A brief look inside some typical Montgomery Ward stores of the mid-60’s, as shown in some official publicity photographs. They’re staged, of course, but they provide a nice feel for the Wards shopping experience of that era.
Much has been said and written about the services that most “fine” department stores once provided to their clientele. Home delivery (for even the smallest orders), gift wrapping, “personal” shoppers, interior decorating services, playrooms for the kiddos and more - at one time it was a very extensive list, pared down through the years as rising costs made these niceties impractical for the stores to carry them on.
Less talked about today are those services once offered by the “mass market” department stores – Sears, Penney’s and Montgomery Ward, many of which continued into the 1970’s. In Wards’ case, these included outdoor living shows, fashion shows, and for many years a charm school, the proud graduates of which can be seen in the first photo above.
For roughly ten years starting in the early 60’s, the “Wendy Ward Charm Centers”, a fixture of the larger Wards stores of that period, stood at the ready, eager to help America’s young girls mature into women of taste and refinement. “We recognize the young girls of this community are seeking competent, professional instruction in personal grooming, etiquette and appearance”, read a 1965 newspaper article heralding the launch of the Randhurst Wendy Ward courses.
The courses were aimed at three age groups – “Little Miss” (ages 4 to 8), “Jr. Miss” (ages 9 to 12) and “Teens” (ages 13 to 19). A 1966 ad for the Madison, Wisconsin program spelled out the curriculum in detail: “ - Instructions in proper and natural make-up. – Art of being feminine and charming. – Hair care and individual styling. – Exercises and diets. – Arts of conversation. – To walk, sit, stand with poise.” There were modeling classes as well, as a lady from Florida fondly reflected upon in an email to me a while back.
So if you happen to meet a particularly charming woman who hails from the baby boom years, think “Yep. Wendy Ward grad.” Not sure it would be polite to ask her about it, though. (We guys didn’t have a “Monty Ward” class to teach us such things.) It’s a shame that no society-minded 21st century retailer has picked up the mantle and introduced a “charm center” program of its own. Rumors that Hot Topic is considering the idea are unsubstantiated at this point.
Wendy Ward wasn’t the only fictional female inhabiting the cavernous new Wards stores of the day. The versatile “Carol Brent” was another, and her name graced a multitude of Wards’ house brand ladies’ fashions and accessories. She reigned over the girls’ toy department as well - the Ideal Toy Co. even manufactured a line of Carol Brent dolls, a Barbie knockoff. Wards credit card applications bore her name instead of “Jane Q. Public” on the cover.
In one ad Wards answered “the burning question”, with then-popular Ogilvy-style directness, just in case anyone was curious: “Who’s Carol Brent? Nobody. She’s an idea and a promise. Carol Brent stands for our idea that a lot of fashion and a lot of quality don’t have to cost a lot of money….” (At least they didn’t say “She’s a concept by which we measure our pain”. Wait, that’s a John Lennon lyric…)
The other scenes are self-explanatory, but I’ll give it a shot anyway: a little girl at the camera counter (can’t say I ever saw a roll of Montgomery Ward film – probably performed similar to Anscochrome), a young couple examining Damask drapery fabric (a big seller back then) in Wards’ “Style House” home décor department, a friendly Wards representative hands over “hers-and-his” credit cards (brings back memories of Flintstones cartoons and Wilma and Betty's battle cry: "Charrrrge it!"), gassing up an even then-classic ‘Vette (I’m guessing it’s a 1958 model), the catalog counter (everybody had…matching glasses!), and a family enjoying the Sunday paper, including the comics…and the weekly Wards flyer, of course!
Below, some nice examples of mid-60’s Montgomery Ward advertising – first, a photo showing the company’s Easter and Christmas advertising insert flyers. Last up, thanks to a tip from reader Danny, are two wonderful circa 1967 tv spots aired on (and presumably produced by) Houston’s KIAH-TV. Two of the stores mentioned in the commercials are pictured on this previous post. Having grown up in Chicago and watched the primitive but charming local commercials produced by WGN, long before it became a national cable presence, these commercials sparked some wonderful memories. The first commercial opens with a grand opening announcement for the new Pasadena, Texas store, and the second (with slightly out-of-sync sound) features a lady who might really be better off using paper plates.