Friday, March 1, 2013

The New York Hat

"The New York Hat" is a 1912 silent feature directed by D.W. Griffith for Biograph Pictures from a screenplay by Anita Loos (she of "men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses"). Mary Pickford plays a poor small town girl who receives a gift of a fancy hat from New York City that causes a lot of trouble— for her and the hat. All ends well for Mary, but the hat is is a goner.

New York City has always been a fashion mecca. Remember, it was sold for beads. To say you bought it in New York...well! That gave it depth, provenance, justification and style. I've also discovered there were such things as The New York Store in nine small towns here in Texas, but that's history for another time.

When I was eight, my parents drove my sister and me to New York City. We stayed at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel (gone), ate at Rumpelmayer's (gone), saw a stage show at Radio City Music Hall with a movie (do they still do that?) and shopped at Lord & Taylor and F.A.O. Schwarz (both still around).

My mother and 17-year-old sister perused Lord & Taylor while my father sat there looking worried and counting his money. They both bought coats which were worn with great fanfare back in Cleveland as they were New York Coats.

My F.A.O. Schwarz shopping trip probably set the tone for a lifetime of Appreciating Luxury Goods. I had managed to pull together $5.00 from my allowance and birthday money for the trip. I purchased— drum roll please— one doll dress, for $4.98. It was a pale pink ruffled thing that was displayed protected under glass, so rarefied and pedigreed was it. The whole shopping expedition took less than five minutes. I have no idea why I didn't fill up my suitcase with dresses from Woolworth's for all my dolls ($5 in 1950 money = $48 today). For one thing we also had Woolworth's in Cleveland. This was (at the time) the one-and-only F.A.O. Schwarz. And Tina, the recipient, was— after all— my favorite doll.
Tina was definitely not Barbie

What was it that propelled me to give myself a thrill I still remember (and don't regret)? It was— drumroll again— the delicious excitement of walking into a store you might only dream about with money in your pocket you were ready to spend without thinking twice.

I rarely do that today and never in such a big way. Sometimes I'll buy the face cream I might get at Macy's from Saks instead just to tote around a Saks bag. Or I'll eat lunch at Neiman Marcus, which gives me gainful reason to be there and will only cost $15. This is not the same thing or the same thrill.

Supposedly both Elvis and my Uncle Herb bought automobiles with cash. Maybe I'll try that next time.

Beware— New York can be habit forming



  1. You evoke great memories. Do you remember Lord & Taylor had a lunch bar on the 10th floor and the very limited menu was (always) some kind of delicious soup and for dessert, apple pie with your choice of hard sauce or a wedge of cheese...
    I also remember fondly B. Altman's which had the nicest sales ladies.
    I feel so grateful that I had the experience of living in New York.
    P.S. When you do buy a car for cash (only had that experience once and since it was a fairly humble car, it was no great shakes) please do write about it!

  2. What a terrific story. $4.98 for one doll's dress?! But I do totally get where you are coming from. Today it would be like strolling into Hermes with a pocketful (make that 2 pocketfuls) of cash.

    The great Southern chain of stores, Belk's, started out about 125 years ago as The New York Racket.