Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mommy, What's a Catalog?

There is nothing I love more than looking at the latest dresses in a 1950s Lana Lobell catalog. I turn from page to page looking at the latest trends and styles, and think, "Oh, now this would be a lovely dress to wear for that garden party the Johnstons are having.  And look, it's only going to set me back $6.98!"  I quickly get lost in a dream world where my friends and I all wear pearls and gloves, and where my hair and makeup are never out of place.  As I turn the final page I am quickly brought back to reality.  It's 2014, I don't know anyone with the last name Johnston, and if I want to order a dress like this I'll have to track it down on Etsy, pay over $100 + shipping, and loose a few inches to get it zipped.  So why even bother looking?  Because when the catalog is open, I am no longer in my world...I'm lost in retail land.

Catalogs started off as a simple way to let people know what products your company had available.  Montgomery Ward was the first to do this in 1872 with a price sheet that was mailed out.  Then in 1894 Sears changed everything with a 322 page catalog.  The catalog started out as a practical way to show off available products.  Simple drawings were done for some items, and most were just listed.  However, it didn't take long before marketing kicked in and retailers learned that photos could transform their products.  Look at the photo of these lovely ladies.  They all seem to have a story.  They are going to a party, perhaps to dinner with their husband.  Whatever the case, they all look happy and to the viewer it's most likely due to the dress they are wearing. Buy the dress, get the life. 

As a child, and even as a teenager I used to get so excited when a new catalog would arrive in the mail.  I'm pretty sure that there is not one lady my age (pushing 30) who doesn't remember getting excited over the dELiA*s catalog.  I used to dream about being "that girl" and I of course would beg and plead until I could order something to make me feel like the girl in the picture.  And what child did not wait for the JC Penny Christmas catalog.  I know I spent hours circling and marking what toys and dresses were going to be on my list.  And then to be able to look at the bedding and room was a big deal for this kid.  

As I mentioned before I am nearing 30, and as the big day gets closer I find that more and more of what made my childhood special is gone.  Catalogs (along with having to rewind tapes) will be something that my daughter will never quite fully understand.  I can already picture the moment when I start blubbering about how in my day.....and then she'll look at me and say, "Mommy, what's a catalog?"  And I will undoubtedly answer...."Darling, they were a way to whisk you into another world where everyone looked like they were going to a party, and no one had any troubles.  Catalogs allowed you to buy into a lifestyle....not just a dress."