A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories
Monday, 30 January 2012
Get out those white gloves...Let's Get "Charmed" in Retro Boston!
Hello, My Fellow Retro Boston Lovers!
I cannot begin to tell you how often I get emails from blog readers, many of whom are women, and they speak of the long lost art of dressing up to go in town and shop. Sadly, my friends....gone are the days of white gloves and heels for a stroll through the streets of downtown Boston whilst searching for just the right hat to wear to a wedding next month.
America in the 20th century was guided in social etiquette by the late, great Emily Post and out of this etiquette movement most of our great retro Boston stores began a mission to educate young women in the art of making favorable impressions in polite society.
Charm schools, etiquette classes or fashion guidance seminars were offered by most of the once great Boston stores. Beginning gently in the 1930’s R.H. White’s offered a short course from a visiting expert in the “field of charm” and then by the 1940’s Jordan Marsh began the Marsha Jordan Fashion Board (also called “fashion council” in some years) and Chandler’s began the Junior Charm School for young ladies.
The Jordan Marsh Marsha Jordan Contest phenomenon was a huge success for pre-teen and teenage girls and carried on well into the 1970’s. It had several divisions (Connie Cut-Up, Jan Jordan and Marsha Jordan) for different age groups of girls. The contest had girls from the entire city competing to be the youth fashion spokesperson for the store for a year. A group of these girls were then chosen to serve on a fashion board for the store and have the chance to model clothing at events during the calendar year of their time on the board.
Boston’s young women could join the Marsha Jordan Club (or one of the other Jordan Marsh clubs depending on their age) and have access to fashion shows, beauty tips and a whole host of other offers aimed at bringing out the “best” in a young lady.
Soon Filene’s, Gilchrist’s and even Sears offered their own version of a charm school but the icing on the etiquette cake would have to have been in 1970 when R.H. Stearns started offering the Marjabelle Young Stewart course entitled, White Gloves and Party Manners. R.H. Stearns offered the 6-week course (nationally syndicated in selected department stores) for $20.00 and your 5-11 year old girl not only got six special lessons in all the ways of young polite society but she got a special guide book and her own pair of white gloves for wearing while trying out her new found polite party skills. Mrs. Stewart had become an etiquette guru of sorts and had given several US presidents courses in the art of social graces.
Many of the charm/ etiquette courses also had elaborate graduation ceremonies with certificates and celebration teas to follow.
These courses and training events for the young women of Boston were most popular from the 1950’s through to the mid-1970’s when they were ultimately deemed “old hat” and “too quaint” and they were put away in the drawer.....along with those beloved white gloves.
The beauty and magic of these classes were the fact that they were open to all and not very expensive. The department stores had found a way to connect with young women and girls and involve them, engage them....maybe even inspire them. It was part of that great spirit of community that the stores of old used to foster and value. Everyone mattered and had a place...stores had a duty to society and made every effort to be seen as pro-active and caring.
I present today a little selection of what the various stores had on offer for the social training of Boston’s young women.
Boston born, Brookline raised Retro Boston Cultural Historian and very eager to get as many memories, photos and newspaper adverts of the once grand stores of the Downtown Boston we all knew and loved. Also I am very busy researching Boston area churches of the past that have since closed or merged into others. All who remember are welcome to contact me with their thoughts, memories and photos to add to any of my blogs.
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