Improper Bostonians

22/05/2012 § 5 Comments

I’m off to Boston for a few days on business, and I thought it would be the perfect time to share this set of photos I discovered in the Life Archive.  They were taken in 1949 at the original Filene’s Basement, then called the “Automatic Bargain Basement” for the automatic schedule of its discount percentages (pegged to the number of days the item had been on sale).  Created in 1909 in the basement of Boston’s flagship Filene’s department store, Filene’s Basement was eventually spun off as its own entity and outlived the department store until it too became defunct in 2011.  Fun fact: it’s actually where the term “bargain basement” originated.

Sadly the gorgeous original flagship store at Downtown Crossing in Boston, built in 1912 and where these photos were taken, was largely demolished in 2007 after Filene’s went out of business.  Because only the building’s facade was landmarked, developers were free to gut the interiors of the building, which also dated back to 1912.  When those developers lost funding, the building was just left gutted — a huge, gaping hole with the facade looming like the ghost of sales past.  (I haven’t been to Downtown Crossing lately to see if anything has changed at the site — has anyone?)

In these photos, Life photographer George Silk captured the annual $11 suit and topcoat sale at Filene’s Basement.  Just like today’s sample sales, customers started forming a line for the 8:30am sale at 6:30am, and made a mad dash as soon as the doors were flung open.  In less than three hours, 5,000 garments were sold.  In the article, entitled “Improper Bostonians” (which you can read here), Life delightedly informs us that a 200-pound woman fainted and had to be carried away, a blind man was nearly trampled and a man posed as a salesman and swiped someone’s $11! 

Nice to see sample sales haven’t really changed all that much in over
60 years, even if the customers do look a little more refined!

Taken by George Silk for Life Magazine, via the Life Archive.

New Addition || Put A Horse On It: Life Magazine, 1937

01/05/2012 § 5 Comments

This weekend while on a walk in my neighborhood, I stopped by one of my favorite shops in Tribeca, Philip Williams Posters, on a bit of a lark.  While the store is best known for its collection of vintage posters, my attention was drawn from the window by what looked like a massive stack of magazines.  Once inside, I simultaneously realized that they were Life Magazines and that my afternoon was pretty much sealed.

You already know how much I love Life Magazine: I collect them, I read virtual copies on Google Books and wander for (way too many) hours in the online archive.  Coming at this cache of vintage media from multiple directions sometimes provides the opportunity for the kind of pleasant surprise I had this weekend.

First off, you put a horse on anything and I will at least give it a second look.  You put one on the cover of a Life Magazine from the 1930s and mention it’s a polo pony?  Dead.  Before even cracking this baby open, I knew it was coming home with me.  But when I did, I realized I was already familiar with the photos inside as they were part of a set that I had discovered in the archives a few weeks ago — and trust me when I say there is nothing in there tagged “polo” that I haven’t already seen.

I especially love the advertisements.

The feature is about George H. “Pete” Bostwick (August 14, 1909 – January 13, 1982), steeplechase jockey, horse trainer, 8-goal polo player and grandson to Jabez A. Bostwick, a founder and treasurer of Standard Oil Company of New York and partner of John D. Rockefeller. Pete’s favored game, high-goal polo, was a pastime of the wealthy in the 1930s, but Pete made an unprecedented, egalitarian move: he invited the public to watch him and his friends play at Bostwick Field on Long Island, charging only fifty cents for admission.  It was an immediate hit.

These photos were taken 1937 in Long Island by Alfred Eisenstaedt.  Because relatively few actually made it into the issue, having access to the archive allowed me to really enjoy even more photos than were published.  This is about to be a long post, so I must apologize in advance if you don’t enjoy looking at black and white photos of horses, polo or people in their Sunday best.  I will apologize, but I’ll think you’re kinda crazy.

A 28 year-old Pete Bostwick, center.
“There is no use sitting in school when one
can sit on a horse and go somewhere.

Pete Bostwick: lover of polo, beer and cable knit sweaters.

If you’d like to read the feature yourself, you can find it here, via Google Books.

