Category Archives: Curiosities

Items from Our Catalog, 1982 and 1983

I thought I’d found a vintage LL Bean catalog at the Goodwill last week, but a closer look revealed something a bit strange.  A hound wearing a bra?  Now that’s one product I’m pretty sure I’d never seen at LL Bean.

And I was right.  This is not a catalog at all, but rather, is a parody of the famous Bean book.  The early 1980s were good years for LL Bean.  The Official Preppy Handbook  by Lisa Birnbach had been published in 1980, and suddenly everyone, even those who could not even name an elite prep school, was wearing chinos and duck shoes.  It must have been a very happy surprise for LL Bean, as they had been selling those products for years.

Items from Our Catalog, and its sequel, More Items from Our Catalog had a lot of fun making light of LL Bean.  I guess not everyone was sold on the idea of actually appropriating prep style.  Perhaps it was more fun to make fun of it.  So sit back and enjoy how Alfred Gingold reimagined the world of the preppy.

The first photo in each set is from my 1977 LL Bean catalog, and the second one is from Items from Our Catalog.

Bean’s Links-Knit Cardigan became…

the Como (as in Perry, I assume) Sweater.  Note the range of sizes.

The Bush Coat was a big seller among the LL Bean big game hunters.

The Our Catalog Bush Jackets were infinitely more creative.

Everyone need a drawer full of LL Bean turtlenecks in five different colors.

But how much more fun were the Invisible Print Turtlenecks of Our Catalog?  “An extraordinarily tasteful item that can not possibly offend anyone.”

Ragg Sweaters were an early 1980s wardrobe staple…

and no one did it better than Our Catalog.

Bean’s GumShoe was the “Three eyelet version of our famous Maine Hunting Shoe – for canoeing, yard work and campus or after ski wear.”

Our Catalog warned that their Gum Shoe was “…not recommended for rapid travel, dancing or carpets.”

The Boating Moc was another LL Bean and preppy standard.

The Our Catalog version was a bit pricier, but much more useful on the water.

LL Bean Madras Slacks were guaranteed to bleed, as all good madras does.

The Our Catalog Jackass Slacks came in “Three offensive Madras patterns” and were nonbleeding.

LL Bean was selling the fanny pack years before it hit mainstream fashion.

Our Catalog saw that there was another use of the pack.

Of course I focused on the clothing offerings from LL Bean and Items from Our Catalog, but there were plenty of great products for the outdoor lifestyle.  A favorite was the Field Litter Pan, a must-have for the camping cat.

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1960s Buffy For Cinderella Dress

I usually do not buy children’s clothing, but I had to pick up this late 1960s  little dress to share here.

For those of you not around in the 1960s, Buffy was a character on the American sit-com, Family Affair.  It was the story of how three adorable orphans went to live with their urbane uncle and his valet in a luxurious New York apartment.  Buffy was a fan favorite, with her Mrs. Beasley doll and cute pigtails.

I remember the Mrs. Beasley doll being licensed and manufactured by Mattel, but I had no idea that Cinderella was making Buffy dresses.  When the show debuted in 1966 I was eleven years old, and so identified more with the older sister, Cissy.  Her wardrobe was what I’d have gone for.

Buffy was played by Anissa Jones, who unfortunately died from a drug overdose at eighteen.  It was a sad ending to the story of a little girl who had captured the hearts of so many.

Even little girls gave up feminine frills in the 1960s in order to be Mod.  This dress is made from the popular acrylic knit and featured a dropped waist accentuated with a bright red tie.  It was completely on fashion, and very different from the frilly types of dress I remember being produced by Cinderella.

I don’t plan to keep this dress, so if any of you are in need of a tiny little mod dress for daughter or doll, let me know, and I’ll send it on to you.

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Lombardy Frocks Sign

I know that looking up while visiting a big city labels one as a country bumpkin, but when looking for traces of the past, it pays to risk one’s sophisticated image.  The Lombardy Frocks building was located in the heart of New York City’s Garment District, on West 37th Street.  Lombardy was the maker of both Suzy Perette and Gigi Young dresses.  The sign is a reminder of the important activity that was taking place all over this area of Manhattan.

The garment-making industry in New York goes back to the 19th century, but the Garment District as we know it today was built primarily in the first three decades of the 20th century.  The area had been a poor residential area, but in the early years of the 20th century garment makers  began buying up the old apartments, tearing them down, and replacing them with high-rise factory buildings.

The building that came to house Lombardy Frocks in 1949 was originally the Noxall Waist & Dress Company.  You can see what is left of that sign below the Lombardy Dresses one.

It’s a bit hard to imagine this building housing workers at cutting tables and sewing machines, but the large windows that let in the natural light must have seemed very modern to workers, many of whom had worked in sweatshop conditions in older buildings downtown.

Lombardy Dresses and Suzy Perette were owned by the  Blauner family.  The “Perette Silhoutte” was based on the New Look of Christian Dior.  The Blauners would travel to Paris to buy the right to reproduce Dior models each season.

