Archive for the ‘Fashion and shopping’ Category

Girls picnic on the beach at Coney Island, 1905

June 13, 2016

Sandwiches? Fruit? I’m not sure what’s in this box lunch these four girls are sharing on the beach at Coney Island in 1905, but it doesn’t resemble Coney beach eats like hot dogs or Mrs. Stahl’s knishes.

Picnicconeyisland

What does it feel like to go to the beach in black stockings and wool suits . . . or the heavy hats the woman in the background has on?

[Photo via Shorpy]

Solitary browsing on Fourth Avenue’s Book Row

June 6, 2016

Manhattan has always had its neighborhoods of commerce and industry, from the Garment Center to the Pickle District.

Bookstoremosks1935mcny

And like those two vestiges of the late 19th century city, a booksellers’ district also popped up, this one on the warehouse blocks along Fourth Avenue south of Union Square.

Bookstores4thave10thst1933schultes“That quarter-mile section of Fourth Avenue which lies between the Bible House [at Astor Place] and the vista of Union Square has been for more than forty years the habitat of many dealers of old books,” noted Publishers’ Weekly in 1917.

That means Booksellers’ Row—the fabled enclave where book vendors and lovers came together in dusty storefronts, buying and selling hidden treasures—dates back to the 1870s.

Thanks to the presence of many book publishing offices, “it admittedly is now the ‘Booksellers’ Row’ of the metropolis,” the article proclaimed.

Booksellers’ Row attracted bibliophiles and casual browsers for decades; in the 1950s, more than 40 general and specialty shops lured reader to their mazes of shelves.

boosktorefourthaveessdeross10thst1938These black and white photos, from the 1930s and 1940s, convey mystery and solitude.

Who are these serious-looking readers, picking through bins and piles on tables while the rest of the city thunders along, pursuing progress and profit?

In the 1950s, Booksellers’ Row was on the wane. It was the usual culprit, of course: increasing rents.

“This is their plight: They can exist only in low-rental shops, yet they need tremendous storage space,” wrote the New York Times in a 1956 piece on the dilemma of selling books in New York City.

Bookstores1945fourthave10th11thstsNYPL

By the 1970s, many stores were gone or on the way out, or “scattering” to other parts of the city, as the Times seemed to predict. The article featured a prescient last paragraph:

Bookstoresthestrand1938“The Commissioner [of the city’s department of commerce and public events], something of a sentimentalist, thinks he can prevent this scattering.

“He thinks New York must never go so modern that it must ride roughshod over these mellow places.

“He thinks something essential dies when that happens,” the Times stated.

Today the Strand, opened in 1927 on Fourth Avenue and now on Broadway and 12th Street, is the only old-timer remaining.

Bookstores13thst4thave1930snypl

[Top photo: Mosk’s, Astor Place, 1935, MCNY; second photo: Schulte’s, Fourth Ave and 10th Street, NYPL; third photo: browsers on Fourth Ave, NYPL; fourth photo: Books and Stationary on Fourth Ave and 11th Street, NYPL; fifth photo: The Strand, 1938; sixth photo: 13th and Fourth Ave, 1930, NYPL]

The Gilded Age excess of Manhattan’s first mall

June 6, 2016

Did the modern shopping mall get its start thanks to this Beaux Arts beauty?

Well, maybe. This pioneering temple of commerce stood at Fifth Avenue and 46th Street for just a decade, from 1901 to 1911.

Windsorarcade1905

But what a building the Windsor Arcade was, a three-story gem that epitomized Gilded Age excess, from the sculptures and columns decorating the facade to the carriage drive leading to the center courtyard to the ornate details inside its shops.

Windsorarcade19052An arcade was a place that contained several stores, and the Windsor Arcade is thought to be the first modern-style shopping mall in New York City, writes Marcia Reiss in Lost New York.

“Considered one of the most beautiful retail buildings ever constructed in the city, it was modeled on the enclosed streets of small shops in London and Paris,” states Reiss.

The Windsor was “the only modern arcade in the city; this enterprise is not a department store but a gathering together under one roof of leading retail merchants in their respective lines,” according to one magazine in 1907.

Windsorhotel1898Among the stores inside were Steinway & Sons Pianos, art galleries, a milliner, china and glass sellers, and a photo portrait studio—all catering to the city’s well-off, who took part in the relatively new indulgence of shopping for fun and pleasure.

For such an ostentatious commercial venture, however, the Windsor Arcade has a tragic past.

It rose from the ashes of the Windsor Hotel (above left, in 1898), the site of a horrific fire on March 17, 1899 that killed dozens of people, many who had gathered in front of the opulent hotel to watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Windsorarcade1902

By 1911, the city’s first mall was on its way out, replaced by office buildings by the 1920s.

The owner had only put up the arcade as kind of a place holder until he had a more profitable use for the property, which happened to be in a very fashionable stretch of the city.

