In the early ’70s, if you knew anything about Toronto football, you knew about Dave Raimey. Considered one of the best running backs of his time, he was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 2000. Though he played in both the US and Canada, he is best known for playing with the 1971 Toronto Argonauts, named the “greatest team that never won,” after they lost a Grey Cup game following a slip on some wet grass.
Raimey was known in his own right, frequently featured in magazine spreads and news articles, photo shoots and retail ads. This exposure had as much to do with his football playing than it did his groovy threads. Raimey’s eclectic clothing (most of which was hand sewn) made him something of a style icon in the ’70s, creating a cult of fans who followed him both on and off the field. Naturally, WORN is smitten.
How did you first get interested in sewing?
I started sewing years ago. We got hand-me-down clothes: my grandmother would go clean a house somewhere out in the wealthy part of town and bring back clothes that people would give her. I learned how to alter them to fit me.
Who taught you how to sew?
My mother died when we were eight, nine, 10, and 11. I was 10. So I became very attached to my aunts; there were four of them, but one sewed. She had a business going; she’d make hats for women. I used to watch her. Now my son, he sews. And he learned by watching me. I was a single parent, raising him by myself, and he watched me sewing. I bought him a Mustang, when we were living in Columbia, South Carolina. I reupholstered his Mustang for him, brand new seats. It was the first time I had done that, but it turned out fine, and I think that may have sold him on sewing.
So how old were you when you picked up your first needle?
Probably 13 or 14.
How did it evolve from there, from altering your own things to making clothes from scratch?
I used to make clothes, but right now I just alter things. I’ve been shopping at thrift stores for 30 years; I was shopping at thrift stores when I was playing for the Toronto Argonauts. I just always did that. I guess because of my upbringing, I love to shop at thrift stores. I have so many clothes, it’s unreal. Like nice stuff! Fabulous clothes, well-made, high-end clothing. You know, I will pay full price for stuff too.
I’m also really fond of reupholstering. I was a member of the Interior Decorating Society in Dayton, Ohio. Paid my dues! And I decorated a few houses for some folks that I knew. I just always liked that. I still re-upholster. In fact, I’m going home this weekend to get my machine. It’s real big and heavy; it’s a walking foot. I have other machines: here in town, I have three—sorry, four.
So do you ever go to a tailor?
Oh yeah, I go to tailors. I’ve got a jacket now that I’m doing. The shoulders, you’ve got to take all the padding out, and it’s such a complicated job. My real good stuff I take to the tailors! But, I’ve made vests and pants. I’ve even made hats! I made my daughter a graduation dress when she graduated from high school. It was a bold pattern, sort of form-fitting. But she wanted it, so I made it up for her, and she wore it. I was kinda proud (laughs).
What’s your favourite thing you’ve ever made?
I made a men’s jacket with pockets here and pockets there (pointing to his chest and sides), and epaulettes here. Black. I still have it, I made it a long time ago. Kept it all these years ’cause I was so proud of it. I’ll tell you a story: In elementary school in Dayton, Ohio, Grade 6, they had this class where half the year you could cook (home ec), and the other half was sewing. I couldn’t cook, but I got an A in the class. I made a corduroy shirt: orange corduroy. It had what they call a Billy Eckstein collar, a big collar. It went up and folded down. But the worst thing I did, is I made French cuffs on a corduroy shirt. It was ugly. I went home, put the shirt on, and the French cuffs were in here (points to the insides of his wrist). The teacher didn’t even notice. I ended up just making it short-sleeved.
Do you think that class influenced you at all?
Yeah, it did. It showed me how to sew the right way. Since then, I’ve been altering clothes, fixin’ things. I’ll buy a suit, take it home and put the cuffs on myself, and shorten the sleeves if I have to.
A lot of people would find it surprising that a football player was so openly into sewing in the 1970’s…
Yeah, I got kidded quite a bit about it.
Was there anything that ever bothered you?
No, never. You know they kidded me, and you can imagine what they’d say (laughs). They just did a special on our team (The Greatest Team That Never Won), and [the director] called me a fashionista. She said, “Dave, were you offended by that?” It doesn’t bother me, never did. I enjoy it because it’s creative, and it’s very relaxing. And I enjoy looking good and appreciating things that I’ve made.
I heard a rumour that you used to take your sewing machine with you when you traveled, is that true?
Do you have fabrics that you lean toward, or things you like to make?
In the last ten years, I’ve liked vests, real loud vests. Loud and bright, you know, I think that it’s sharp for men to wear a white shirt, or short-sleeve shirt, and a colourful vest. I’m looking at making one now. I think it’s great to wear with a suit. Now they’re making sports jackets with that kind of design already sewn into them, I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but they’re really big right now. But I can’t find a pattern, so I’m going to have to make my own. That’s my next project.
Do you take a lot of pride in the stuff you make?
Yeah, everything. The stuff I’ve made, the stuff I build, the things I’ve fixed. With the knowledge I have, I try to do it the best I can. It’s the only way to do things. Like football, I gave it my all. Every game, every play.
Has anyone not liked something that you’ve made?
No, not that I’ve made. But one day I was wearing an overcoat, down in Dayton, and I loved the coat; I had got it at a thrift store. And some woman told me, “What you doin’ with that old coat on?” It hurt my feelings! I kept wearing it that season, but then stopped wearing it the next season.
Has your style changed much since the ’60s?
Yeah. I’ve always liked shirts with lace on them and they used to kid me, but I’ve always liked that. I think it’s sharp. Paisley, that is one style I did not like. And I never did like bell-bottoms; I’m a short little guy with thick legs, I never looked good in bell-bottoms.
I marvel at some of these designers, some of them are just geniuses, the way they figure out clothing for men and coordinate it. I look at a lot of that today, and there are some talented folks out there.
Do you think in another life that could have been you?
Yeah, but I’m not sure I would have been as good as some of these people I’ve seen. I would have loved to have designed clothing for men. Women’s fashion, I know nothing about that.
Is fashion more personal for you, or do you pay attention to trends?
I do, every now and then, in the magazines, but I just kind of dress how I like. I’ve been watching through the years, and they’ll go with the baggy pants, and then go to tight-fitting, and then back to baggy. They have a wide lapel and they go to a narrow lapel. I’ve watched all that, and said to hell with that, I’m just gonna wear what I wear.
photography // Laura Tuttle