Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Three Little Words


French Boot Shop. Oh my, those three little words conjure up a host of memories. The French Boot Shop was a twice-yearly mail order catalog from a store in New Rochelle, New York. It might have been Paris for all I knew back in Cleveland, Ohio.


Early 1960s catalogues

The catalogue was really a mini-mag of all the trends my fashion-obsessed young self coveted, with photographs of the clothes on my favorite models from the pages of "Glamour" and adorable drawings of other apparel. There were, as well, illustrations of shoes, specifically Capezios— another word that sends shudders up my spine. The copy was smart and pun-ny. The locales were often exotic— Italy! Bermuda!— and a fatherly figure always made a mystery appearance, Alfred Hitchcock like.*
* turns out Mystery Man was Murray Gerstein, the owner of FBS and mastermind behind the catalogues and the shop's popularity.



I read each issue from cover to cover and back again, picking out what I would order if A) I were actually old enough and B) had any money to spend. The offerings were not super high-styled or exorbitantly expensive, but I was twelve with an allowance of a dollar a week. The catalogues must have landed in our mailbox thanks to my older sister, but I kept them coming after she got married the next year.

The founding footwear
Polkadotta, Capezio's mascot

In my mind Capezios and the clothes went hand-in-hand, but in real life the two were not connected. Capezios have been around since 1877 as the footwear of choice for generations of dancers— ballet, jazz, tap, etc. They also produce multiple lines of dancewear from tunics to tutus. I have Capezio leotards from 1970 that I still wear as bathing suits today. Somewhere along the way (1950s?)  they started producing delightful street shoes— mostly flats and kitten heels. I'm deducing this ties into the popularity, thanks to Claire McCardell, of ballet-style flats as footwear during WWII.

Capezio shoes were softly structured and often made of kid. They were delicately shaped and only minimally embellished with a small strap or bow or two. There were sometimes floral-printed flats (called "skimmers"), which had to be the most impractical purchase ever. Capezios are still in business but directed towards serving the dance community.
Box top of champions

Shortly after moving to New York City I convinced a date to drive up to New Rochelle one weekend. There it was, a little non-descript store on a fairly deserted Main Street. Talk about uncovering the Wizard! Dorothy could not have been more disappointed than I. We didn't even get out of the car.
FBS in its New Rochelle heyday

The French Boot Shop and its catalogue remained in business through the 1970s. I am foggy about its demise and hope a reader may be so kind as to fill me in. It was one of those things you take for granted which are suddenly not there anymore. For the same reason that I had no idea how much I would miss them, I saved not one catalogue and have depended on the kindness of strangers for these images.
Covet was thy middle name

Lest you think I never got old enough or had two nickels to rub together, I did order something from The French Boot Shop: my wedding shoes in 1968. They were white satin "Louis heels" with a square vamp and toe— much like today's trendy "tuxedo slipper". They also had white cord appliqued in a fanciful manner, much like this season's embellished Czarina look. That's me— always a step or two ahead of my time!

46 comments:

  1. Thank you! A favorite shop of mine and I have been trying so hard to remember their name!!! So iconic of the era for me.

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  2. According to shoe historian Jonathan Walford, Claire McCardell first showed Capezio slippers with her clothes in 1941. This led to them producing streetwear. Seem s like I've read where they eventually even produced matching shoes for her.

    I've been looking for a pair of late 40s vintage Capezios for the longest time...

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  3. Good luck! I've been looking for a Claire McCardell anything that doesn't cost a fortune for ages...

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  4. I became a fan of F.B.S. in the '70s and used every cent of my meager part-time earnings while in school to purchase fabulous clothes and shoes from the catalog. My favorite all-time purchase was a pair of high, flatform, cork-soled sandals, with just a wide strip of buffalo leather or similar across the in-step. I towered to about 5'10" in those, and I literally wore them out. Thanks for the memories ...

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  5. OMG....my absolute favorite thing in the whole world at 17 was capezios!!! we had a store in downtown st paul MN that sold them and we would save half and have our moms pay the other half and be able to get a pair or two for school. I remember first having just the very plain almost flat ballet flat, in black kid, and just being on cloud nine wearing them. then i got a pair of t strap with the double straps and the three little cutouts on the front...they were flats, and i also got a pair of tie, square toe, square back totally flat black kid mini boot. even had a pair of beige suede loafer style flats that i never saw on anyone but me. sometimes my friends and i would buy different pairs so we could trade off if we had the same size. never have I seen such an obsession. Of course i got the catalogues and still have two of them. wished i had kept my old shoes, i just might make a shrine to them...hahahaha.