[Top photo: 1905, MCNY; second photo: 1905, MCNY; third photo: Windsor Hotel, 1898, MCNY; fourth photo: 1902, MCNY]

Vintage signs from a rough around the edges city

May 30, 2016

Some of these 1970s and 1980s–era signs are losing the battle with the elements, like this hand-painted original for Utica Avenue Electronics (VCRs!) in Crown Heights.

Signsuticaaveelectronics

Others advertise small businesses in a contemporary city that can be cruel to struggling mom and pop shops.

Perhaps that’s why Continental Shoe Repairs on Broadway and Barclay Street is no longer open.

Signscontinentalshoerepairs

The sign for Ashland Pharmacy, in Fort Greene, notes that they accept the union plan.

Which union plan? In an older New York, when health insurance wasn’t quite so complicated, the distinction may not have mattered.

Signsashlandpharmacy

City Water Meter Repair Co., Inc. is the only water meter repair shop I’ve ever seen.

Based on the condition of the sign (N.Y. City!), it looks like they’ve been around since the East Village’s heyday as a slumlord neighborhood.

Signscitywatermeterrepaircoinc

You have to love Fort Grene’s Luv-n-Oven Pizza: the rhyming name, the old-school white, green, and red sign, the fact that gyros and hamburgers are on the menu.

Signsluvnovenpizza

A classic greasy New York corner pizza place that is making me hungry just looking at it.

What an 1895 photo of a Midtown shop tells us

April 25, 2016

This is Charles Westphalen and his wife, Anna, with their two young boys outside their German specialty food store on Seventh Avenue and 31st Street.

Charles Westphalen and Co

It’s 1895. Charles, in his 30s, is the son of German immigrants who arrived in New York in the 1830s—part of the first great wave of German immigration that reshaped the city.

The specialty food shop the couple ran was their livelihood for many years. Tea and coffee must have been big items; they’re named on the store awning.

Pennstation1911Jars with cloth tops, canned goods, what looks like fresh fruit and vegetables as well as a crate of soap powder can be seen.

It’s something like the corner bodega of today’s New York but aimed at Germans looking for a taste of their homeland.

You won’t find a trace of Charles Westphalen’s store today, however.

He was forced to move, along with other businesses occupying the block, in the early 1900s to make way for Penn Station.

[Thanks to H.W. for sending this photo of his great-grandfather, great-grandmother, and grandfather (the tow-headed toddler) and sharing his family history.]

The story behind three faded ads in Manhattan

April 11, 2016

If you look up enough while walking through the city, you see a fair number of these weathered ads, partly erased by rain and grime.

Fadedadeast20scloseup

Deciphering what they say isn’t always easy. Take this ad at 23 East 20th Street. “Furs” is still legible, but the name of the company is tricky.

It looks like M. Handin & Grapkin—which is close, as sure enough a company with the name Drapkin appears to have gone into the furrier business as early as 1909.

The wonderful faded sign site 14to42.net says that M. Handin and Drapkin were located in this building around 1909, and the faded ad could be more than a century old.

Fadedadeast12thst

This building on East 12th Street and University Place is a faded sign spotter’s dream. “Student Clothes” up top is easy enough to read.

Walter Grutchfield’s photo is better than mine, and his caption explains that the company occupied this building from 1924 to 1929.

Fadedadwest84thstreet

To get this view of this faded ad at 324 West 84th Street, you have to stand inside the 15th floor apartment of the building next door.

The address is barely legible—and though 324 is an apartment house today, as early as 1918 it was the Hotel Ramsby.

The left side of the ad must have listed room rates, forever lost to the ages.

Hauling clothes in the Garment District in 1955

March 21, 2016

Around the time this 1955 photo was taken, the vast majority of clothes for sale in the United States was made in the states too.

Specifically, they were made in the square mile south of Midtown long known as the Garment District.

Garmentdistrict1955

Today, only 5 percent of clothes are made in America. And while you still see factories and showrooms in the Garment District, the narrow, dark streets here compose a ghost town compared to what they were 60 years ago.

At least some faded ads continue to hold their own on former factory buildings.

[Photo: LOC/Al Ravenna]

A desperate Mrs. Lincoln visits New York in 1867

March 14, 2016

Marylincolnmathewbrady1861On September 17, 1867, a woman checked into a room in the posh St. Denis Hotel (below) on Broadway and 11th Street.

Her reservation was made under the name Mrs. Clarke. But with her real name written on her luggage, she was quickly recognized as presidential widow Mary Todd Lincoln.

This was hardly Mrs. Lincoln’s first trip to the city. After her husband was elected in 1860, she was a frequent visitor to New York.

Her trips weren’t about politics, however. She was mainly in Gotham to shop the city’s many expensive stores—like A. T. Stewart, Lord and Taylor, and Tiffany & Co.

MarylincolnstdenishotelMrs. Lincoln was what today would be called a shopaholic. Perhaps she bought so many things to dull the pain after her 11-year-old son Willie died in 1862. Or maybe she felt that the president’s wife had to look her best at all times.

