The Chicago sports landscape is dire. The Bears suffered one of their worst seasons in their 100-plus years. The Bulls are vying for a play-in spot. The Blackhawks have the worst record in the Western Conference. The playoff favorite White Sox ended 2022 with a .500 record — and the Cubs were well below .500. But Chicago sports fans are loyal and want to rep their teams.
So what does a Chicago sports fan wear when the present and near future is dire? How about a shirt commemorating teams long past?
For over 10 years, People’s Garment Co. has been shining a light on the long-past, fringe sporting world. They’ve become a de facto one-stop shop for all clubs seemingly no one remembers. One such baseball club, the Chicago Whales, is starting to regain some of the notoriety they first captured over a century ago.
“I’m already a sports history dork,” People’s Garment Co. Jason George tells InsideHook. “I would kind of stumble upon these stories that are just too incredible. Like the Chicago Whales, you know — everybody knows about them now, but when I first did the shirt, it was like, Wrigley Field was built for the Chicago Whales and they won championships there, before the Cubs were in Wrigley. That was too amazing for people not to know about.”
T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats of the Chicago Whales, the original Northsiders, are some of George’s biggest sellers. But they’re not close to one of the most interesting teams People’s Garment Co. offers.
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Each shirt comes with a story. In addition to being a retailer, George is also a semi-professional sports anthropologist. “It’s really about telling the stories about the teams,” he says. The page for every piece of clothing includes the tale of the team, along with newspaper and magazine clippings on each item’s page. Think of the site as a more visually appealing Wikipedia entry. Reading them may make you a fan of the Chicago Hornets.
“It was crazy that there was a Chicago Hornets football team and they had such a cool look,” George notes. “They played in Soldier Field when the Bears weren’t. I think they deserve to be remembered and people weren’t really making anything for them, so I had to pick up that torch.”
Some of the more interesting tales involve questionable team names. “One of my favorites is the Chicago Atomics,” George says. “They were named after the first nuclear reactor that was created at the University of Chicago. I love that they were just terrible. I found maybe three news stories where they were called the Chicago Atomics. But they went into the Boston Garden and beat the Celtics, then went into Madison Square Garden and beat the Knicks. And they were just terrible after that and got renamed as the Stags. The team kind of figured out that ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn’t be named after the atomic bomb.’”
Even if you’re not a fan of old-timey baseball or old-timey football, how about old-timey gambling? One of George’s newest shirts is Radio Club Chicago. Like other People’s Garment Co. customers, I had to Google “Radio Club Chicago” for more info. I didn’t learn much. “It was a bar,” George tells me. “They did a lot of illegal gambling there. Chicago was big in the sports gambling scene back in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. I probably have hundreds of stories like that.”
People’s goes beyond Chicago. One of the most interesting offerings is Emery’s Boys, a shirt commemorating the Marquette Prison Pirates. Prison Pirates is not a cute name: The team was made up of prisoners. And they played against one of the best professional hockey teams of all time. “They were the opponent against the Detroit Red Wings in the first outdoor game an NHL team ever played [in 1954],” George says. “And they played it at a maximum security prison in Marquette, Michigan.” Ten weeks after that game, that Red Wings squad won the Stanley Cup.
For the potential customer who isn’t a fan of gambling or prison, there are some cute offerings for the smallest sports fans. According to George, two of their biggest sellers are the Made in Chicago onesie and the Chicago Rockets football team kids shirt. “People like to put their kids in that kind of angry little rocket,” he says.
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