All Dressed Up and Someplace to Go!

When I was a little girl, my grandmother worked at a department store in Indianapolis called L.S. Ayres. One of my fondest memories involves that store and what it used to mean to go shopping. Today, we can sit in the comfort of our homes and purchase just about anything online. Back in the day, going shopping was a big deal, or at least it was for us.

Back then, the ONLY place you could actually go shopping for anything other than groceries was downtown. Although we had a car, my dad was a traveling salesman, so he was gone much of the time. This meant that a trip downtown required not only taking the bus, but transferring more than once. As a child, this was very exciting. It’s only been as an adult that I’ve come to realize what a challenge that must have been for my mother, since she had her little gaggle of five young ones in tow. I was the oldest, so it was my duty to carry the diaper bag, which I initially felt was a high privilege. As I got closer to being a teen, I looked upon it as the highest form of humiliation.

Going downtown also meant getting dressed up. Not only did I have to wear a dress, but the uniform of the day was white anklets, black patent leather Mary Janes, white gloves, and quite often, a hat. I was always threatened within an inch of my life to stay clean until Mom got everyone else ready. This was no small task for a six or seven year old. I mean really, white gloves? I think that qualifies as cruel and unusual!

diners at The Tea Room of L.S. Ayres department store

Elegance and finery used to be synonymous with going shopping. Image from and Indiana State Museum.

Our big reward upon arrival would be having lunch with grandma in the Tea Room. If I finished my lunch I got two treats. One was the Snow Princess dessert. This was an amazing ice cream scoop decorated with whipped cream and sugar flowers, then topped with a china half-doll figurine and a tiny paper parasol.

And then, before we left, we got to pick a wrapped toy from the children’s toy chest. You could tell by the color of the ribbon whether it was a girl’s gift (red ribbon) or a boy’s (blue ribbon). Sometimes I would grab one with a blue ribbon just to make my brother Ted mad. The gifts were nothing much; in fact, I have a hard time remembering anything other than a set of jacks, but getting a gift when it wasn’t your birthday or Christmas was really a big deal for a little kid.

Times have certainly changed dramatically! Much of the change has made our lives easier, but there are some customs we left behind that were part of a much slower-paced lifestyle and way of life. I love being able to shop 24/7, but I will admit that every now and then I long for the anticipation we felt when shopping was still an event. In those moments, my quick fix is to don a pair of white gloves, grab a pint of ice cream, and then head to my computer to shop for something that still makes me feel special – like lingerie!

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