Philip Williams Posters || 122 Chambers St., Tribeca || 212.513.0313

Travelin’ Man: Ricky Nelson Tours America

04/04/2012 § 2 Comments

Interestingly, Ricky Nelson was one of my earliest crushes, due to a Nick At Nite childhood spent watching Donna Reed, My Three Sons and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which Ricky starred on with real-life parents Ozzie and Harriet and brother David from 1952 to 1966.  With its 14 seasons, the show remains the longest-running live action sitcom in history to this day.

Sidenote 1: I’d say my crush was “interesting” mainly because Ricky was dead by the time I fell in love with him.  He died in a plane crash in Texas in 1985.

Sidenote 2: When did Nick At Nite cease actually being Nickelodeon at night and start being its own channel?  And why do they now play shows like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond and not the classic television they used to play? What the Hell! Who approved this?!

Contrary to his wholesome on-screen persona, Ricky was a bit of a hellcat growing up.  He also didn’t have much musical instruction or knowledge until he was 16, when he simply decided he’d like to make a record.  His father indulged him and Ricky’s music became a part of the family show, starting with his performance of the Fats Domino song I’m Walking in 1957, when he was 17.

The best part might be his dance moves.

An early archetype for what would become the modern teen idol, Ricky’s exposure through his music and the Ozzie and Harriet show caused his popularity to surge — between the years of 1958 and 1959 he charted twelve songs, compared to Elvis Presley’s eleven.  He also holds he distinction for achieving the first ever #1 on the newly-created Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1958 for his performance of Poor Little Fool  — a song he actually hated and refused to perform on the show.

  Poor Little Fool: #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958

  Travelin’ Man: #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961

Hello Mary Lou: #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.  Ricky actually preferred to play rockabilly songs like Hello Mary Lou, despite the success he had with ballads.

After an abbreviated tour in 1957, Ricky launched a full tour across America in 1958.  Life Magazine sent photographers Ralph Crane and Hank Walker along for the ride to capture the madness, which they did fantastically.  I did include quite a few, I hope you don’t mind.  Obviously I still have a crush.

Fun bit of trivia: the Nelsons are the only family in history to have three generations of #1 hitmakers.  The Ozzie Nelson Orchestra hit number 1 in 1935 with And Then Some, Ricky had his string of hits, and Ricky’s twin sons Matthew and Gunnar, better known as Nelson, hit it in 1990 with (I Can’t Live Without) Your Love and Affection

Sidenote: Would you be very surprised to learn I also nursed a serious crush on Ricky’s sons, they of streaming, flaxen hair, man bangs, exceptionally tight pants and an amazing/ridiculous video for their #6 hit After The Rain?  I suppose my only defense is that it was the 90s, and I was very very very young, after all…

All images via the Life Archive.

Charm School Extra Credit: The Elevator Girls of Marshall Field & Co.

22/03/2012 § 2 Comments

Editor’s note: Even though February’s Charm School has come and gone, I still find myself coming across lovely gems like this story and set of pictures taken by George Skadding for Life Magazine.  So if you might indulge me, I’ll share a few throughout the year as a bit of “Extra Credit.”

In 1947, Marshall Field & Co., Chicago’s biggest department store, decided that their elevator girls were in need of a bit of finishing, so they were enrolled in a local charm school where they received lessons on everything from makeup to elocution.  The article noted that the “finished” ladies were happier and much more beautiful, even if there didn’t seem to be a correlating increase in sales, and that they all hoped to follow in the footsteps of actress Dorothy Lamour, who was scouted while working at the department store.

Aside from the amusing illustrations — who knew there was a correct way to bend over? — I’ve had a thing for elevator girls ever since seeing The Apartment (1960, and which happened to be the last black and white film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, until The Artist, this year), where Shirley MacLaine plays elevator operator Fran Kubelik, who catches the eye of Jack Lemmon’s hapless corporate drone C. C. Baxter.  Written, produced and directed by Billy Wilder, it is an excellent film that you must see immediately.

To read the article that appeared in the Sept 15, 1947 issue of Life, head here.
For further Marshall Field’s nostalgia, head here.


Elevator girls June Wahl and Ann Vratarich before…


…and after.


How not to operate an elevator…


…and proper form.


How not to bend over…


…and the correct way.


Elocution lessons.


All images via the Life Archives.

