J. Peterman catalog takes a shine to the Lowcountry

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comAugust 13, 2013 

J. Peterman has spoken.

"Three wrong turns off the Okatie Highway in South Carolina, and I'm here, at this wondrous hidden thing," says an item in the July edition of the J. Peterman Company catalog, or "Owners Manual No. 108."

The quirky clothier's catalog blurbs sell vintage clothes with so much personality that a "Mr. Peterman" character was added to the old

"Seinfeld" television show.

Actor John O'Hurley, who played the role and is now an investor in the company, once described to NBC News his first venture through the catalog: "It was, like, these long Hemingway-style adventure stories about an Oxford button-down. And I was rather intrigued by it. And I thought he sounded a little bit like a '40s radio drama, combined with a bad Charles Kuralt."

Poet Clinton B. Campbell of Beaufort sent me J. Peterman's account of this wondrous hidden thing in our neighborhood because it touches on how we talk.

"It's a clapboard kitchen of sorts, two stories, emanating authentic Lowcountry charms and aromas. Wooden picnic tables and live oaks. Steam rising off nearby May River. Humidity you can scoop.

"I sit next to a young man wearing this shirt, an elegant counterpoint to these humble surroundings. Mounds of steamy roasted oysters on newspapers await. Family style.

"I sweat over each bivalve I shuck. He cracks his with ease. I sweat. He shines. I'm still hungry. He's sated. Finally, he takes my oyster knife.

" 'Pete'a'man, lemme show ya how it's done.' "

Thus unfolds the story of the Low Country Polo shirt of cotton pique body and Oxford cloth collar. "Just the right combination of antebellum and Spanish moss."

It's obviously a true story because it has "humidity you can scoop."

We like to say you never have to shovel it. But it's so hot at this time of year, I'm surprised you could sell anything other than an aqua lung.

Actually, men's clothier Gary Reavis of Hilton Head Island tells me clothes of linen and seersucker remain Southern summer standbys. Also popular are clothes of imported lisle fabrics made of the long-staple cotton that once thrived on the Sea Islands. And high-tech, manmade fabrics that pull perspiration off the body and into the shirt have strolled off the golf courses into the men's stores.

Reavis and partners opened the Knickers/Men's store in Harbour Town in 1971, and for 20 years he has owned and operated Teague's Men's Clothing in the Village at Wexford. The main change he sees is that, even for a resort area in the simmering Lowcountry, people are dressing more casually than ever.

Or, as J. Peterman might put it, we are comfortable with our Lowcountry charms and aromas.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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The J. Peterman Company

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