Saturday, May 3, 2008

hot fashion story

There comes a time in every girl's life when the Dr. Scholl's or the genuine Swedish clogs simply don't provide that certain je ne sais qua required for full enjoyment of modern life. Sometimes you just have to ditch the jeans (or the overalls), put on the cute little dress and step out in something fancy. Let the world know when it comes to style that you set the trends and not by buying the season's latest as dictated by Sears or JC Penney.

Living on the east coast clothes were not the problem. Several times a year my friends and I would head to Filene's Basement Store in Boston early on a Saturday morning. They had clothes from all of the most expensive and exclusive stores in the country with the incredible benefit that the minute an item went on sale there it was already marked 50% off.. and there was a little date sticker on each price tag. Every day the price dropped by another 10% so it was easy to buy a lot of very cool clothes for a small amount of money. We'd dive into the chaos of the double deep Basement with the plan to meet at a particular spot some hours later. To give you an idea how big the place was (and may still be) we hardly ever met each other while there. The other weird thing was there were no changing rooms so you had to try things on in the aisles and hope nobody took the clothes you'd arrived in as a particular great bargain. People (well okay, men) would stand up on the balconies just to watch the women shop. The lingerie department was always well observed.

Shoes, cool shoes, were harder to find and percentage wise as expensive then as they are now. Plus, there were no Manalo Blahnik's or Roger Vivier's even if you were crazy enough or had a serious enough foot fetish to consider spending thousands for a pair. Nevertheless, shoes can make us feel beautiful and when you've just bought a little red silk dress for $15 instead of the original $300 asking price, it would be neat to have a pair of shoes to show it off.

In downtown Providence I found 'Adele's' - a store that had been opened in 1932 - and one look in the window was all it took to know I'd found the holy grail of fancy shoedom.

There were some odd things about the store once you went inside, the most noticeable of which was that they appeared to have shoes dating back to when the place first opened. Shelves of shoe boxes stretched to the ceiling and there were shoes on tables, under tables, in cartons, racks and stacks everywhere. There was even a floor above used as a warehouse for the overload. Two nice young men, her nephews, were always pleased to help but there was something funny going on too. You see, tucked away among the shoe boxes, there was a very old lady sitting on a little platform. If you liked a particular shoe (and you could only ever find one of a pair) one of the men would take it over to her and a quiet conversation would ensue. If the woman liked the way you looked or behaved or whatever, then the guy would go off and find the matching shoe. If you wanted to buy a pair another private conference took place about the price. She must have liked me because I bought a collection of antique shoes from the 30's, 40's and 50's for about $2 a pair. Most were Italian made and a few were snakeskin and alligator - platforms, wedges, maryjanes and 3+ inch heels. I was a tall, sexy lady in those shoes.

Wearing our designer dresses, garters, bustiers, seamed stockings and fine shoes we were a party waiting to happen and happen it did. I have this good friend, really good friend, really really good friend I've been living with for a long time and among his many talents is being a musician and song writer. At that time he'd written some new songs and was planning to perform them in front of a genuine audience - on a stage, with lights, with microphones, with a sound system. I mean REALLY.

For a very brief time we were a band - kind of like a reprise of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. We were the Andrews Sisters, Tina Turner and the Lickettes rolled into one tight little group singing backup and playing percussion. Everybody should get to have that much fun at least once.

Like innocent bystanders watching our time go by we witnessed the day when a local cooking school bought up the block in downtown Providence where Adele's store sat. Deals were done and everybody moved out - everybody but Adele who owned her building and refused to sell. So far as the school was concerned plans were far advanced with construction scheduled, students accepted and one little old lady with a shoe store was in the way of progress.

Funny how these things happen but one night the building caught on fire. Nobody was hurt but the building, shoes and all, was gone by the next morning when the fire marshall declared it a total loss. I've always wondered about those two nice young men..


  1. So strange how that building burned. We had a couple of local shoe stores that had the floor to ceiling shelves, pressed tin ceilings, the long glass cases/counters and the planked floors. Like a bank or a post office, the shoe stores always had a certain smell to them. Leather, I suppose.

    Another great story and I love those pictures. It was worth the wait!

  2. I love the magical feel of your writing, how you draw one totally into the story until we scream NO WAY! at the two dollar shoes.

    I almost forgot the drawings. I had to go back to see them. It's like closing ones eyes after having an adventure, and remembering everything that happened.

    Good shoe stores are the hardest to find. Almost all shoe stores sell the same shoes. You can go to the next town, and the one after that and the next one farther. There are different brands of the same shoes, but they are the same shoes nevertheless. I hate knowing if I want something different, I'll have to pay through the nose.

    "Pay through the nose." That's an odd phrase, like using blood money to buy a pair of shoes. Like looking down your nose at someone who can't afford better clothes or who rents instead of owns.

    Favorite words are like favorite shoes. You shouldn't use them so often that they wear out. Soon enough, the fashion of the day changes and you have something unique that everyone else has relegated to the back of their vocabulary closet and forgotten.

    That's how your stories make me feel.

  3. i've heard and read of these incredible bargain basements in big cities. having never lived anywhere near them, they remain a fond fantasy. now i've been there vicariously, thanks to your illustrations that speak words, and words that paint images. i'm with seraphine - i never want the shoes everyone else is wearing (with the possible exception of my crocs, bought because my granddaughter insisted we needed matching pairs)

    really tragic, the fire in the funky shoe store - just seems too much of a coincidence, yes? i knew a fellow when i lived in Dawson City, YT, who'd made his living as an arsonist before he came to Dawson. he'd have no qualms about torching something beautiful for a cut in the insurance money.

  4. That seems like a bad coincidence. How tragic to lose such treasure.

  5. what an interesting life you've lead so far.. full of 'characters' and stories.. at least, you know to recognize them!


  6. Great Story Susan. But it sounds to me like that shoe store is a treasure lost. Maybe the two young men didn't think so... Do you wonder what happened to the old woman tucked away behind the boxes?

  7. dcup - yes, dcup, much love to you and please don't change your handle. It's too cool to lose. Your description of the stores you remember sounds much like the one in the story. Thanks.

    sera - Oh my goodness, you leave me speechless with your praise. You know I feel the same about your work and have been continually amazed by your devotion to posting such interesting and beautiful concepts every day. You are one of my major inspirations. What more can we do for each other in this phantasmagoric stream than tell one another tales about our separate journeys?

    gfid - I've known some volunteer firemen who enjoyed their work so much they didn't hesitate for long if they knew a building was empty.
    You would have been a great companion shopper at Filene's Basement. We'd walk over to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market for lunch those Saturdays and then we'd go back to shop some more!

    mary - It was :-(

    ingrid - I think we all lead interesting lives. Learning lessons from them is what we're here for, don't you think?

    spartacus - I think those two young men preferred having a lot of insurance and/or inheritance money. I have a feeling in the end old Adele no longer had much of a say about the deals.

  8. Great story, and of course you're right about the nephews. That used to happen all the time in Philadelphia, the most famous of the "mysterious" fires was the one that burned down Palumbo's restaurant.

  9. cdp - I know what you mean and that wasn't the only time for me that a favorite landmark went up in flames. The old dancehall where I rollerskated by the lake went up late one night. Turned out there was stream running under it which I got to play in later - so it wasn't a total loss.