Janet Sheridan: Catalog clothing

After my column about the Montgomery Ward’s Christmas catalog was published, a young lady, out walking on a wintery afternoon, called across the street to say she enjoyed the column and remembered the catalogs.

In fact, her mother slipcovered them to use as booster seats for little ones.

A neighbor reminded me that many people knew the publication as “Monkey Wards.”

A woman with a cheerful smile introduced herself to me at the library and wondered why some people received a Ward’s catalog while others shopped from Sears.

Did each have a loyal following like PCs and Macs do today?

Finally, my sister called to ask why the column didn’t include my disastrous attempt to order school clothes from the Ward’s general catalog.

She has a mean streak.

But a Craig audience, familiar with shopping for clothes by catalog, might understand the nightmare of my first mail-order clothing.

It was the summer before fifth grade, and I had earned enough money picking cherries to purchase store-bought clothes to supplement my home-sewn wardrobe. I checked the math numerous times. With tax and postage to Zone 4, my total order came to $19.34, leaving me $2.11 to spend at the county fair.

I reviewed my selections: a set of seven panties, each pair embroidered with a day of the week (I guessed such labeling prevented girls not so refined as I from wearing the same pair two days in a row); a sack of red, white and blue anklets (I liked the patriotic flair of the illustration on page 126); and a yellow dress with white polka dots on the skirt and a droopy white bow at the collar that I thought would make me look ladylike.

Tongue clenched between my teeth, I went to work on the order form. I recorded item numbers and descriptions, then encountered a problem: the sizes.

I assumed the clothes would come in a fifth-grade-girl size. I needed some guidance, but didn’t want to ask older siblings who would mention that my brain was smaller than my nose and criticize my selections.

Mom wasn’t home, and the last time I asked which anklets she would order, she escaped into the bathroom looking wild-eyed.

Scrutinizing the page for a clue, I read: “Size charts and ordering help on page 215.” Turning there, I found that clothing was small, medium or large depending on my chest, hip and waist measurements.

Good grief.

I secreted myself in the bathroom with Dad’s steel tape measure. I knew my chest measurement, being in the habit of checking.

I quickly measured my waist, but the hips stumped me. The instructions said to measure nine inches from my waist and around the fullest part. Of what? After a few contortions, I came up with a number. Alrighty.

Going back to the charts, I realized my numbers didn’t match the sizes. A different part of me fit each size. I was a freak. Frustrated, I marked everything medium, thinking things would average out.

The mailman and I became buddies waiting for my package to arrive. When it did, I ran home, ripping it open as I dashed into my bedroom to try on the clothes —“try” being correct.

My beautiful dress, the color of sunshine, wouldn’t go over my shoulders though I wriggled and strained until I heard stitches pop. The socks didn’t stretch over my foot no matter how much I hopped and yanked, and the panties rebelled mid-hip, labeling one thigh as Monday.

At last, I collapsed on the floor in sobs, overcome with my first case of catalog-shopping despair. To this day, I open packages of clothing I’ve ordered with trepidation.

And, too often, I make use of the return envelope.

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