The Suzy Perette matchbook was a lucky find from my friend Tiffany of Pinkyagogo Vintage.  You can see the same logo that is on the sign, and if you look carefully and squint a bit, you can see the words the “perette” silhouette under the dress on the sign.

“the perette silhouette”… The shape that’s sweeping the country…Created with a revolutionary new method of construction, employing intricate gores and clever detailing which moulds your body into a flattering long torso line with a billowing skirt below.

And here is an example of a Suzy Perette dress, on the cover of the December, 1953 issue of Glamour magazine.

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Skulduggery!

Having just run the gauntlet of fake designer goods that is Canal Street in New York City, I was struck at how the skull motif on scarves has really held on as a fashion item.  Since it was over ten years ago that Alexander McQueen released his wildly popular skull scarves, I just sort of thought that whole thing was over.

Not only can you still get your skull fix in Chinatown, you can also still buy them in McQueen boutiques.  The ones above were at Saks Fifth Avenue, and were priced at $295.  They were made of silk and were, motif aside, quite nice.

The fakes (top photo) were made of a rayon-type fabric and were priced at under $20.  It occurred to me that the potential buyer of the $20 scarf might not even realize that the item is a rip-off of the McQueen scarf.  The buyer might want the cheap scarf merely because he or she thinks skulls are “cool.”

How did a symbol that was once reserved for gravestones and poison bottles become so commonplace that it now decorates everything from expensive designer clothing to inexpensive trinkets at the dollar store?  How did a motif that was once so edgy that only goth kids would wear it become as common as the bird or flower?

I don’t have the answers, but the longevity of the skull motif puzzles me.  I don’t understand how something can remain cool after the over-exposure the skull has received.  It isn’t scary any longer, and it certainly isn’t edgy.

I know I’m always going on about fakes and the theft of design, but this really does not bother me.  It’s not like McQueen invented the skull motif, no more than he was the first to put it on clothes.  I’m guessing that honor went to a maker of punk rock tee shirts.

I’ll leave you with one last skull image.  This sneaker collage is on the wall of a Converse sneaker store in New York.  The former ultimate symbol of death is now a marketing tool.  Welcome to the 21st century.

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R.H. Macy’s, Herald Square, New York City

Most Americans are well acquainted with Macy’s not only because of the annually televised Thanksgiving Day Parade, but also because there are now Macy’s stores located all over the country.  The mother store is located on almost a full city block in New York, between 34th and 35th Streets, and Broadway and Seventh Avenue.  Simply put, the store is huge.  It has also been added to and updated since it was built in 1902, but it is possible to see a lot of history in the building even today.

The store’s founder, R.H. Macy, was not initially successful in his retail ventures, but in 1858 he finally hit prosperity with his newest idea, R.H. Macy & Co.  Basically, he opened a dry goods store at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue, a store that was, at the time a bit too far uptown to be in the thick of the retail scene.  At that time, most of the city was still contained to the area that today is lower Manhattan.  As the city grew, it had to spread north, or uptown, because it is on an island.

Even though he was not in the center of things, Macy made it work.  The store was so successful that Macy kept buying the surrounding buildings in order to expand.  R.H. Macy died in 1877, and the business passed on to his partners, a nephew and cousin.  The business was eventually bought (1896) by brothers Isidor and Nathan Straus, who were already selling china in the store.  In 1902 the Straus family moved the store uptown again, this time to 34th Street and Broadway.  Over time the company came to inhabit most of the block, all the way to Seventh Avenue.

As the company began to purchase the property, the owner of a small building at the corner of 34th and Broadway refused to sell.  It is thought that he was acting on behalf of another store, Siegal-Cooper, which was believed to be the largest store in the world and who did not want Macy’s to be even larger.  Macy’s decided to just build around the older store, and it remains that way today.  As you can see in the photo above, Macy’s now leases the upper stories for their shopping bag sign.

And while we are looking at the sign, note the big star.  It is widely thought that R.H. Macy had acquired a red star tattoo while working on a ship in his younger days.  The star remains as the store’s logo.

Much of the ground floor of the original building has been changed, but the entrance at 34th Street has been restored to pretty much the way it was built.  The windows and revolving door are newer, but stepping through the front into the foyer is like stepping back in time, with lovely marble steps and walls that lead the customer into the store.

In the foyer is this bronze tribute to Isidor and Ida Straus, who both died on April 15, 1912.  They were sailing on the Titanic.  As an elderly man, Isidor was granted a spot in a lifeboat with Ida and her maid, but he refused the spot because other women and children were waiting for a seat, and Ida refused to go on without her husband.  The maid survived and the story of Isidor and Ida became a popular one after news of the sinking spread.

One last interesting thing about the Macy’s store is that some of the original wooden escalators are still operational.  On most of the floors the original wooden escalator steps have been replaced with metal, but the upper floors still have the original wood.  According to a 2012 article in The New York Times, there are 42 wooden escalators remaining in the store.

This is the first of my posts from my trip to New York City, and I just hope you all do not get sick of hearing about it before I get it all completed!

