Friday, February 12, 2016
When the Postman Brought Dreams of Fashion
When I was a kid mail-order catalogs arrived fast, furiously and unbidden. I doubt my mother ever ordered from one. We lived in a metropolitan area. She preferred to go downtown to shop, as much to get out of the house for a day as to purchase anything.
Those from Best & Company were probably because we had a charge account. But others were from Florida or California. "Surf" or "sun" fashions were very big in the '50s. "Serbin of Miami" was as exotic as "Versace of Milan".
Let me take you back to those early days when I would not even have fit into the clothes. Catalogs were my gateway to a love of fashion. Who knew I would have a career in magazines and even one day become a personal shopper at Nordstrom? That was all in the foggy future.
I poured over those catalogs, marveling at the tiny wasp waists of the models (major retouching I later learned). I knew most of the clothes were cheap imitations of the nicer things downtown and priced low even for the '50s.
I'd forgotten about them until a page from one of my favorites popped up on Google Images. This one had a name like a Hollywood starlet, "Lana Lobell". Printed on cheap glossy newsprint, it came out of Hanover, PA (not a hot bed of fashion in any era).
One source marks Lana Lobell as the brainchild of a store owner named Boris Leavitt who wanted to get into mail order. He named the catalog for his daughter. Other research (more plausible) was that Lana Lobell sprung from Seventh Avenue garment manufacturers in an attempt to have a mail order business and skip the middle man. Prominent display of Kay Windsor, Kay Junior and Jonathan Logan brand merchandise give this theory some weight.
My idea of summertime fun was hanging out on a shady screened-in porch with one friend, playing paper dolls or board games, accompanied by a pitcher of lemonade made from the frozen slush that came in a can— pink and sticky with high-fructose something. After a while I might suggest we play a game where we would look through the catalogs and choose which outfit we would buy on each page. While I thought this was great fun, I sensed my friend usually tired of it before I did. No doubt I was even a little bossy when we played, defending my choice while not exactly denigrating hers.
I still look at catalogs and magazines that way. I imagine what I would buy if I were buying, only it's a game I play with myself. Cue the screened-in porch and pink lemonade.