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!