“I must dress in costly materials. The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity,” Mrs. Lincoln told her seamstress and confidante, Elizabeth Keckley, during her husband’s 1864 reelection campaign.

Her extravagant spending was what brought her back to New York in 1867. She had fallen deeply in debt since her husband was assassinated two years earlier and she was forced to leave the White House for Chicago.

The struggling Mrs. Lincoln had the idea to sell some of her wardrobe items and jewelry, hoping it would ease her troubles.

MarylincolnkeckleyKeckley (left) arrived in New York the next day to assist Mrs. Lincoln with the sale. The two women moved to the Union Place Hotel, because the St. Denis would not allow Keckley, who was African-American, to stay on the same floor as her friend.

They went to a diamond broker first, and then “Elizabeth and Mary invited second-hand clothing dealers to their hotel to inspect Mary’s wardrobe for sale,” wrote Catherine Clinton for the New York State Archives Partnership Trust.

“Both women then prowled shops on Seventh Avenue, hoping to trade old clothes for new greenbacks.” But “gossip began to circulate about this mystery woman wrapped in widow’s weeds who was peddling her wardrobe.”

After the diamond broker betrayed her trust by having her letters published in the New York World, the press savaged her “old clothes sale” (though the New York Times also felt that family members of former presidents should be better provided for).

MarylincolnstdenistodayPublic opinion was against her. Even worse, her items drummed up no interest. She fled back to Chicago to her rented rooms.

Her financial situation continued to fall apart, as did her mind. She was committed to an Illinois asylum in 1875 but made periodic trips to New York to address her health before dying in 1882.

[The St. Denis Hotel today, which was on the route President Lincoln’s funeral procession took through New York in April 1865]

How bicycles helped liberate women in the 1890s

February 29, 2016

Cyclingclaremont1896When the cycling fad hit New York in the 1870s and 1880s, it was danger-courting men who mostly took up the wheel—scorching down city streets and joining cycling clubs for group jaunts to the far reaches of New York and Brooklyn.

But with the invention of what was called the “safety bicycle,” which had wheels closer to the ground and pedals that powered the back wheel rather than the front, cycling became less a risky activity and more of an exhilarating way to get around.

CyclingforladiesbrentanosThat’s when women began cycling in large numbers.

The sense of freedom these “steel steers” offered is credited with paving the way for the women’s rights gains of the 20th century.

For starters, cycling helped change women’s fashion. It was impossible for the bright, sporty New Woman of the 1890s to ride while weighed down with petticoats and a corset like the women of her mother’s generation wore.

CyclingdividedskirtWomen began wearing looser-fitting cycling suits with slimmer “divided” skirts (below right), which gave way to less confining everyday fashion.

“From wheeling to walking is but a step, and a sensible dressing being now firmly established in the cycling world, it is beginning to creep into the walking costume, and we are told that the skirts of those gowns are to be shorter,” wrote the New York Times in 1895.

Less restrictive clothes served as a metaphor for the New Woman’s less restricted social life. Cycling became something she could do alone or in a group without a chaperone.

Physical activity also had an impact. Previous generations of women were not encouraged to exercise; they were supposed to project physical frailty.

Cyclingriversidedrive1896Biking required some level of exertion, however, and that changed the feminine ideal to one of action and strength.

The shift from an ideal of weakness to empowerment didn’t immediately give women the right to vote or instantly open up higher education to them.

But it appears to have helped move things in that direction.

Cyclingharpersbazaarcover“The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance,” said Susan B. Anthony, who helped launch the equal rights movement in the mid–19th century well before the bicycle came along and women began riding through Central Park, Riverside Drive, and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, three popular venues.

“I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

[Photos: Women riders in Upper Manhattan, MCNY]

1880s New York’s most insane fancy ball costume

January 18, 2016

When Kate Feering Strong (below) received her invitation to Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt’s “fancy dress” ball, scheduled for March 26, 1883, she decided not to settle for a more traditional costume—like a Medieval princess or fairy tale character.

Katefeeringstrongcatcostume

Nope, Miss Strong went as a cat—complete with an actual (dead) white feline as a head piece and a gown sewn with the body parts of real kitties.

“The overskirt was made entirely of white cats’ tails sewed on a dark background,” commented the New York Times.

Mrsvanderbilt'schateauThe ball was arguably the most incredible social event of the year, and it also served as kind of a housewarming for the new Fifth Avenue Vanderbilt mansion.

“The bodice is formed of rows of white cats’ heads and the head-dress was a stiffened white cat’s skin, the head over the forehead of the wearer and the tail pendant behind. A blue ribbon with ‘Puss’ inscribed upon it, which hung a bell, worn around the neck completed the dress.”

Here are some of the other outrageous and ostentatious costumes, including the battery-powered “electric light,” worn by Mrs. Vanderbilt’s sister-in-law.


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