Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Going up?

by Connie Cortright

How many of you have ever ridden in an elevator manned by an operator? I can't remember doing that even when I was a little girl. The days when elevators were manually operated in department stores have long passed into history.

During the 20s and 30s, department stores in the downtown areas of cities catered to the wealthy customers. The floors of the stores, walled off into a myriad of departments, were often crowded and dark, filled with dark furniture holding the products for sale. Today, we'd probably feel like prisoners in a store looking like this.

One sample item would be displayed behind a glass case with the remaining inventory stored in the wooden drawers behind the counters or in a storage room. If the buyer didn't like the pink colored blouse displayed in the cabinet, she'd ask for a green blouse in her size and a clerk would go retrieve the product she requested. How could you decide on which one to buy if you couldn't see all the options?

Can you imagine shopping like that today? I'd probably never buy anything. Waiting for a clerk to help you would be so time consuming. Back then a shopping trip would take an entire day of browsing and searching the department store to see if a customer could find an item to buy. Who has time for that?

During a shopping trip the customer most likely would have to travel between the many floors of the department store in the elevator. The operator in the elevator would ask him what he was looking for and know exactly on which floor that item was located. The operator would then close the outer door of the elevator manually and also the inner mesh door and lock them. Then he would push the elevator handle clockwise slowly to start the elevator rising and announce as each floor passed: "Men's Haberdashery and furnishings, 5th floor, going up, Lingerie 6th floor..."

When the handle would be rotated 90 degrees, it would be going at the maximum speed. As he approached the floor the buyer requested, he'd push the handle forward again to slow it down. He had to gauge where to stop the elevator so that the customer wouldn't have to step up or down to exit the elevator - there were no automatic stopping points for him to use. If he was off by even a half an inch, the misalignment could present a tripping hazard for the customer.

The elevator operators in many department stores were often females during World War I when the lack of available men forced store owners to turn to women. The owners realized that women were cleaner and neater, so continued to hire them even after the war. These women often attended employer-sponsored "charm school" to learn how to keep the clientele happy while operating the elevators. They had to be able to tell customers exactly where each piece of merchandise was kept so the items could be found quickly.

Most elevator operators were uniformed, with some even wearing white gloves while working. Those days of formality have long ago left our culture. Now today, we are usually more concerned about time when we are out shopping. The opulent department stores of the early last century have been replaced by bright, open shopping malls or box stores, where a customer can choose an item in the smallest amount of time and minimal interference of a clerk. Not the good ol' days by a long shot.

Which way would you prefer to shop?

Information taken from: How Efficiency Killed the Department Store and The Vanishing Under Appreciated Elevator Operator

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It's Enough to Curl Your Hair

by Connie Cortright

 Since we discussed 1920s hair styles last week, I thought we'd take a look at what the women had to go through back then to get their hair styles. As I mentioned last week, hair salons came about because of the new bobbed and shingled hair styles. Of course all the machines to make these curls and waves last for a time were in the process of being invented.

       Here's a brief description of a new hair salon back in the 20s taken from one of my novels:

"Emma had a chance to study the room. So this is what a beauty salon looked like. She’d never been in one before. The black and white checkered floor appeared uncluttered even though there were several hair cutting areas scattered in the center. The three specialized chairs, each surrounded by two tables holding the hairdressing tools, took up the main section of the salon. Vivi stood by one of the chairs pinning up a French braid. She spun the chair around to be able to see every angle without having to move.
The side wall was lined with a row of sinks. Must be where women get their hair washed. She couldn’t identify the odd-looking machines spread out across the back of the room. They had long hoses attached to a helmet-like center. She smiled. They resembled creatures from a scary movie. What were they?"

Later she learned that the machine was a hair dryer such as the one picture on the right. I guess it was scary looking!!

Serious looking equipment

Then came new equipment to made those waves permanent. Perms were invented. Strange looking machines developed.

How'd you like to be hooked up to this?

I'm glad I didn't experience these new machines. No curls are worth going through this!!

Can't imagine why she's smiling with her hair in this contraption.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Did You Do to Your Hair?

by Connie Cortright

Women’s hair styles today include anything from cropped-boyish hair to long flowing curly hair. In fact, I’d say there is no style that is thought of as the norm. Anything is accepted. Of course, the different colors I’ve seen (blue, purple, etc) are another subject.

It’s hard to put ourselves in the mindset of people back in the 1920s in this matter. Up until that point, every woman had long flowing hair usually swept up in a chignon or French braid, but everyone had to deal with long hair.

In the early 20s a movie star named Clara Bow changed all that. She appeared in a short hair cut in a movie. The new fad caught on quickly. She and others like her inspired the “bobbed hair cut” to be fashionable for the younger set. Of course, this style also was linked to the raucous life of the young during the Roaring 20s; many people associated short hair with “flappers and floozies”.

Since women never got their hair cut before this time, there weren’t salons for them to go to. The first women who pioneered the short haircut in town, had to go to the barbershop to get their long hair cut short. Must have been interesting. It didn’t take long for beauty shops to spring up because of the demand.

As the shorter styles started being copied by women from normal households around the country the following scenes took place in many homes:

“Mother went to the new beauty shop to have her hair cut. When she came home, she rushed into the house and covered her hair with a long scarf. We kids were shocked. Her long wavy hair was gone – snipped all the way up to her ears.

When Dad asked what the scarf was for, Mother reluctantly removed it. I thought Dad was going to faint. His usual smile faded as he quietly asked, ‘How could you do such a thing?’ He immediately left for the woodshed and cut enough wood to last for 3 days! When he finally came back in, his last words on the matter were, ‘I hope it grows back fast.’” From Flappers to Flivvers.

That was a common reaction from parents or husbands where the new cuts invaded the house unannounced.