The Big Store

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An odd thing about looking at photographs from the turn of the century is that, except for the inevitable black and white of the picture itself, and the stray horse or trolley car, the general urban panorama looks very much as it does today. We see familiar streets and shops and buildings in a dozen eclectic styles; it’s all a setting that one could easily imagine walking through. The great exceptions are the people in the pictures. Yes, one recognizes the major range of male, female, young, and old characters. But what in the world are they wearing? Were they all on their way to a costume party? How quaint, how charming, how bizarre, how . . . odd.

If they could see us, their reaction would be the same, of course. And as for the clothes we ourselves are wearing this season, observers of the future undoubtedly will wonder at them, clothes that seem perfectly ordinary to us, our daily rags and gear.

Clearly, outfitting ourselves is a manifestation of human history and behavior, demonstrating once again that no subject is alien to the franchise of this magazine. Two stones in this issue pursue the subject: one by Ink Mendelsohn tracks the history of ready-made clothing, especially for women; the other, by Anne Hollander, shows how men’s costume signals the measure of a man—and not just to his tailor.

Once you’ve visited the clothing department, perhaps you’ll try the other floors in our Christmas store of editorial features. You’re certain to be stopped by Thomas Hughes’s study of how American ingenuity and enterprise built—and are still building—the Soviet industrial machine. Our seeming largess over the decades was fueled, not surprisingly, by the profits to be made in big-ticket gadgets and technology. While this might be viewed by some as giving our enemies the rope to hang us with, a more beneficent interpretation, suitable to the season, sees it as a precursor of healthy interdependence, self-interested and pacific on both sides.

On other floors, there are other diversions. But at the top of the escalator is our Winter Art Show—a kind of annual inventory sale of all the wonderful images we come across during the year that don’t make it into our pages because there is no article on hand for which they are suitable. So far as we know, no other publication lets you into the behind-the-scenes pleasures of the search for exciting, enlightening images. Why should they? It’s a private joy that the editors could keep just to themselves as a special recompense for working hard all year round. But the Christmas spirit is irresistible, moving us to share everything we have with our best wishes.

Byron Dobell