For Milady

by Barbara L. Rothschild


The Newark of yore was a shopping mecca for the fashion-minded lady. All manner of shops and boutiques were in abundance throughout the city.

In addition to the fine department stores, Bamberger's, Hahne's, Kresge's, Ohrbach's, ladies could shop for bargains on S. Klein on the square. I will never forget the women rooting through "specials", as they were placed up for grabs, helter-skelter on a wooden shopping table in Klein's. It was every man (or should I say woman) for themselves! I can recall mother telling me to stand back, while seemingly dozens of women proceeded to "fight" over who would be claiming the cherished prize bargain item-of-the minute. I recall a loudspeaker would often announce an item coming out, and immediately the women would flock excitedly to that table to begin the hunt. Those were the days before the "Blue Light Specials" of the K-Mart Shopping Centers of the present day.

Any lady of substance in the day, never left her home without her hat and white gloves. Mother made it a practice to do the same. Every now and then, according to the season and the time of the year, a special trip would be made to a millinery shop. Millinery shops seemed to abound in the City of Newark.

In particular, I recall a small millinery shop right across the street from Kresge's Department Store, same side of Broad Street, but before the Old Gothic Prudential Insurance Building. This memory has its place in an early 1950's locale. Browsing into the window, one could see these many "chapeaux" mounted on display "heads", which in turn were mounted on long, stalk-like metal or Lucite bars. These mounting bars appeared to be "long necks." To the eyes of a child, especially myself, it was rather an eerie sight to see those heads, many with the same facial expressions and sightless eyes. I recall another millinery shop that mother would frequent when shopping the "Avenue", which at the time translated to meaning Clinton Avenue. Right next door to Lustig's Tavern on Clinton Avenue, near the Avon Theatre, stood mother's favorite hat store. It was called Linda's Millinery Shop. The store was run by a very amicable single mother named Linda, who always "knew" the perfect style that would compliment milady's appearance and fashion outfit. Although Linda did not carry the "haute couture" fashion of designer chapeaux, in the manner of Lilly Dache or Oleg Cassini, nor the very desirable models worn by the famous Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper, she did carry attractive styles sure to compliment which would please not only milady's fancy, but also go easy on her budget. If one was so inclined to purchase a "fancier" (also costlier) chapeau, the designer hats would be readily found on the second floor of Bamberger's Department Store, or any of the other stores in vogue at the time.

On the fourth floor of Ohrbach's was the Children's' Department. I recall my mother taking me there to purchase school clothes, or, if there were a reason, a "special occasion" dress. I recall going to the "Sock Bar", where a very helpful saleslady would ask the child to make a fist, in order to measure for the proper sock size. The size would be determined by wrapping the heel to toe portion of the socks, around the closed fist of the child. I don't know how it worked, but it really did!! Also, little lace gloves could also be bought at this station of the department store, to be used on holidays like Easter and other special occasions.

Bergen Street, near Weequahic Park, and Chancellor Avenue would be where the higher priced fashions could be found. These boutiques usually catered to the women of means, who were married to the many professionals, and who lived in the wealthier Weequahic Section in that day and time. For the "plainer folk", there were the department stores, and also many local little shops, a la Linda's Millinery, and so forth.

For ladies' underpinnings or "unmentionables", there were the many corset shops, where professionally trained "corsetiere's" tugged and pushed milady's avoirdupois into the desired fashionable "hourglass" form and figure popular at that time. It was the era of the very "zoftig" Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, and every woman strove to emulate those figures. Compare that to the anorectic-looking actresses and top models whose figures today leave much to be desired (literally)! In the early days of the 20th century, women flocked to the Prince Street area, where many such shops existed. One might say these shops were the "Victoria's Secrets" boutiques in their time. I can specifically recall one such shop operating as late as the 1960's on Chancellor Avenue, next to Bernheims Funeral Home, at 365 Chancellor Avenue. It was called the "Ko-Ro Corset Shop", and it was the scene where my first venture into women hood took place. "Downtown", there was the Shirley (Hirsh) Shop, which featured not only lingerie, but also sold bathing suits, which would enhance milady's figure. The Shirley Shop was located on Washington Street, near Halsey Street, as I recall it. I recall it being a fairly costly shop, especially the prices of the bathing suits.

There were many other specialty shops to satisfy milady's lust for style and fashion. For the tall woman, 5'8'' and over, there was the "Tall Girls' Shop", which was located on the same side of Halsey Street, a few doors down from the back (Halsey Street) entrance to S. Klein on the Square. Petite women, such as I am, were also not excluded, for, down a ways from the "Tall Girls' Shop", stood the "Small Girls' Shop!" There were few, but several shops also catered to the larger sized woman. I recall one such store in the Prince Street area of the city, in the Third Ward.

Another specialty shop was the womens' hosiery shop, which was near the corner of Broad and Market, close to Nedick's hot dogs and orange drinks stand. It was a tiny, tiny store, lined with rows of shelves which contained flat boxes of womens' nylons (stockings, for it was way before panty hose was invented.) These flat boxes were arranged according to size, color and pattern, seamed or unseamed nylons. One would ask the salesgirl for their size, and the salesgirl would then pull down one of these flat boxes to demonstrate the stocking to milady. Forming a fist, (fists, again!), the salesgirl would insert her hand into the top of the nylon stocking to demonstrate the color and denier (sheerness) of the stocking. There were nylons for every occasion, dress and everyday, and usually the stockings came three pair to the box. Seldom was only one pair sold to the customer. My first pair of "grown up" nylons came from this little store, and I recall the initial excitement of owning such a pair of nylons for the first time in my life, at the tender age of twelve!!! Usually, this little hosiery shop was brimming with activity, always packed with eager women, who crammed into the tiny store to purchase their hosiery, as I recall it now.

