Did you know: A string vest by any other name...

The Marcel is an iconic piece of French clothing with a name which is far more evocative than the English term, string vest or singlet. 

21 June 2017
By Jane Hanks

It was named after a clothes manufacturer, Marcel Eisenberg who started to produce them after he had seen them used by warehouse workers in Paris in the mid-19th century.

At that time, in the 1860s thousands of men were employed to move heavy sacks of goods in the newly built Les Halles de Paris which was a huge glass and iron building which served as Paris’ central fresh food market.

They wore heavy woollen jumpers which kept out the cold but restricted their arm movements. The story goes that one day a worker arrived at the market wearing a jumper with no sleeves; he’d cut them off himself to make his life easier. The idea soon caught on. Some 400km away Marcel Eisenberg ran a hosiery business in the textile town of Roanne, in the Loire and on hearing of the popularity of this new garment, he decided to go into production.

The Marcel was first worn by workmen and farmers during the summer but also in winter under their shirts. During the First World War it became one of the regular provisions supplied to the poilus sent to the front to help fight off the cold.

In 1933, the string vest was launched, with its design inspired by fishing nets.  After the Second World War, its use changed as employees were given holidays and it was worn on the beach. It soon became more of a fashion item and its notoriety went through the roof in the 1950s when it was worn by sex symbols such as Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and Yves Montand in The Wages of Fear.

In the 1980s, the word Marcel entered the French dictionary and it is now a regular item of clothing for both men and women alike.

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