaker, 11 cutters, 3 set-up department employees, 3 finishing department employees, 2 shipping department employees, 6 linegirls, and 49 employees performing other work. All voted, as earlier indicated, with 5 challenges made. The Company challenged Pat Wilson, a set-up department employee, as a supervisor; the Union challenged Velma Trent, a finishing department employee, as a supervisor; the Union challenged Myrtha Heartsill and Gladys Roberts,6 linegirls, as supervisors; and the Union challenged Ruth Wills, the patternmaker.
The details of the case are a bit sad: you can imagine the group of employees hoping to do some good, imagine Mr. Simpler hoping to stave off changes that might lose him money, imagine the Union lawyers interviewing him, cross-examining him, when all he wants to do is go home and have a good steak. And it gives you a glimpse into how coats like this were made, by patternmakers, and cutters, and finishers, and linegirls, and a tiny shipping department, and by women with names like Myrtha Heartsill and Velma Trent.

And that's what I found out about the Grits n Ham jacket.


alexkeller said...

that's a helluva jacket.
i'm going shopping in your shop for some more stories ...

Georgia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Georgia said...

My dad worked for Corral, the Simplers and Jo-o_kay in the 1960s and 70s as a sales rep and later a sales manager. I remember how fringe jackets were all the rage. They had one in a soft, buttery leather ( as opposed to the popular sueded ones) in red and white ... fascinating to find some family history here.

. said...

red and white leather — sounds terrific. love when family history meets label history. thanks for the comment!