Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Everything’s Coming Up Macy’s

On Friday, Marshall Field’s on State Street in Chicago will formerly change their name to Macy’s. I am kind of sad to see the old Marshall Field’s go and the new retailer take over. It’s kind of like a new best friend, one who can never replace the one you had for for some thirty five odd years.

I remember the first time I started shopping at Marshall Field’s. At that time, Marshall Field’s was quite the prestigious store where the sales people always dressed immaculately and your purchases were wrapped in tissue and put in the famous green bag. It was back in the days when you thought that not just “anyone” could work there. You had to be attractive, very well groomed and possess that special something, the kind of thing that in your mind you know Miss Manners would always approve of.

I remember being thirteen years old and saving my baby sitting money so I could buy my clothes at Marshall Fields. My father died when I just turned thirteen and some time after that, I began babysitting to make extra money as well as started buying nearly all of my own clothes. I loved shopping there because I felt very special. I loved having my purchases wrapped in that special tissue paper. The sales people always took the time to fold your purchase perfectly before placing it in tissue and handing me that special green bag. I carried my bag proudly feeling that I was a very classy woman to be carrying it.

My mother wore Estee Lauder cosmetics. I remember growing up with the smell of Youth Dew after she took her baths. You always knew a lady had been in the bathroom before you. I imagine for my mother, this was a luxury since she didn’t work outside the home. While other girls started out with Cover Girl or Maybelline, I started with Estee Lauder. I always felt special buying my cosmetics there, because I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be, an Estee Lauder woman.

When I was in college, I would schedule my classes so I would finish up early on Fridays. I loved having the afternoon free because it meant I could go over to Marshall Field’s and make a purchase or at least look around at the fancy items that they had for the home that I would own someday. I would keep a detailed list of the items that I wanted to purchase, not being able to afford them all. I had a very clear image in my mind of what my home would be like, right down to the matching towels, all lined up in a row in my linen closet. I watched how they folded the towels so mine would look expensive too. There were some items that were out of my budget, like the Steuben crystal dolphin that I imagined would set on my coffee table or the fine silver place settings that were over $300 a place setting.

I remember saving my money to buy my first set of every day flatware. It was $50 and if you purchased a set of eight, you would receive a free wooden box, trimmed in sapphire blue velvet, to store your flatware. I picked out my place setting and went to make my purchase, only to learn that $50 was for “one” place setting and I would need to purchase seven more to get the box. This was an 18/8 place setting and I was crushed to learn that it would take me another seven weeks to earn enough money for the rest of the place settings. I would return each week and purchase another one, eventually “earning” the box.

Sometimes, I would stop at the Walnut Room. Back then, the Walnut Room was nothing more than an ice cream shop. My favorite sundae was “The Clock”. The Clock was a hot fudge sundae with a sugar cookie on top decorated in the shape of a clock to mimic the famous clock outside Marshall Fields. I don’t recall the cookie looking exactly like the clock but rather it was a yellow sugar cookie with a clock on it with black numerals. It would be much fancier today.

Today the Walnut Room is quite fancy with it’s mahogany walls and large crystal chandelier. It has a large display in the center of the room that is frequently filled with flowers in the spring or a large Christmas tree during the holidays. I always ask for a table near the flowers so I can smell them and admire them while I eat. The tables are covered with white linens however it doesn’t seem any different than any of the other stores or any of the other restaurants.

The clothes are no longer special, but rather the price ranges are all over the board and the selection no longer entails the craftsmanship of earlier years. The furniture department is old and stuffy, like the kind of room a decorating show would make over, only it’s an entire department. The service is no longer special. There is no more prestige. It’s like an old classy lady with cancer, never to return to her full splendor. I am going to miss her.


Suzanne said...

My one and only visit to Marshall Fields on State Street was with my late husband's aunt, who was a retired vice-president of Field Enterprises. She took us to the Walnut Room for lunch, and it was as elegant as you described. I remember having some really girlie lunch of finger sandwiches and fruit. I had never been anywhere so fancy before, and I will never forget the experience. Thank you for reminding me of how lovely that trip was!

Melodie said...

I grew up in Chicago, and I remember my mom taking me up to the children's designer originals (!!!) department, where she would find something she liked, turn it every which way, including inside out, then hang it back up. Then we'd go down the street to the fabric department in Carson's basement, where she'd get what she needed to copy the garment. They also had contests in that fabric dept. for home sewers. memories, long buried.

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