Immediately next door to the hosiery shop, was the costume jewelry shop. Also a very miniscule shop, it gave milady the opportunity to put the finishing touches on her ensemble of the day. I recall the brilliantly shining and bright rhinestone necklaces and earrings featured in this little shop. I recall my awe at seeing these dazzling examples of brooches, earrings and other such baubles of this type. Mother bought some very pretty rhinestone earrings once to wear to a family wedding. I recall most of this jewelry was also modestly priced, and today, such costume jewelry is highly sought after in the collectible field, and is no longer inexpensive to own!!! I should know, since I am an avid collector and seeker of this much desired jewelry!! The costume jewelry of the 1940's-1960's are featured on Ebay, many of which carry the price tags of the "real Mc Coy!"

Two doors down from the hosiery shop, on Market Street, traveling towards Ohrbach's and Bamberger's, were some of the more popular downtown shoe stores. Kitty Kelly and A. S. Beck Shoe Store, stood side-by-side. The Kitty Kelly Shoe Store existed back even into the late 1930's and early 1940's, and its manager for many, many years, was my step-brother, Al Kresch. He was a very popular man, well liked by all of his employees. I still recall the very creative and unique window trimming designs, which displayed the latest shoes available for purchase in both Kitty Kelly and A. S. Beck. Both stores carried shoes which were modestly priced. Further down on Broad Street, near Mc Crory''s and Kresge's Department store, was a similar reasonably priced shoe store called Baker's Qualicraft Shoes. Baker's came into being sometime in the late 1950's. Again, for "high fashioned" shoes, once could either visit the shoe departments of the larger stores, or also the shoe boutiques. One such shop was called Housmann's Shoes, and was located on Springfield Avenue and Mercer Streets, in the Third Ward. Naturally, such shoes carried a much higher price than those that would be found in the downtown shoe stores, as detailed above.

Newark also contained many furrier shops, which catered also to the wealthier women. I recall one such shop located on Clinton Avenue, next door to Shirley's Beauty Parlor, and on the same side of the street, as the elegant 299 Clinton Avenue Apartment House. Across the street, on Clinton Avenue and Johnson, right on the corner, was Peterman's Fine Delicatessen and Bakery, a very popular restaurant in its day.

And speaking of Shirley's Beauty Parlor, it was only one of literally hundreds which catered to milady's beauty and coiffures, in our beloved Newark of old. One of the more popular salons of the day, I recall the miter-type "conehead" hair dryers, which the stylist set with a dial , which was in the middle of the "conehead." The customer also had a hand-held contraption, which she could also regulate the temperature of the hair dryer. I recall being frightened by the snake-like coils of the permanent wave machine, which hung down from a central holding platform, and was attached to milady's head. It truly looked like milady was in training to be electrocuted in the electric chair, and was quite a sight to see.!! Those old-timers in the beauty industry, will probably well recall this evil looking contraption, and the smell of that permanent wave solution was something else.!! I have never forgotten that vile odor, even until this day!!! Usually, the manicurist would pull up her table of nail lacquers, which also gave off quite an aroma (!), and while milady's hair was being "permed" (fried?), her fingernails would receive careful attention. For a finishing touch, after her hair was styled, a rubber-bulb like (looked like a baby's enema tool!!), the stylist would apply a thick and very STIFF coat of lacquer, to keep milady's hairstyle under control!!! I can only wonder how many of those poor souls eventually suffered from chronic lung maladies, owing to all those chemicals, which were used back in those days? It surely was not very conducive to good health!! Mother's favorite hair stylist at Shirley's, was a fine gentleman by the name of Nat, although if Nat were not available, all the other stylists were excellent.

Occasionally, mother would go to Regina's Beauty salon, located at 310 Belmont Avenue. Later on, Regina, who was a resident in the apartment house at 312 Belmont, discontinued her shop, but still continued her beauty practice, out of her home and apartment. This delighted many of the neighborhood ladies, and it was very convenient to travel just across the street for a quick hair trim, (I lived at 321 Belmont Avenue, at the time).

Among the more "exclusive" hair salons, was the GOLDEN JEWEL SALON, which was located for many, many years on Branford Place, and was a definite favorite of the fair sex. The Golden Jewel existed in the 1930's, and perhaps was at the height of its popularity in the 1940's.

One of the more elegant and popular hair salons in the late 1950's through mid 1960's, was CORTE'S BEAUTY SALON, which was located also a few doors down from Bernheims Funeral Home, on Chancellor Avenue. Constantly busy, this salon featured very high styling, so popular in the 1960's. Many a fair lady had her hair coiffed and bleached into incredibly "teased" and "Bee hived" hair styles, so laughable today, but so VERY popular then!!! Some of the hair stylists were Alan Bain and his wife, Marsha Penchansky, who later bought the salon, I believe, before relocating to another salon, near Irvington, as the neighborhood population began to exit the city. Marsha was the colorist (hair dye), and Alan did the hair styling. I recall Alan as being a graduate of my alma mater, Weequahic High School.

And so, my fashion "tour" of Newark comes to a close. To milady's utter delight, Newark surely was , for whatever her fancy, THE place to shop! Whatever her budget, Newark was always ready to fulfill her fashion desires. In today's era of malls and the impersonal service one finds in places like the Wal-Mart's and Targets, it sure brings back some good memories of how it was in the "good old days" of Newark's fine shopping opportunities. Easily, one could "shop 'til they drop", back in the day!!!


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