Stories offer hope for hard times

May 29th, 2008

bon ton

Photo courtesy Gayle Ozawa

Hope you have a chance to read my story in today’s paper about the Bon Ton, one of the first department stores in Honolulu, which opened in the early 1930s and closed during World War II.

The story grew out of one of my blog entries, when Gayle Ozawa, reading about Jane Lyman’s birthday, contacted me regarding a gathering of the Bon Ton Girls, including Jane.

Their story showed how, even at the worst of times — the Great Depression — people made the most of what they had and still had an appreciation for fashion.

Considering that in the early ’30s, a Bon Ton salesgirl made $1 an hour, and a dress at Bon Ton sold for $1.99, she’d have to work two days for that dress. Today, a person making $10 an hour working two days would have $160 less taxes for a dress.

It’s heartening for me, because when you consider all the things people have to worry about these days, writing about fashion would appear to a lot of people to be one of the more frivolous subjects.

theatre de la mode

Le Palais-Royal, one of the stage sets that form the exhibition “Théâtre de la Mode,” which was shown at the University of Hawaii Art Gallery in Fall 2001. The collection comprised 27-inch mannequins dressed in the 1946 spring/summer collections from 54 of Paris’s haute couture houses.

To that I would say, here’s a link to a story I wrote in 2001, that shows the lengths post-World War II Paris designers went through to demonstrate that the war’s devastation of Europe could not dampen their creative spirit or the will of a society to survive. It says everything I want to say at this point in time. The intent of the exhibition means more to me today than I realized at the time, now that we are feeling some of that era’s fear and uncertainty, many of us for the first time.

Be Sociable, Share!

4 Responses to “Stories offer hope for hard times”

  1. Eddie:

    I love 30s fashion. Your story was very touching.
    How many weeks we have to work for Dolce & Gabbana?

  2. katlin:

    Hi Nadine-
    Your story on the Bon Ton Girls was great! I’ve never heard of that department store before and am intrigued. Do you know of any books or other sources that have more information about the fashion/retail history of Hawai’i? I would love to read about it more!
    Also, I’m taking a fashion history class now and we learned a little about the Theatre de la Mode. From what I learned in class and from my book, it was also used as promotion for French fashion because after Paris’ liberation other countries were shocked at how elaborate their garments were (US and UK were following fabric and garment restrictions and rationing), so this was used to reinstate Paris’ fashion rep.

  3. nadine kam:

    Yes, they wanted to promote and reinstate Paris as the center for haute couture.

    One of the most comprehensive books ever written about Hawaii fashion history was by one of the UH professors, Linda Arthur’s “Aloha Attire: Hawaiian Dress in the Twentieth Century.” She has since written other timely pieces on religion and dress. Speaking of religion, we’ll probably be seeing more expression of religion and faith in apparel and accessories.

    Jocelyn Fujii also did a fabulous job on “Tori Richard: The First Fifty Years,” capturing the history of one of the companies that was around during another of the Golden Ages of Hawaii fashion, the 60s to early 70s, when Dave Rochlen created Jams, and Baba Kea captured the spirit of the hippie generation. I’m also obsessed with Alfred Shaheen.

  4. katlin:

    Thanks, I will look into those books!! :)

Leave a Reply