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Jealous of a Time Gone By

March 30, 2012

How do you buy clothing?

We have an outlet mall, so I go there and root around in stacks of clothing, brow furrowed, until I find something decent enough where I think “That will do.”

It takes a long time and it is frustrating and boring and I rarely get anything delightful or fun. Mostly I just have things that cover my body in some way or another that, I hope, aren’t too hideous.

My grandmother had a dress shop in Morgan Hill, California – a normal little ladies’ store like most towns had back then. She opened it some time in the 1950s and expanded it from just baby items to a full line of women’s wear. It wasn’t expensive, but it was “nice.”

My grandmother’s store was here, on the corner.

She went to the merchandise shows a few times a year and bought for her store. She searched out really good lines of clothing, so the things you bought from her would never have crooked zippers or patterns that didn’t match at the seams.

Now comes the extraordinary part – she put things aside for her customers.

She knew her customers so well – their sizes, their shapes, their tastes – that she could buy clothing for them that she knew they’d love. She would call them up and say “Bev, I have something I put aside for you. When you have a minute, drop by and take a look.”

Gramie – Janie to her customers – proudly told me that the ladies usually bought what she had set aside for them. They would slip on the clothing and it would make them look…beautiful.

She was a smart businesswoman and she did well for herself. She was like your sassy, funny best friend who just happened to have great taste in clothing.

Gramie 1949
Gramie, 1949

Gramie was wise. She shut her shop and retired as soon as the mall (that word, “mall” was said with a good measure of disgust) started cutting into her business.

As I paw through the piles of clothing at the outlet, noting the paper-thin fabric, the bunched seams and the loose threads, I dream of shopping at Janie’s.

  1. March 30, 2012 15:15

    I shop second hand as much as I can. I like the idea of not paying for the shoddy work they do now, at full price. I often have the same experience you’re talking about.

  2. March 30, 2012 15:16

    By the way, I love the pic of your Gran

  3. March 30, 2012 15:26

    Love that photo of your gran. A man I once knew owned a store like that in a hotel I worked in. He was working well into his late seventies then, and he would tell me about men’s suits and how they were sewn. He had me run my hand over the fabric to show me the difference in quality.

    This kind of thing, this embeddedness in the community, human business, is something I miss.

  4. Jenna permalink
    March 30, 2012 15:27

    I love this story. I sometimes wish I lived in a different era, where people took the time to know each other like this.

  5. Elvie permalink
    March 31, 2012 08:44

    Going to “market” with Grammie is something I will always remmember. Dress, stockings, not panty hose, white gloves to go to San Francisco.

  6. March 31, 2012 15:13

    I hate clothes shopping so much that I have developed a uniform of sorts: black leggings, black tank top, and black shirt/jacket. To change it up, I accessorize with jewelry, scarves and hats. Every once in a while, I’ll dip my toe in and try something new from a catalog or online….but I’m usually not happy with it and send it back. It’s even hard to find good second hand stuff anymore!

    Your Gramie’s place sounds like a little piece of heaven. I wish there were such places now. (Well, there sort of are places like that here in L.A., but you have to be a movie star or a gazillionaire to shop there! Yikes!)

    Clothes…who needs em!?! LOL

  7. April 2, 2012 08:17

    One of my dreams is to open that kind of store. It might have to be virtual, though…just seems like there are very few places that kind of thing can survive anymore. Your grandma sounds awesome.

  8. Amy permalink
    April 2, 2012 10:23

    Most of the major department stores have “personal assistants” who will do just that for you. It doesn’t cost you anything. I hired one at Nordstoms a few years ago and it has changed my life. She knows what I like and what I can afford, she is always pulling stuff that is on sale for me, I get to come in early during their sales and try on things so I miss the crowds and get first dibs. It’s pretty awesome. I do spend more money on clothes now than I used to, however. But for a person like me, who HATES shopping, it’s really been fantastic.

  9. April 6, 2012 15:21

    Sidestepping the lovely point of your story… I am an expert shopper. Let me know if you want me to go with you. I’m great at finding stuff for other people. The outlets are terrible for someone like you, who doesn’t enjoy shopping. They are not that great even for someone like me, who considers shopping a recreational sport.

    I would even try not to boss you too much so that you wouldn’t want to kill me.

    • April 11, 2012 21:02

      Thank you for your kind offer. I will have to work up courage and see if I can take you up on it.

  10. April 12, 2012 12:02

    The photo is the best part of a wonderful series of images. Gramie – even just the way you’ve spelled it makes me tingle. She must have been so grand.

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