Sitting In A Tree

14/02/2012 § Leave a comment

State Library of New South Wales.
State Library of New South Wales.
Galt Museum & Archives.
Australian War Memorial Collection.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Commuting Through Time: New York

26/01/2012 § 2 Comments

A few places I pass by every day on my daily commute…

Grand Central Terminal

Fifth Avenue.

The “hidden” City Hall stop…

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Rabbit Hole Revisit: paws22

06/01/2012 § 1 Comment

It had been awhile since I checked in with paws22 on Flickr, and I’m happy to report he’s still working away on his collection of some of the best vintage photographs I’ve ever seen.  If you haven’t yet visited him, you really ought to.  Head here.

All images via paws22.

Related:
Rabbit Hole Revisit: paws22 on Flickr
Down the Rabbit Hole: paws22 on Flickr

Field Notes: Antiquing in Mercado de San Telmo

13/12/2011 § 5 Comments

Weekly on Sundays, the street Defensa in the neighborhood of San Telmo in Buenos Aires becomes a bustling marketplace where one can purchase almost anything.  Automobiles are prohibited, vendors set their stalls in the streets and enterprising young people rove the crowds carrying boxes of homemade empanadas for sale.  However, the most impressive attractions of the San Telmo market are the amazing antique shops and there are two in particular I wanted to share with you.

Gabriel del Campo (Defensa 1131 in San Telmo)

Gabriel del Campo was a rather surreal experience.  There were so many interesting and immaculate items — from dolls to furniture to fur rugs to an extensive collection of luggage and trunks — and they were staged so beautifully, it felt almost like a museum.  Albeit the kind of museum I wanted to live in.  And while the exchange rate is currently quite favorable, the shop is well aware of the high quality and value of their items.

For example, a diminutive woman with an accent that sounded like she was from Hong Kong was noisily admiring a Louis Vuitton steamer trunk that was almost as tall as she was.  When she asked the price, “18,000” was the answer.  “Pesos?” she asked, which would have been a little over $4,000.  “No, no.  American dollars.”

For those of us who are not on Ralph Lauren’s scouting team and find ourselves without their unlimited funds, rest assured that Gabriel del Campo is an inherently satisfying exercise in antique inspiration and it is definitely worth a look around.  Who knows, you might get lucky...

Antigüo Balcón (Defensa 961, Location 90, in Antiguo Mercado de San Telmo)

On the other hand, the tiny and adorable shop Antigüo Balcón, was a completely different — but much more lovely — experience.  Run by owner Abel Neira for over 20 years, the shop is a dizzying jumble of all sorts of odds and ends and hidden treasures.  Mr. Neira seems to somewhat specialize in a few types of items — namely cameras, musical instruments, fans and telephones — but truly, there is a little bit of everything crammed into this tiny space.

Mr. Neira was a delight to speak with.  As he pointed out small treasures my untrained eye might have missed, we chatted about my trip and the best places to go in the city — quite like visiting an old friend with an amazing collection.  At Antigüo Balcón, unlike at Gabriel del Campo, you can find amazing things that won’t require a second mortgage — or a first one for that matter — and you will consider your time with Mr. Neira as an added bonus.

Abel Neira, owner of Antigüo Balcón.

Related: Field Notes: Buenos Aires, Argentina

LIFE Archives: The Rabbit Hunt

09/12/2011 § 6 Comments

A rabbit hunt somewhere in Britain in 1950 seems perfectly apropos after the chilly weather that descended upon New York today, does it not?  Lovely tweed and leather and even a lady in a tie.  This hunt was shot for LIFE Magazine by William J. Sumits, but I have been unable to find the accompanying article.  In any event, the small wooly dogs — the Sealyham Terrier — seem to be the central focus, but I was quite drawn to the hunting party’s clothes.  Of course.

Embrace your modern huntress in this lovely herringbone overcoat, these knickerbocker pants — both by Rugby, this tie by Pierrepont Hicks, these riding boots by Frye, this pretty lavender wool scarf from J.Press (on sale!), and these leather driving gloves from Dents.  Dandy it up a bit by adding a vintage brooch and a leather and chrome liquor caddy from Orvis.  Tally-ho!

All images via the LIFE Archive.

