My mother gave me the coolest thing ever — the 1964 Spring and Summer edition of the Sears Catalog. No one comes to my house and sees it without gasping and wanting to flip through the pages to see what’s inside. Some almost shout while others whisper, “Oh! Look at this!” “they have a little bit of everything!” “My Dad had a suit just like this!” “Wigs!” “Look at the prices!”
The heavy Sears catalog kept Americans linked to the latest styles without having to travel to a big city department store. Lula Rae from Wewahitchka, Florida and Tammy Jean from Opp, Alabama could finally have white gloves, chiffon party dresses, “flowerdy” wallpaper and carpeted “lid covers” for the bathroom just like Eva Gabor in New York City surely had.
The catalog actually belonged to my grandmother and proof of her touch is found with the “fabric” section being torn loose from the binding due to heavy use. You could order yards of cotton, linen, peau de soie, and a floral print “sharkskin-look knit.” Grandmother’s handwriting is found in the margin, figuring out the yardage needed for sewing projects for her four daughters.
Browsing the pages of lady’s fashion, I would seriously wear about 80% of those outfits today, but then again, I have a wee spot of vintage in my heart. 2021 may have seemed like a futuristic dream to the Sears designers 57 years ago and they would have been stunned to know today’s hipsters are snapping up their shirt-waist dresses, men’s fedoras and jackets for top-dollar compared to their original low prices. 1964 was still classic and not yet wild-hippie-groovy.
As one who loves and appreciates the regional differences in our country, I’m not so sure I’m happy about the homogenization Sears delivered. With the development of mail-order catalogs, little tykes all began showing up for the first day of school wearing whatever the kiddie-model on page 523 wore and their moms all sat in the pew with the same pink straw Easter bonnet.
Not everything from 1964 looks so dreamy. The “unmentionables” and pointy-toed shoes look like torture devices. And speaking of uncomfortable, the models all looked alike with not one minority represented. In our modern world, it’s an uncomfortable oddity that reminds us some new ways are better than the old.
The pages in the back of the heavy book showcase swimming pools, camping equipment and lots of guns. Slide projectors and “stereophonic tape recorders” were at the fingertips of entertainment seeking Americans who weren’t yet computer zombies.
Brides could get their diamond wedding ring set for around $75 and a complete set of dishes for $24.99. Later, they could order dresses from the “wardrobe in waiting” pages, then purchase the most dangerous looking baby furniture I’ve ever seen. There were no car seats, but an ingenious belt contraption called, “Front-seat auto strap” which sold for just $3.37. How did we ever survive?
At 1,715 pages, the Sears catalog had everything the families of 1964 needed for style, comfort and entertainment. It’s the most curious thing on my coffee table right now and it makes me itch to see a copy of an old Christmas catalog with the giant toy section. My mom is sure she has one “somewhere.”