The Throwback Mailman
With a vintage leather bag slung over his shoulder, old buttons on his jacket, and retro patches on his sleeve (along with his heart), Jimmy Lonetti makes the postal uniform cool again.
If you’re a regular Uni Watch reader, you may recall that I recently interviewed Jimmy Lonetti, the founder of D&J Glove Repair, who at the time had moved his glove operation from his Minneapolis garage to a retail storefront. That interview included this tantalizing exchange:
Jimmy Lonetti: One reason I took the leap to opening the storefront is because I’m pretty close to retirement from my main job, which is working for the United States Postal Service as a letter carrier. We could do a whole talk on that, because I’m kind of quirky when it comes to my uniforms for the Postal Service. I’m the guy who finds the old patches on eBay, so I take the new patch off my shirt and put on the old one. Everything I have is vintage-looking.
Uni Watch: Wait — you’re saying you basically create a throwback Postal Service uniform for yourself?
I was super-curious to learn more about Lonetti’s postal proclivities, but that interview was supposed to be about his glove-repair business and I didn’t want to stray off-topic, so we stuck to gloves and saved the postal uniforms for another day. That day, I’m happy to report, is today.
I should note here that my interest in retro postal aesthetics extends beyond Lonetti. In 2018, I wrote an article for Gizmodo about mailbox design; my collection of uniform catalogs includes a 1971 Postal Service uni catalog; and I even have a section of a vintage mail chute mounted in my apartment. So it would be fair to say that I was extremely excited to talk with Lonetti about his uniforms.
Here’s the transcript of the faaaaascinating Zoom call that Lonetti and I had last week, edited for length and clarity. I think you’re really going to enjoy it!
Uni Watch: Let’s start with some basics. How long have you been a letter carrier?
Jimmy Lonetti: About 10 years.
UW: Was it something you always wanted to do? Like, did you idolize your childhood mailman, or maybe dress up as a mailman for Halloween when you were a kid?
JL: Just kind of a midlife change that fit with what I needed at the time.
UW: Did you have to work your way up to letter carrier from a lower position?
JL: I came in at a time when the whole generation of guys who joined the Post Office after the Vietnam War were retiring, so they were hiring a lot. You start as a CCA — city carrier assistant — but I only had to do that for about 14 months. Then I became a full-time carrier.
UW: Is your route mostly residential? Mostly commercial?
JL: Residential, in South Minneapolis. I have a few businesses — a record store, which is always nice to pop into every day. An auto repair place. I have a church, which has pristine bathrooms, so that’s always a plus.
UW: For a normal carrier, how does the uniform situation work? Like, is the uniform issued to you, or do you get a stipend to go purchase the uniform yourself?
JL: You get an allowance every year — they give it to you as a card, like a gift card or debit card. It’s pretty generous, close to $500 a year. But the uniforms are generally pretty expensive, because everything is union-made in the USA. You can order through an online catalog, or there’s a couple of local stores you can actually go to.
UW: Can anyone go in and buy a postal uniform?
JL: No. Even when you go online, you have to verify what your “craft” is, which is your specific job. So if you’re a mail sorter, say, you’re not allowed to shop in the mail carrier section, because those are different crafts.
UW: Do you also get any kind of allowance for cleaning your uniform? Or can you at least claim that expense as a tax deduction?
JL: Not that I’m aware of. But yeah, I go through a lot of OxiClean in the summer.
UW: How long had you been on the job before you got the idea to start wearing the vintage or throwback uniforms?
JL: Um, pretty much immediately. When you’re a CCA, you don’t have a uniform allowance. They just tell you, “Oh, go down to the union office,” because they have a bunch of old uniforms down there that they give out to the part-time employees. And you know, I wasn’t going to make that trip. I was already going to vintage stores a lot at the time, so I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna go pick up whatever random light-blue polo shirt I see, and get whatever postal patch I can find on eBay, and that’ll be my uniform.”
That’s how I started wearing the “standing eagle” patch. I like it better than the current logo. The standing eagle was introduced in 1970 — before that, they had this kind of Pony Express logo — and then in ’93 they changed from the standing eagle to the current one, the “sonic eagle.”