I recently found this catalog disguised as a magazine from William Filene’s Sons in Boston. I don’t buy a lot of basic catalogs, but this one focuses on summer sportswear, so it is a good fit within my collection.
I would think that today if the name Filene’s comes up, most people would think of the famous Filene’s Basement. Started in 1909, it was not the first bargain basement (that honor goes to Marshall Field in Chicago) but it did grow to become the most famous. It was probably the most lamented department when the store was closed in 2006 and 2007. Today there is an online Filene’s Basement, but we know that does not count.
But this catalog was not advertising wares from the basement. The dress or ensemble on the cover is not mentioned inside the catalog, but a very similar dress could be found in the women’s department on the fifth floor for $25. The inflation calculator prices that at $362 in 2019 dollars.
The catalog has twenty-two pages, and four of them are devoted to sweaters. This is 1926, so all the sweaters have a long, below the hip, slim line. Filene’s suggested layering the sweaters, much like French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen did. According to a question and answer page in the catalog, “Mlle. Lenglen this year often wears a sleeveless white dress, with three cardigans over it – the first of crepe de Chine, the second of Milanese silk, the third of light wool.”
The tennis dress on the left is made of silk, and is available in white as would be expected, but also in colors to wear off the court. I’d like one in larkspur. The dress on the right is described as being in the Vionnet style. This style is referenced elsewhere in the catalog, always when describing a square neck and a line of fagotting across the top of the bust.
This golf dress was developed with advice from actual women golfers. I can’t see that the necktie helped with the golfer’s comfort though.
There’s that Vionnet-style bodice again. Elsewhere in the catalog, sweaters are described as being Chanel-style.
But to get the real French thing, one had to go to the more exclusive French Shop, which was located on the sixth floor in 1926. There one could have a French designer gown fitted to suit the buyer.
Like so many department stores across the US, Filene’s eventually fell victim to Federated and Macy’s. To make it worse, the old Filene’s store was not converted to a Macy’s store as happened in so many other cities. Instead, the interior of Filene’s was gutted as only the exterior was protected under its historical classification. Today, much of the building is home to Irish fast fashion retailer Primark.