Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ready For Take-off With Wards, 1967

I’ve been more than a little swamped in this week leading up to spring break, and I’d hoped to have begun a decent history of Montgomery Ward on here by now. Sorry about that, but we’ll be ready for take-off soon!

In the meantime, here’s a look at the height of Wards fashion, in a great circa 1967 scene. This photo was taken in the ticketing area of the United Air Lines terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Evidently, white gloves and men’s hats were still in. (At Wards, at least!) The little girl in front is reading a “Little Audrey” comic book, while the young lady in the background (Older daughter? Secretary? Well-dressed complete stranger?) double-checks her ticket. The nuzzling couple are oblivious to it all.

I remembered today that I had another photo of virtually the same scene, ironically also circa 1967, from a publication entitled "City On The Go", a promotional book from the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry. Fascinating stuff. Of course, it's nowhere near as artistically composed as the previous photo, and no ingenue in a buttercup coat (Thanks, Didi), girl with comic book or sweet nothings-whispering couple are to be seen. Just a few sailors and a bunch of "man in the gray-flannel suit" business types. It does show a much clearer view of the ticketing area, with the massive United flight information board and clock. American Airlines had one almost exactly like it, and both have long since been replaced with smaller TV screens up and down the terminal. The internally lit blue signage in the background was the O'Hare standard for many years after these photos were taken.


  1. Love, looove, looooove those clothes! Wards was definiately stylin' back in '67. Where can I get me a buttercup yellow coat like that with gold buttons? The wife's powder blue isn't too shabby either. Great photo. Dave! Makes me actually like O'hare (which does get nutty around Spring Break as witnessed by me last year).

  2. Why are mom and dad acting so horny in front of the kid?


  3. No apologies for the delay, your posts are always fantastic and greatly enjoyed, waiting a little bit is not a problem :-) Thanks for all your hard work. On that note; I can't wait to see for more about Wards...

    WOW, what a photo, that's frame worthy! Those styles mixed with the depth of field showing the "Modern" airport, slick. What was this photo used for? Catalog? News print?

  4. Why are mom and dad acting so horny in front of the kid?

    I am guessing that the late 60s free love had something to do with it. LOL! Poor kid is probably thinking that he had no need to see any of that.

    And Ms. Buttercup Coat in the background looks kind of envious. Or is it just me seeing things?

  5. As a child flying in the 70s, my parents always had us dress up to fly. There was a sense of decorum on a plane. It was cool. It was a privilege to fly. The week before the flight we were invariably dragged off to some kiddie boutique for a new suit or dress. For a middle class family, we flew fairly frequently back then; I think it had something to do with my uncle working for American Airlines. Today I'd rather drive 12 hours than sit on a plane with the masses that have made flying no fun at all.

  6. Wow! Great shots of The Zoo aka O'Hare! I remember those boards. I didn't do any flying as a kid (too much $$ before deregulation) but my brothers were in the Army and we had to go to O'Hare for a lot of pickups! Thanks for sharing those!

    And I am looking forward to your future posts on Wards.

  7. I believe MW was trying to improve their image in this era, as having always being seen as a Sears-also ran for most of its existence. In 1967, the average middle class family wouldn't have been a frequent flyer, unless a family member was a airline employee, like in Adrienne's case. MW was attempting to impart a message that it was not as blue collar as Sears, moving into the JCPenney mold, a move they never succeeded with.

    While well dressed, the image does come off as somewhat frumpy and dated, only the PDA seemingly contemporary. I've do believe that the B&W episodes of "Bewitched" had Elizabeth Montgomery wearing white gloves and Samantha being affectionate with hubby Darrin. But the color episodes, beginning with the fall 1966 season, Samantha moves more fashion forward, becoming less frumpy middle class housewife in appearance.

  8. Ah, those were the days...
    To answer your questions about the kid, the kid isn't paying attention because she's bored to death. The one thing that stands out the most about picking up/dropping off relatives from Yugoslavia at ORD in the 1980s was how extremely boring aiports were for kids before some urban planner got the idea to turn them into shopping malls... You couldn't even count on getting junk food to keep you quiet: there were no Mcdonald's at airports, and even candy was hard to come by!
    But I do have a question: where was the United terminal in 1967? The current United terminal was built in 1992... was the one in these pictures torn down to make room for the new terminal, or did it become the current American terminal (which looks a lot like the one in the pictures)?
    Keep up the great work, I'm eagerly awaiting the continuation of the Wards post!

  9. Michael said: Ah, those were the days... The one thing that stands out the most about picking up/dropping off relatives from Yugoslavia at ORD in the 1980s was how extremely boring aiports were

    Now where do I begin on this one? It never ceases to amaze me when people pine for the "good old days" be it airlines, retail or any other form of nostalgia. I love looking at old retail because it brings back memories of my childhood, but that's about it. Otherwise, the "good old days" means high prices, primative accomodations and lack of selection.

    For those who pine about the fact that flying on an airplane is a downscale experience, I am going to be able to fly to ex-Yugoslavia this summer through Amsterdam for $961 including tax. During those "good old days" when people used to dress up for their airport, that flight would have been about $2,000 (about $4,000-$6,000 in today's dollars), and the flight would have been a 36-hour ordeal!

    So, yeah, flying on an airplane is a bit of a Wal-Mart experience, but so what? It's been democratized to the extent that foreign travel is a fairly regular occurence as opposed to some exotic, once-in-a-lifetime thing people did!

    And what is it about this topic that attracts people with Yugoslavian connections? There are now at least three (3) people, including Didi and myself that fit that description!


