Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Fashion Show

At Christmastime, Marshall Field & Company had a fantastic tree decked out with shining ornaments and brilliant lights. It towered over the Walnut Room, my dream for lunch when we went Christmas shopping. You had to stand in line a long time, but less if you were a party of two. I always ordered the chicken pot pie. It would be a long time until next time.

There was another dining room, the Narcissus Fountain Room. This was everything the English-inspired Walnut Room was not: light blue with white iron tracery on the walls, a thick pastel carpet, lots of light from the windows that faced Michigan Avenue a block away. Pots of flowers everywhere, maybe hydrangeas. The Narcissus Room often held a fashion show at Christmas.

My Aunt Anne, an unfortunate woman whose mental illness never was treated until late in life, liked to go to the fashion shows. Since my sister and I were the only two children on my mother's side of the family, we were shopped out as surrogate daughters, maids, companions, cooks, and house cleaners. On this day, I got to be the fashion show date. I didn't mind; I thought it would be fun and the ad in the Tribune said they were serving tea. So my aunt and I trudged downtown on the slow Archer Avenue bus. When we arrived, the chic hostess asked my aunt for the name on the reservation. We had none.

My aunt begged for a table, but the show was sold out. She gave the hostess a long story about how far we'd come and she didn't want to disappoint her little girl. I got more and more nervous by the minute. I wanted to leave. People were starting to stare at us, but on and on my aunt went. Finally, the Narcissus room gave us a tiny little table at the back of the room and we sat there to watch as much of the show as we could see. But, the hostess said sternly, we could sit there but could not stay for tea.

The models were beautiful, tall and slim with slick hair and lovely shoes. Navy blue dinner dresses with shawl collars were enhanced by 3/4 lemon yellow cotton gloves and tiny navy hats with skinny veils worn up. Some models wore fuschia shoes and matching gloves and no hats. The pages of Vogue did not hold more beautiful or more sophisticated women unless maybe you counted Carmen Dell'Orifice. Later on, I cut the pictures out of magazines and hid them in my drawers. After a while, I couldn't find them anymore. Marshall Field's is Macy's now. My aunt died several years ago. The fashion shows are gone along with those splendid models.

But Christmas will be here soon.

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