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  6. Great memories! Just curious— what years are your catalogues from?

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  7. Brenda from BrooklynJune 12, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    I just came across your blog as I had suddenly thought about Capezio shoes. I was amazed that someone else felt as I did back in the day when I used to receive the FBS catalog in the mail. I had subscribed to it from a little ad in the back of a magazine - anything with the word "French" in it would draw me in at the time. Being a teenager, it all sounded so romantic. I used to dream about what I would order from it and I finally convinced my Mom to let me order a pair of shoes. They were called "Pussyfooters", a combination of a slipper and a shoe - with no sole. I received the package from a delivery man and could hardly breathe. They were just as they looked in the catalog, but I had tiny feet and ordered the smallest size (6) even though I knew they would be too big. I wore them around the house and loved them. Your article brought back a memory of what it meant to dream about wanting something and really getting excited about possibly getting it. Capezio shoes were unique then and very fashion-forward so it was a treat to be able to see all the styles in the catalog. I am still a crazy shoe-lover, but the "thrill" is gone. The internet has taken away the excitement of receiving any catalogs. Thanks for sharing the memory.

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  8. Happy to have fueled the flames of memory for you!

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  9. My mom got the FBS catalog and when I was young I truly loved looking through it. I felt the same, that it was almost like a mini Glamour magazine. I had no idea the shop was such an unassuming one in New Rochelle! This is interesting. I wish I had kept some of those inspiring catalogs.

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  10. I dressed out of this shop simply by ordering things via mail. I was truly a fashion statement to be reckoned with back in the mid-through late sixtiesI loved there catalogs, and was pleased with everything that I purchased. Why did this place close? it was truly a boutique by mail.

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  11. I have been trying to find evidence of this for years! So nostalgic for when it would arrive to my small town and we would chuckle at the knee-high boots. The illustrations looked like Andy Warhol drawings...

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  12. I use to live for my copies of the FBS catalog...I bought many things from those magic pages & felt like "royalty" when the box would arrive..That was back in the day when one got excited over new things, when it all wasn't available at the click of an icon....that little catalog must have meant a lot to many of us "fashion forward" women..It's a name I've never been able to forget & was amazed when I googled it, just to see what would happen, & wow....a lot of us miss it...Little did the man know, what an impact he was having on our fashion savvy minds!!!....Hey, if they were to publish again, I'd jump on the chance to order from it...the old fashioned way!!! Capezios were a mainstay to many of us back then, but does anyone remember the great "pointed toe" flats by Adores...absolutely da bomb!!! we were so hot!!!

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  13. You have some great memories! I "ordered" hundreds of things in my mind. I'm happy you thought to Google!

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  14. Hi Michelle, so funny how I came across your page. I used to work at FBS in the 1980"s, at that time they moved to another location in NR. They had a big warehouse and of course the store. My sister also worked with them, she was there until they closed, I think this may have been in the late 1980's or early 1990's. We used to go into the city when they were choosing clothing for the new catalog we assisted the models with the cloths. I loved the cloths, Betsy Johnson & Norma Kamali were my favs. I would love to see some of those old catalogs. Lots of good memories :)

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  15. I lived in New Rochelle and had been to the store. But I ordered from the catalogue and did not really relate one to the other. I spent all my baby sitting money on clothes from that catalogue-this was the early 1970s.

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  16. My sister and I used to get the catalogue back in the 50's. I ordered a pair of white slacks, but we would buy our capezio flats from Halle's shoe department in Cleveland. We could try them on for fit, and many times they were on sale! I, too wish that I had kept the catalogues, but more so, I wish that I had kept the shoes! They were well made, and even though they were soft and unstructured, they lasted well. We loved them! The closest that I have come to a pair of their iconic skimmers is a pair of Steve Madden black flats with pointy toes that I have really worn to a frazzle. I wish they would just make their skimmers again! Or open an online FBS! I like one click ordering and fast shipping....just don't have to wish and wait....................

