life of alpaca jackets


Senior Member
Dear friends
Please kindly tell me what's your interpretation for "a life of alpaca jackets" in the following context, chosen from "Power Superpower", biography of Samuel Insull, in "The Big Money" by John Dos Passos.
He came of temperance smallshopkeeper stock; already he was butting his bullethead against the harsh structure of caste that doomed boys of his class to a life of alpaca jackets, penmanship, subordination. To get a job with an American firm was to put a foot on the rung of a ladder that let up into the blue.
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Morning, K!

    I suspect you'll have to wait for an answer until our American colleagues wake up. The connotations alpaca jacket has for me (warmth, luxury) are obviously quite wrong for the context....:(


    Senior Member
    English English
    No, that's the problem (for me and Mrs.Loob, at least). I'm not entirely sure what he means by 'penmanship', but am assuming it means something like 'the lowly and tedious job of a clerk'.


    Senior Member
    US, English
    I read it to mean that his life would consist of selling alpaca jackets to rich tourists and carefully writing down income and expenses in his account book.


    Senior Member
    English (British)
    Googling for [ alpaca jacket clerk ] and similar gets quite a few results including one from "Heart of Darkness" :) describing a Belgian clerk in the Congo
    I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled, under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear.
    Alexander Godin "My Dead Brother Comes to America"
    These clerks all wore black alpaca coats with shiny buttons, and tall starched collars
    Sherwood Anderson "An Awakening"
    The bookkeeper’s life was made up of innumerable little pettinesses. When he went to the bank in the morning he stepped into a closet and put on a black alpaca coat that had become shabby with age.
    and so on... which imply that alpaca was not necessarily a luxury but, being hard-wearing, the cloth a clerk would typically wear.

    Which would make sense because I can't see a "temperance smallshopkeeper" selling luxury cloth (a recent development in alpaca anyway). Uderstanding the alpaca jacket, penmanship and subordination as the conditions of a clerk's trade works for me.
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