When Laurel Parker’s grandparents planned their dream vacation, they considered every detail. The Great War was over, and the couple had reason to celebrate. This would be a trip of firsts — their first time seeing mountains, their first dip in the Pacific Ocean, and their first trip as new parents. First on their shopping list? A pair of Levi Strauss & Co. Koveralls, a gift for their baby’s first birthday.
“They were an extremely adventurous family,” says Laurel, whose father, Franklin “Frank” Fenenga, is the chubby 1-year-old pictured here. “This trip would have been long anticipated.”
Preparations likely included a stop at G Fenenga General Goods in South Dakota — Laurel’s great-grandfather’s store — to buy the overalls.
“My great grandfather was a wholesaler . . . [and] my grandfather circled the Plains states, doing outside sales for the store.”
Laurel’s grandparents carefully documented their trip West, photographing Frank in his Koveralls by the family car, at the beach, fishing with his dad, tiptoeing in the grass, or trying out his kiddie car.
Not just a fixture of the dream vacation record, Baby Frank’s one-piece denim playsuit was also an adventurous new offering by Levi Strauss & Co., known best at the time for durable work duds. Introduced in 1912, the Koveralls were ideal to “Keep Kids Kleen,” as a 1915 slogan promised. In the same year, Koveralls were also featured in the brochure that the company created for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. LS&CO. had a fully functioning sewing line in its booth at this popular world’s fair, where women from the Valencia Street factory made Koveralls for visitors.
The denim children’s overall, made with a drop seat, was trimmed with a red fabric called Galatea, a tough cotton traditionally used for children’s sailor suits. Koveralls were launched quietly, but soon became one of the company’s most popular garments. Like their adult counterparts, Koveralls were sturdy enough to withstand plenty of wear, but more for the younger set: think crawling or rough-housing.
LS&Co. sold Koveralls to dozens of people, including Laurel’s maternal kin. This was something she discovered only after her sister asked for photos of their mother, Barbara Louise Wagner.
“Darned if I didn’t find a photo of her where she appears to be wearing the same Koveralls,” said Laurel. “Koveralls would have been the perfect garment for camping, an activity both families did a lot of, though they came from very different backgrounds.”
Remarkably, Koveralls linked both sides of Laurel’s family together in a unique way. The Koveralls and the photos are a remarkable lens into this family’s life and times, where Levi Strauss clothing took center stage.
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