Friday, August 20, 2010

Dressing Up

The first few posts for this new blog are coming over from The Zees Go West because I never had any special place for these family stories before. This one was first published there in December, 2008.
Ready to go downtown in winter
While looking at old photos and reminiscing, I remembered an annual family tradition that started in the 1940s in San Francisco. We always went downtown on the street car, my mother and me (Dad was at work, as all men were in those post-war years), to see the Christmas decorations in the big department stores. We would go for evening drives later when my father got home from work to see decorated outdoor places like Maiden Lane, which I now find was originally an area of brothels(!) that had been converted to fancy shops that were decorated beautifully during the Christmas season.

I remember going up the escalator and all but gasping at the sparkling decorations in the Emporium* on Market Street. We always went to I. Magnin's, and Macy's, too. The transformation of the familiar stores was amazing and it seems to me that the decorations were far fancier than anything we see now.
Dressed up in spring

You know, we used to get pretty dressed up to "go downtown." For me, always a coat and matching hat, if possible (my mother made a lot of my outfits), and a little purse to hold my white gloves. My mother insisted on those gloves when we rode on the streetcar. For my mother, a dress, high heels (how did she do it?), matching purse, coat, hat, and gloves.

Family in fancy dress

Beez and I recently received an invitation in the mail for a Christmas party, being held in a pretty fancy part of town, to honor volunteers of a local charitable organization. The invitation, in addition to giving other details, specifies "spiffy casual" dress. Whatever that might be, it points out how much things have changed over the decades. People get dressed up less often, and so do our public places, especially during holiday times.


*I feel so historical. While looking for links to the stores and places I remember in downtown San Francisco, I found that many of them are gone and a part of history. I guess I am, too (a part of history, not gone).


  1. I am going through from beginning to end. First of all, Uncle Clifford really did make the rounds. When my folks were a young engaged couple, home from Bible School for vacation, Uncle Clifford came by to visit "Gladdy", he always called her that. When he caught my folks out front in SHORTS washing the car, he came in and said, "Well Gladdy, those kids of yours are going straight to hell!" Shorts. Well the folks went on to become pastors for the rest of their born days. LOL.

    Secondly, I love hearing you tell about SF. My first puppy came from the Christmas decorated windows of Gumps! Also, I worked for Emporium for quite awhile, oh what fun to go back into the deep bowels of the store and find the refrigerated fur storage room. You could not believe your eyes!! Miles of furs, some I'm sure forgotten from days gone by, all stored for those special nights out on the town, which I'm sure specified something a bit more formal than "spiffy casual"!

  2. Pat Pickard (who has written about Clifford's life) tells about a time when he saw her as a small girl skipping along the sidewalk in her shorts on a hot day. I can't remember the details exactly, but I believe he gave her a LOOK that took those shorts right out of her future summer wardrobe plans.

    Heather, It's so wonderful to have you reading the blog. I've read your family stories and memories on Ancestry and always wished I could talk with you about them.


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