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We Bring New York to You

For years Paris was the undisputed center of fashion, but during the two world wars, New York clothing makers capitalized on the absence of European imports. After WWII ended, New York was regarded as the center of American fashion and a leader in fashion worldwide.

I recently found this little brochure from Modern Manner Clothes, located on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  I haven’t found out anything about the company (it does not help that the company’s name contains words that show up in all kinds of searches.), but it appears that it was a sales venture that was similar to Avon.  There is a place on the folder for the name of the representative, and the sales pitch mentions shopping at home.

It’s the easiest way in the world to shop – right in your home at your leisure, at your convenience – direct from Fifth Ave., New York, to you.

No shopping hurry – no parking worry, but in the privacy of your home when you are all rested and at ease, you make your selection of New York’s beautiful styles.

There’s no date on the folder, but it is late 1940s.  The styles are similar to what was offered in catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Ward. Prices range from $4.98 to $16.98, which would be $52.78 to $180.26 in today’s dollar, based on inflation from 1947.  So, the dresses were not cheap, but neither were they expensive.

Click to enlarge

 

Somehow, though, I feel like Modern Manner Clothes was missing the point.  Even though claiming a New York or a Paris connection was a huge selling point, there really is no substitute for the experience of shopping in New York.  And it really is about the experience, rather than the purchases one makes.  I’ve strolled Fifth Avenue, stopped in at Saks, Bergdorf’s, and Tiffany’s, and never spent a dime.  It was more about seeing than buying.

A recent study at Cornell University indicates that humans get more pleasure from spending their money on experiences than they do from spending it on material objects.  If that is the case, and I do agree with the findings, then one would be better off spending an hour or two window shopping and then experiencing high tea or drinks at a fancy hotel.  Skip the latest “It Bag” and take in a couple of plays or musical events.  Forego the souvenirs and instead go to the top of the Empire State Building at dusk.  Make some memories.

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Does Lilly Pulitzer for Target Signal the End of the World?

Last week internet users were treated to the news that the next Target design collaboration is to be with Lilly Pulitzer.  I found the news to be a bit confusing.  As far as “designer” lines are concerned, Lilly Pulitzer is on the low end.  Their $198 shift dress seems expensive, but not so much so that a girl who really wants one can’t save up her dollars for a little pink and green splurge.

When the news broke, Mod Betty was quick to email, which led to a discussion about what wearing a brand like Lilly Pulitzer says about the wearer.  Funny, because we both admitted that we just could not bring ourselves to wear the various thrift store “Lillies” we had sourced over the years.

I’m not a big wearer of prints, so it’s not surprising that I’ve never been able to warm to the brand.  But Mod Betty loves a great print shift dress, yet she too can’t seem to love the line.  She brought up an interesting point – that wearing a brand like Lilly Pulitzer says certain things about the wearer.  There seems to be a certain code among wearers that says, “I’m rich enough to blow $200 on a shift dress.”

And it’s a code that is lost on those not in on the secret.  Someone could wear a Lilly Pulitzer shift down the street of my town and the dress might be noticed due to the bright print, but most people would be shocked to learn that the woman wearing it had spent $200 for it.

But in other places, like Charleston, SC, many preppy-leaning college towns, and certain places in Florida, the message would be transmitted loud and clear.  Most importantly, the others in on the secret would know the dress cost $200.  How long do you think it will take that tribe to detect a $50 Target Lilly?

My back and forth correspondence with Mod Betty had not ended before an interesting link came through to me by way of Twitter.  Seems like the Lilly Pulitzer fans had swiftly gone to Twitter to express their displeasure at the collaboration.  Refinery29 gathered the best of the worst and served it all up as “39 Girls Who Are Mad as Hell about Lilly Pulitzer for Target.”

It may distress you to know that Jackie (Kennedy) and Lilly herself are now rolling in their graves due to this horrendous event.  Even worse, there are predictions of the apocalypse and people’s retirement accounts being ruined.

But seriously, I was disturbed at so many of the posters referring to “basics.”  You might assume without reading the tweets that they were taking about basic wardrobe items, but it is alarming to realize that is how these women were referring to people who were not rich and “classy” enough to wear Lilly Pulitzer.  There was a real element of classism in most of the tweets.

I’m not happy about this Lilly for Target crap. Now everybody and their mother will own it and think they’re now preppy and classy.

Most ironically put, I’d say.

Actually this does not surprise me.  Several years ago while researching the resurgence of interest in “heritage” brands, I ran across several preppy style blogs.  I learned quickly that the truly preppy are different from you and me, and they want to keep it that way.  They can sniff out a faux prep at twenty paces, and they make sure the blogosphere knows it.  It would be silly if not for their sincerity.

The only non-vintage Lilly Pulitzer I have in my possession is this dress I bought for my grand-niece who lives in Florida and can hopefully wear it without getting side-eye from the other little girls.  This dress is several years old, but the level of quality is quite impressive.  The dress is made from nice poplin fabric and is fully lined in cotton.  There is signature Lilly lace hem tape.  Look carefully at the print to see “Lilly” hidden throughout.  I doubt very seriously that the Lilly for Target dresses will have the same attention to detail and finishing.

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