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    1. Ohmigosh! I grew up in Cleveland too. Graduated from Shaker Heights High in 1960. I actually worked at Halle's in college. So many Cleveland shopping memories. You might enjoy this:
      allwaysinfashion.blogspot.com/2011/11/shopping-trip-down-memory-lane.html

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  17. What a kick to find others who remember this catalogue - I still have an amazing blouse that I have stashed in the back of a closet --- one of my very fave memories. Hope you all are having fun remembering too!

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  18. I,too,was deeply smitten with the French Boot Shop.My catalogues began in
    '63 and ended in 1977.I have them all. I can revisit the pages circa college
    years and still feel the acute yearning and awe every page ellicited.The prices
    were a bit beyond my spending level, so any decision to buy was painstakingly
    considered.
    Iris Bianchi was a favorite model, but they were all outstanding.As for the
    mysterious man, I finally figured he had to be the head honcho.
    I still have the clothes and accessories I ordered 50 years ago.Favorite
    tattersal shirt with self ascot my most revered relic. It is literally tattered now
    but I am close to finishing an exact copy of it in similar tattersal, thus bring-
    ing an old friend back to life(the label in the original:John Weitz)
    All this steered me to Google and your great blog where I loved all shared
    remembrances.

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    1. Wow— you have your FBS Catalogs! Why wasn't I smart enough to keep mine? You don't by any chance live near Houston, do you? What I wouldn't give to peruse them again... Maybe we can work out some sort of a photo copy arrangement??? Please let me know if you are interested...

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    2. If you have all of them I am particularly interested in 1964. On page 41 shoe #9. Can you tell me what the style number for it is?

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    3. If you have all of them I am particularly interested in 1964. On page 41 shoe #9. Can you tell me what the style number for it is?

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    4. Pam, I don't have any catalogs. Hopefully one of the posters to this blog who has the one you are looking for will respond. Good luck!

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    5. If anyone is interested. A bunch of FBS catalogs were just listed on Ebay. I bought a 1970 but wish I could find a 1968.

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    6. I didn't know they even had a "summer house" catalog— how interesting! My favorites would be the very early '60s, but I'm encouraged to see they are out there. Thanks for posting.

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  19. Hi Michelle Oh so many wonderful memories! I enjoyed all of the same experiences of getting the catalogue and choosing my next pair of Capezios. Fortunately I have a dozen catalogues, many pairs of shoes in their original boxes but best of all I have two Polkadottas and a couple of the stamps one had to save to get a Polkadotta. I have one sitting in my shoe closet and it makes me smile every day -it has so for 50 years. Funny what we hold dear. I now am taking a shoe making class and have copied several pairs of my old shoes - of course getting many comments on them as there have never been shoes made with such a light touch as Capezios -very difficult to copy. I also make many of my clothes and still flip through the pages of my catalogues to get ideas and look at the lovely details. Thanks to every one who shared their memories - it is so fun to read.

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  20. What years are your catalogues? Lucky you for saving them! And you have a Polkadotta??? And you are making shoes??? Tell me more!

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  21. Hi Michelle - I just had a look at my catalogues and discovered I have 20 from 1961-71 I think there are one or two missing -why???? I have made three pair of Capezio copies - a pair of black 'Castle Walks' and two pairs of a what we called 'barefoot sandals' with two straps across the instep and three cut outs on toe -one in orange and one pair in light pink. My husband also reminded me that I hooked a rug with a large Polkadotta on it when I was a teenager. Is this all a bit cringe-worthy? but then I admire passion and obviously I had one. The rug sits next to my bed to this day. Please don't think I am a nut case as I run a business and lead a very normal life - I just have never lost my love of the fashion of the 60's and the thrill of receiving that catalogue. Oh and one other thing came to mind. I had a pair of Capezios that had a button closure across the instep and had a hard time buttoning it. My grandmother said she could help and pulled out a buttonhook from her treasures. That started a lifelong collection of buttonhooks and I still use one for my shoes that button. These are such fun memeories -thank you!

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    1. Can you please help me? Several of us 60's girls are trying to work with Capezio on making us our favorite shoes of all time. One of us needs a number out of the 1964 Catalog. Do you have it? Please don't let it be the missing ones. Anyway, it would be on page 41 the #9 shoe. We think it says 21192 but the copy on Ebay wasn't very good and the larger we blew it up the worse the quality got. Can you help?

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    2. Can you please help me? Several of us 60's girls are trying to work with Capezio on making us our favorite shoes of all time. One of us needs a number out of the 1964 Catalog. Do you have it? Please don't let it be the missing ones. Anyway, it would be on page 41 the #9 shoe. We think it says 21192 but the copy on Ebay wasn't very good and the larger we blew it up the worse the quality got. Can you help?

