The Madras Shirt Clique


During the early 1960’s everyone attending Ocala high school dressed pretty much the same; nobody—at least the guys—paid much attention to what people wore. That changed in 1963 when Augie Greiner opened Greiner’s Men Store.

Augie introduced style to a small southern town that was just beginning to build a class of young professionals.  His store provided Ocala men with access to same brands of clothing as their contemporaries in the larger cities; before long, those styles migrated to the local high school and defined by the “Greiner look” a clique was born.

We dressed essentially the same: Gant shirts—with button-down collars, either cotton broad cloth or madras and with a small “loop” of cloth on the back at the neck; HIS cotton khaki slacks; a belt with a color that matched our shoes and Bass Wejun shoes—either cordovan or black but not brown. We not only dressed the same, we also  smelled the same.  When a group of us would get together, the overpowering odor of our cologne, English Leather, would transport you to the interior of a fine British sports car.

In the 1960’s, when attending church, going out for dinner or other social functions, men and their sons donned coats and ties.  Until Augie came along, putting on “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes meant gray or brown suits or a particularly ugly sports coat with either gray or brown pants.  This too changed; men started wearing tailored suits, made with expensive fabric and my group of friends wore brass-buttoned, blue blazers with “rep” ties, Corbin slacks and Johnson and Murphy shoes.

The “uniform” we wore in high school became the same uniform we wore in college.  If he could have opened a store in the midst of fraternity row, Augie Greiner would have made a fortune.  Not only did we dress, look and smell the same, we listened to the same music and dated girls who looked alike and dressed the same and we ignored anyone who didn’t conform.

As we opposed the war in Vietnam and entered the “hippie” period of the late 60’s and early 70’s, we conformed in our nonconformity.  And, when I graduated from college and returned to Ocala to work for my father, I learned to conform in business.

When I arrived, my dad’s company had been in business for almost 40 years.  And, in 1971 we pretty well did things the same way we did in 1934: the same materials; the same engineering and although somewhat updated, the same equipment.

The people I befriended within the industry were also resistant to change.  We would greet sales people hawking new products with suspicion and would discourage the use of their products.  We boxed ourselves into an industry that installed labor-intensive systems that required expensive equipment to move heavy materials.  In conversations, the question “Is there be a better way to do this?” was not asked.

Although I sold that business over 25 years ago, occasionally I reflect on how I would do things different if I started it again today.  I know that I would use systems that are far less labor and equipment intensive: systems that were available, but I refused to use in 1984.  Not having been involved in it for a number of years, I now view the business through entrepreneurial eyes: looking from outside rather than inside the box.

Viewing your business through eyes of an entrepreneur is an exciting exercise.  Asking the questions, “If I was starting this business today, what would I sell? Who would I sell to? How would I operate?” forces you to step out of the box and develop answers that may be different from what how you are presently operating.

That’s what Augie Greiner did when he opened his clothing store in Ocala.  Although a small town, there were other men’s stores; and if you wanted a gray suit and a fedora, they were happy to meet your needs.  But Augie realized that to go to market with the same type of products everyone else was selling, would result in price competition and low margins.  Instead, he changed fashion and by doing so founded a business that has prospered for nearly 50 years.

Quotes

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.” – Doug Floyd

The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by somebody else’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.” – Michael Konda

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8 responses to “The Madras Shirt Clique

  1. brooks wadehttp://en.wordpress.com/tag/management-business/

    And we wore madras pants. I think it is entirely possible that Augie had a great sense of humor…

    • I had a madras rain jacket.
      We used to polish the cordovan Weejuns with Ox Blood polish.
      Almost looked like they were red.
      Augie will be missed.
      I first met him when he was selling hot dogs at the softball park at Gerig Field.

  2. Byron McClellan

    I certainly cannot add anything to what has already been said, except that ‘it is the absolute truth’!!!!

  3. brooks wadehttp://en.wordpress.com/tag/management-business/

    Ox Blood polish….let’s see you try to market that name now…

  4. And don’t forget the girls – we all wanted to wear Villager shirts and dresses,
    our hair long and often in a flip, and to shop at Rheinauers’. With 3
    girls to clothe, my mother made most of our clothes, but she could imitate
    anything we saw in the store, or in 17 magazine! I also remember going
    with my mother when she needed a new dress. We’d go upstairs in
    Rheinauers, my mother would sit down in a chair, and the sales ladies
    would bring dresses to her to preview, then stand right next to the dressing
    room while she tried them on. You just don’t get service like that much
    anymore!

    • Renny,

      So true! I do remember the girls; take a look at high school annuals from the 1960’s and they are all dressed and coiffed—that’s a word I’ve never used—the same. Notice the white gloves!

  5. I like your piece, but a picture of you and your friends in those shirts would go well with the humor and description 🙂
    I had to google them, had no idea they were called Madras shirts!!
    Thanks!
    Rachana.

    • I would love to have such a picture. Unfortunately, other than those in my high school annuals, I have no pictures from those days. Digital photography really has made a difference.

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