  10. I flew to Yugoslavia on a charter in the 1970s--it wasn't that glamorous. Granted, charters were the low-fare options of their day, but this was a regular airliner. United Airlines has great history of the airline, that makes it clear that early days were not that fun. The first flight attendants were nurses, partly to convince people air travel was safe. The airlines were heavily subsidized via air mail contracts in the beginning and all the majors have had significant ups and downs, even when there was more regulation. I flew as a kid and and had a stand-by pass that allowed me to fly cheap as a teenager (United had this off and on for years, I would guess other carriers did as well). For a long time, the big changes from the good old days was the shrinking legroom and the gradual disappearence of food (which was never that great). The best carriers like United are barely tolerable now and except for Continental, the weaker carriers are just terrible. Much is made of better service on foreign carriers, but other than higher levels of staffing, most of the ones I've flown are no better than their US counterparts and I used to fly fairly often in Asia and occasionally in Europe and S America.

    The retail experience used to be more personal and stores used to have higher levels of staffing and often broader selections. They also paid well enough that even discount stores had career employees who had some of the professionalism that comes with working most of your life in one field. Off-price retail and its effects on pricing has cut into all of that, but the move to the suburbs played a role even before then. The major department stores could no longer support the infrastuture that worked in the hey day of downtown locations, with transit deopendent shoppers. Free or low fee delivery went away and suburbaun locations really could not support some of things that became signatures for downtown stores like book departments, furs, sit down restaurants, and odd departments like stamps and coins. The nationalization of mall construction made malls into dull cookie cutter experiences once they became well-established in the 70s. Off-price chains have cannibalized much of the old specialty store and department store trade and most of us wouldn't want to lose the low prices. A real problem is that the selection of merchandise has gotten more and more narrow as ownership became more concentrated and local chains and merchants in large metro areas, which often drove new trends, began to disappear. the limits of centralized buying are finally (a couple decades late) being recognized and even Dillard is making some ffort to buy differently for at least some of its stores, but uit may be too little too late for some, particularly Dillard--I'm surprised that their own lack of merchandising savvy didn't do them in years ago.

  11. Michael: The current Terminal 2 at O'Hare used to have United as its primary tenant -- their gates took up most of what's now Concourses E and F.

    Terminal 1 actually dates to 1987. I remember my family changing planes there that summer, when it was brand-new, and half the eateries and most of the stores hadn't opened yet. The concessionaires had temporary racks set up in front of their still-boarded-up locations.

  12. LOL! I was there in '86 and believe me I am not pining for the good ole days of flying back home. Nine hours on a plane to Yugoslavia was not my idea of fun as a six year old. It's not my idea of fun as a twenty-eight year old.

    But the hilarious thing is it must have been some exotic place for people to travel to. I found a vintage clutch purse in an antique mall last year with cute little postcards etched of Euro travel and one of them said you guessed it: Yugoslavia. I bought the purse of course. Though I haven't used it much.

  13. Didi – Stylin’s the word, for sure! And I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without knowing what color “Buttercup” is! O’Hare did look very cool in those days to my young eyes.

    Dan – They bought the comic book first.

    Tim- This was part of a photo shoot for a report to stockholders, but was probably used in catalog advertising as well. And thanks!

    Adrienne – We probably flew once or twice a year when I was young always dressed for the plane, at least up until my teen years. You’re absolutely right about the sense of decorum. It sure was easier to maintain when security requirements weren’t nearly as strict, and you didn’t have to practically undress at the checkpoint. I often fly several times a month for my job and a typical gate crowd is virtually 100% casual, regardless of economic status or any other factors. But so is everything else these days!

    Kim – Glad you liked them! And you’re right about how expensive air travel was before deregulation. My folks would pay $200 round trip apiece round trip for my brother and me to fly from O’Hare to Providence RI in the early 70’s, in dollars that had huge buying power compared to ours today. You can easily get that same fare today if you book in advance. And unaccompanied kids were on their own – I can remember exploring the Cleveland airport with my 7-year old brother (I was 11 at the time), wandering all over the place, just the two of us, while we waited for our connecting flight! That sure wouldn’t happen today.

    Ken – I’m not sure what you mean by the “PDA”. The Bewitched show definitely evoked the styles of this era.

    Michael – I believe the current United terminal sits adjacent to the one pictured. Other airlines now occupy it. The United and American terminals (old Terminals 2 and 3) are virtually identical. The American terminal has actually changed very little from what you see pictured. A year or two back they laid a new “zig-zag” pattern terrazzo floor over the old beige terrazzo, and the old fake marble surfaces have all been painted grey, but it still very recognizable. And you’re right about the lack of restaurants, all I remember are the old “Airline Canteen” stands in those days. At least today there are a few things to do if you get stuck with a flight delay. And thanks very much!

    Dan – I think people reflect fondly on air travel or retail stores of bygone days for the same basic reason. It was part of our youth – and we weren’t paying the bills! I definitely appreciate the modern affordability (and the existence of frequent flyer programs) because I’m paying them today.

    Anonymous – Great observations on both air travel and retail. You mention Dillards at the end. They’ve struggled for years and I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up merging with someone else at some point.

    Jim – It seemed to take forever for the new United terminal to be completed. It still looks pretty good!

  14. Trust me, Dave, I am no expert on colors. Though I used to browse my mother's catalogs as a kid. I think some fancy color names stuck with me. As soon as I saw that coat my mind said "Buttercup yellow." Hmm, thinking of doing an Ebay search for a coat like that. Still LOVE it!!!

  15. Hey,make fun of those 60s clothes all yow want, but we would have called them groovy back in the day.

    Also, the middle class did not fly with the freqency seen today. My first flight was at age 19 while in the Army.

  16. Anonymous - I think they're groovy now!