A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories

Monday 13 August 2012

A Jordan Marsh Hat Mystery Solved...plus Millinery Magic in Retro Boston

Hello, My Fellow Retro Boston Lovers!

I am always so pleased when a blog reader writes to me and presents a retro Boston mystery to solve. This particular mystery suited me perfectly since it involved Jordan Marsh Company...the once grand Boston store I am avidly researching in hopes of putting together a scrapbook style publication to salute and chronicle its many years serving New England.

Ken contacted me after finding (at a local flea market) an old Jordan Marsh hat in excellent condition complete with the original box and store receipt. A treasure and so very retro Boston!

The mystery arose from the fact that the clerk did not put the year on the receipt...only the month and day. The task for me was to try to date the hat using the box, the store logo, the style of the hat and any store information found on the paperwork that might be a clue.

I began to go through my vast Jordan Marsh archives and soon discovered the answer and a few other handy facts as well.

The woman who bought the hat was a store employee and got her 15% discount and she did not use a charge plate...sadly, the receipt was not imprinted with those details but it was obviously going to be billed to her home address. The receipt was handwritten entirely except for the imprinting of the final sale price by the cash register in the upper section of the receipt.

The fact the hat was fur...mink to be exact (another clue that it was old) and rather expensive...over fifty dollars meant my original estimate of the 1940’s was probably wrong. The logo, store paperwork and hat style could have placed the hat’s age anywhere from the 1940’s to mid-1960’s...other facts needed to come to light.

The best clue I had was the Jordan Marsh department number printed on the paperwork. The number 200 was written as the department for the sale. That gave me something to work with!

Jordan Marsh did not visibly use department numbers in store press advertisement until the mid- 1940’s.
Departments were referred to only by name such as Millinery-Third Floor-Main Store.
In the 1940’s, the department number was added...D 87. In the 1940’s, I soon discovered that Jordan’s used 0-199 for the Main Store and Annex departments and 200 on up was for the Great Basement.

Jordan Marsh grew extensively with the swallowing of Hovey’s and the vast rebuilding of the late 40’s and early 50’s, and so the numbering system changed to accommodate all the new departments on offer. In the 1950’s, Jordan’s changed the department number system to Main Store and Annex from 0 up to the 800’s and the Great Basement used numbers in the 900’s.

The big discovery was... Millinery became department 200 in the 1950’s!

Using the price and the new department number I was able to pin down the hat’s age to the early to mid-1960’s. Mystery solved!

Thanks to Ken for the mystery and the wonderful photos of his classic flea market find!

In today’s update I include Ken’s classic photos as well as a salute to my dear Jordan Marsh and their classic millinery departments in both the Main Store and the Great Basement.

I remind all readers that Jordan Marsh had immense competition in the field of women’s hats from the other big department stores as well as the many specialty stores of the time such as Wethern’s, Conrad’s, Chandler’s, Slattery’s and R. H. Stearns.

Hats were a huge part of most women’s (men’s, too) wardrobe and worn for all occasions from the mundane to the glamorous! My own mother had several hat boxes filled with many styles and varieties but the dawning of the 1970’s made them seem “old fashioned” to her and they were fated to be sold at church fairs and given to little girls as dress-up props.

I also present a look at women’s hats in and around retro Boston during those “millinery magic” years of the 1940’s to the 1960’s.

Enjoy this second summer update and remember that Michael Lisicky still has another Filene’s presentation at the Boston Public Library on the 23rd of August.

I am always looking for more Jordan Marsh memories and memorabilia to add to my research archives for this future publication...please contact me...it is all so important in preserving our retro Boston past! Add your memories to the growing collection...come on....it’s fun!






Mark B. said...

Great topic - and great detective work! I remember my mother's hats, and my father's fedora. Looking back, it was a sad day when adults stopped wearing hats. When I watch 1930s movies - pretty well all I watch - I'm always struck by how attractive the women are in their hats. And the men look like men - not overgrown boys.

My father was a Boston policeman, so he had his uniform hat. When Hill Street Blues was on television, the cops - especially the younger ones - started wanting to wear the baseball cap instead of the 'old fashioned' policeman's hat. That was a bad thing - it made them look more like the public, and less distinctive. The hat makes the man. ;-)

Big show said...

Marvelous work pals, I love reading your articles.
millefiori watch

Chip Hilton said...

Love to see a book on Jordan Marsh.
I was a Jordan's "fellow worker" in the 70s.

There was an hierarchy. I was the lowest of the low for a while, an E-Con white card. That meant that not only was working contingent on staffing needs, but the white card meant you went from department to department sometimes on just a few hours notice from Mr. Skill in the Chauncey St. employment office.

In this capacity you saw every Dollar Day in the Great Basement store, where you had to ring every item up separately. So when the priest bought 40 shirts and 50 pair of socks (from the Boston Sock Exchange in the basement) I keyed 90 entries. Working the basement engrained my fellow worker number in my head. 73658. The 7 meant you started as a white card.

You were supposed to use certain pockets in your sales book for certain parts of the three-part sales check, but most Fellow Workers put the audit copy upside down on the cover under an elastic. It was generally acceptable, but one time some bigshot was roaming around and the word came to "put the audit slips inside" before he arrived. I think he was the general merchandise manager who was married to the buyer in luggage.

Above it all on the sales floor were the blue leads (as in pencil lead), named for the color of the china markets they signed stuff with when you needed approval for a void, or a charge-send or something like that. They were the buyers and assistant buyers on the merchandising side, and the floor managers on the sales side. Merchandising and sales were separate organizations and one quickly learned that buyers were not always on the floor, easily avoided and with relatively little clout over sales employees.

Then there were the red leads, who could sign off on some things but not all. Low level functionaries who could get their drawers balanced quickly.

Much of my time was in the annex, which we were told to refer to as the "Store for Homes" I learned to maneuver my way through the back rooms during a stint in Luggage.

Best spot was first floor, store for homes, working the coffee counter, which was close to the Washington Street entrance with the bakery (ie blueberry muffin) counter on our left deeper into the store. It was the first place I ever encountered coffee snobs (they all wanted something called Hotel Blend.)

Most famous customer I got was Charles Mark Furcolo, son of the former governor and onetime candidate for treasurer against Robert Q. Crane. He bought a game for what I presume was his daughter in the toy department

Unknown said...

Just found some old receipts from Jordan marsh. And filenes. Does anyone know if they have any collector value?

Les burton

Unknown said...

Looking for value of old Jordan marsh receipts ?

Les burton

Charles Boston said...

Leslie, Scan them and send them to my email address as listed on the blog profile here. I can post them as a short update and then we shall see what comes of it? OK:-) Write me

Charles Boston

Charles Boston said...

Chip, I hope you see this! I want to interview you:-) Write me....Thanks so much for you comments!!!!


Charles Boston :-)