Mum says we all have to have new outfits to go on the plane to Indonesia.
This is not good. I don’t like shopping and trying on clothes.
Mum takes me to Myer’s* for a special day out. A cold wind sends leaves in little flurries down Bourke St. The city is full of cars and trams and people crowded onto the lunchtime footpaths.
‘First things first!’ Mum smiles at me and manoeuvres the pusher expertly on the escalator.
We stop for lunch at the cafeteria. I have my most favourite lunch – ham and pineapple toasted sandwich and a chocolate milkshake. Mum has some cottage cheese on rye bread and a pot of tea.
‘Next stop lingerie,’ she announces.
We go back up the escalator and I sit outside with Bart while mum tries on different bras and things in the fitting room. Bart is in a happy mood and chuckles and kicks when I click the balls strung across the pusher.
‘Now – let’s see what we can get for you.’ Mum hangs her shopping bag over the pusher handle and sets forward to the real challenge of the day.
There is a big difference between what I think is sensible to wear on a plane and what mum thinks is proper to wear.
‘We don’t want anything too sophisticated.’ Mum tells the shop assistant.
‘What’s sophisticated?’ I ask
‘Too grown up.’
‘I thought I was supposed to be getting grown up clothes.’
‘Yes but you can’t wear anything which is, well, too grown up – clothes that are not right for your age …,’ she explains while we wait for the shop assistant to return with a selection of outfits.
Mum inspects each offering with the squint and pursed lips of an expert. ‘This is nice – but white won’t be any good.’ ‘That collar’s a bit low’ ‘Pink? No she won’t wear pink…’ ‘Navy! – now that navy’s nice – ‘ ‘What fabric is that? It’s like a velveteen – very nice.’ ‘Try that one on.’
So I do. About two hours later I have an outfit. A navy blue dress with white polka dots with a shiny red belt, white tights and glossy black shoes. My mum is a master shopper.
note *We always called Myer ‘Myer’s’ – although I know posh people who shopped on the top floors always call it ‘Myer’
the Myer Emporium
Like all capital enterprises of some heritage, The Myer Emporium was founded by humble and hard working lads, Sidney (Simcha) and Elcon (Myer) Baevski. As you can imagine they arrived off the boat slightly seedy and disoriented and were immediately renamed ‘Sid’ and ‘El’. (or maybe El and Sid)
The motivation for Elcon to leave Russia in 1896 and Sidney to follow in 1899 was pragmatic enough – they were from a large family and their mother’s drapery business in Krichev was small. But this was a period of heightened nationalism, with the massive Russian Census conducted in 1897, and no doubt there was extreme pressure on Jewish families and other minority communities at the time. How would the information being provided for the census be used? Would the boys have to do military service? Would there be new taxes imposed?
A biography of Sidney is available at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/myer-simcha-sidney-7721
The later history of the Myer plots the tale of 80’s capitalism – of mergers and acquisitions – consortia and classified merchandising – which of course you can find here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myer.
But time stands still for no man or woman with the need to shop like a mad thing. The total refit and restoration of the Bourke St store (never a true architectural gem) is complete leaving Myer time to accept an international design award in Berlin for creating the best shop ever (as awarded by builders of big shopping centres).
Once construction unions and developers kiss and make up – The EMPORIUM – is also set to rise from the gutted back blocks of Myer’s Lonsdale site.
With only her facade belying her former glory, all else about Myer will soon be shiny and migraine inducingly hard to take – ie she will it be as indistinguishable from any other shopping megalith on the planet – a shop no longer for Melburnians but for the insatiable global consumer.
You can hear Gucci clad women coming out laughing hysterically and saying ‘Oh meay Gawd, for a moment there I thought I was in Shanghai..’ (sadly)
Bourke St has changed too from Tom Robert’s exquisite ‘Allegro con brio’ to the leafy zona pedonale it is today and Myer’s cafeteria is now a bijou Brunetti’s. (Doesn’t everything just sound better in Italian)
Some other links
Legendary photographer Rennie Ellis captured the ‘underbelly of the 70s’ and put fear into every mother – (hence my mum’s anxiety about me looking too ‘sophisticated’ no doubt.)
At any moment a daughter could be snatched away by a vibrant shirted, hipster jean wearing long haired heavy or turned into a sharpie or disappear to Nimbin and become a hippy (**some of Rennie’s photos are not for children or the more sheltered person).
A small selection of his work is shown on Steph Leppard’s ‘Let them drink tea’ blog http://drewzelvista.blogspot.com.au/2010/03/livin-in-70s.html
The Melbourne Cup still sets the fashion barometer in this part of the world. My mum was (then) a woman of glamour who sat each Saturday morning with hair rollers in and the Women’s Weekly out – flicking through the pages of fashion and food – http://blog.styletread.com.au/50-years-of-fashion-on-the-field-1970s/