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    3. Hi Pam - just saw your reply and yes I have a 1964 catalogue with a #9 - a square toed flat with a buckle. I think I actually have a pair of those - did have for sure. I would be happy to get a picture to you. The # is 23392. How will I contact you???? What are some of the other styles the girls loved. Thanks Jill

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    4. Wow! I've been trying to figure out how I can get some new shoes/Capezios, too! Can someone have Pam Heidinger contact me? Lettyunleashed@gmail.com
      Fabulous idea and anything I can do to make this happen, count me in!

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  22. I just had a look at your facebook page and saw you article about the koala mittens. I now live in Tasmania [ having hauled all of my shoes and FBS catalogues here with me from Pacific Palisades CA]. I am hoping to get to Houston to attend the Quilt convention as the business I run is a patchwork shop. I think the dear koalas have lots of mittens as every patchwork group made lots as they did quilts for the fire victims a couple of years ago. Isn't that lovely!

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    1. Jill— I don't think you are a nut case; you sound fascinating. Tasmania! Yes, by the time I looked into where to send the mittens I got a polite response that they weren't really needed. So the lovely tea towels I bought to use are now guest towels in the bathroom.

      You must make it to Houston for the Quilt Show! It's quite wonderful. I try to go every year, although I've been making my first quilt since 1975. It'll never get done; that's not the point. WHEN you come we must get together, so please keep that in mind. You won't even have to bring all your FBS catalogues (unless you really want to of course). : > )

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  23. I am so glad to have found this--I grew up in a very small town in Washington State and would eagerly await the arrival of this catalogue in the 60s. I remember my mom and I chuckling over the illustration of knee high boots! Thanks for posting this.

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  24. Some memory made me search for "FBS French Boot Shop" and there you were! I loved the catalogs and purchased a few items back in my 20's. I still have a little deerskin and feather halter top that I just cannot discard. I have a photo of me wearing it years later alongside my HD Sportster overlooking Lake Elsinore in CA. I also still have a little ceramic items called a Paris Match Striker with the name "Apollinaris" on it. Thanks for the beautiful memories!

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    1. It's amazing the level of devotion and outpouring of memories this post brought! There is an FBS Facebook page as well that you might enjoy.

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  25. In high school F.B.S. was my bible and main source of clothing, shoes and accessories. I remember one summer saving up and buying a pair of black leather over-the-knee boots. Wow! They had great things. I lived for the day the catalogue arrived.

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  26. Love your blog! In 1968 I saw an ad in the back of a magazine for the FBS. I ordered the catalog and ordered a winter white wide wale corduroy dress that had gold buttons and maybe small gold chains attached to the buttons. It had short sleeves and I loved that dress. Wish I could find a picture. I was a college student in Virginia and no one else had a dress like it.

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    1. Thank you for the nice words. It's amazing how FBS has resonated with so many. My memories go back to the '50s! The catalogs were eagerly awaited and dreamed over for months. Wish I still had them.

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  27. Love your blog. R & G Bootery in Fargo, ND carried Capezio shoes... saved my babysitting money to buy shoes!! At the shoe store you could set up a "teen" account, I'm sure a parent had to sign for this also (just like a charge account with no interest) take your shoes home with just a $1.00 down payment (not a layaway account). By the time I was a senior in high school I had a closet full of Capezio shoes, love the memories.

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    1. What a great memory! Hopefully you paid them all off. Thanks for reading.

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  28. OMG! I just read this blogpost, almost 5 years after you wrote it, and I could have written those words myself! What memories they conjured; getting the catalogs and pouring over them and my Seventeen magazines, designing clothes that I would make especially to go with the beautiful Capezios I wanted to order. I loved FBS from afar - California - and I was lucky enough to have a few pair of Capezios. I truly wish I still had them! Thank you for the memories!

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    1. Right there with you, and we are not alone!

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  29. I was just looking at my collection of old catalogs. I have one from FBS from 1982. I've only seen this one copy of their catalogs ever, and I kept it because the clothes were so fun and the models were posed so well. I wondered what became of that company, so I logged into the computer and found all these comments. I did not know what FBS was short for, but I knew the catalog was something special.

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    1. Were you surprised how many FBS devotees there are and how far back that goes?

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