Field Notes: The San Fernando Valley Mercantile Co. at the Rose Bowl Flea

27/10/2011 § 2 Comments

Now, when I say that I am originally from Los Angeles, it’s kind of like the geographic equivalent of rounding up to 10 from 7.  How so?  It’s because I actually spent the majority of my formative years in little place slightly to the north and west of Los Angeles proper, known to some of you simply as “The Valley.”  Yes, the location of the party where Tai took a shoe to the head and went on to roll with the homies.  Yes, the place that you have to thank for the “like” that permeates the vernacular.  Yes, the San Fernando Valley.  Like, oh my God.

Granted, The Valley is kind of like the red-headed stepchild of the Southern California family.  It’s not regarded as especially cool or interesting, but rather, frankly, as being kind of lame.  My mother, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, can’t even remember going there once as a child because, as she put it, “Why would you?”  Perhaps I wear my pride somewhat internally, but when it gets down to it, I have so much love for my Valley and the years I spent there.  I totally embrace my inner Valley Girl.

So you can imagine how happy I was a few months ago to discover The San Fernando Valley Mercantile Co., purveyors of fine vintage American-made workwear from 1930-1970 and handmade, utility-inspired dry goods/accessories.  And when I realized they had their own take on the classic tool bag, very much like those I had been admiring by a few other designers, but automatically and infinitely so much better because of its Valley origins, I might have geeked out a bit.  So of course, I shot off a note to learn more about their bags and the operation at large.

In short order, I received a lovely reply from Warren Schummer, the man behind San Fernando Mercantile Co., as well as Vintage Workwear, a blog focusing on vintage workwear from the 1940s through the 1970s.  It turned out Warren’s Valley roots were a bit more established than mine, as his go back three generations, and helped shape his addiction to workwear:

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, particularly Sylmar in my youth, then left and spent a few years spent in Huntington Beach. Came back to Studio City for my teens and 20s, Sherman Oaks for the 30s and then to Tarzana in the west valley for the past 10 odd years, give or take.  My pops owned an auto body repair shop on Ventura Blvd in Studio City where he specialized in German cars including Porsche and Mercedes Benz cars in particular. That environment in addition to my Grandfather working at the now defunct Chevrolet plant in Van Nuys helped shape my love of work clothing.

Warren began collecting — actually, he called it “hoarding” — workwear and soon came to realize that the best way to support his collecting habit was by parting with some of his pieces.  This led to a stall at the Rose Bowl Flea Market (#3282), where he has been in residence for more than 18 months now, on the second Sunday of every month.  Warren also owns All Valley Handyman Service, which provides him with the opportunity to wear his vintage on the job.

Wanting to apply the inspiration he found in vintage to the creation of new merchandise, Warren began with a small run of work caps made from vintage fabrics, selvedge denim and brown duck, which did well.  With the success of the caps, bags were the obvious next step and a tote and tool bag-inspired bag soon followed.  Warren is intensely involved in the design and construction process, seemingly coming just short of sewing everything himself — which I think he probably would try to do, if he could.  All of San Fernando Valley Mercantile Co.’s merchandise is made in the USA, with most of it made in Southern California.

After hearing and loving all of this, I knew that I desperately wanted one of Warren’s bags and that I would definitely be stopping by stall #3282 on my upcoming (at the time) visit to the Rose Bowl Flea.  A few short weeks flew by and I found myself in the sweltering Pasadena sun at the Flea.  I dragged along Nick — of the rather awesome Tumblr No Secrets Between Sailors (and also Instagram: nosecretsbetweensailors) — and made him show me the ropes.

The San Fernando Valley Mercantile Co. was our first stop.  Nick and I had a good long visit with Warren and his lovely lady Michele, while taking shelter in the shade of the tent and slowly perusing an amazing selection of workwear merchandise.  We also discussed the specifics for one of his glorious 16″ bags that will be making its way to me in New York in the near future.  Of course you’ll receive the full rundown when it arrives.  Such a great afternoon.

Warren and Michele.

Nick.

The vintage inspiration…

…for their bags.

Vintage Cat’s Paw keychains.

If you are at the Rose Bowl Flea, be sure not to miss the The San Fernando Valley Mercantile Co.  If you can’t make it out to Pasadena, check the shop out online, as well as the store blog, and the Vintage Workwear blog.

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