Thursday, July 1, 2010

Missouri Haberdashers

President Harry Truman was a Missouri haberdasher in the beginning, selling men’s clothing. You don’t see many clothing stores devoted entirely to dressing men anymore. I remember a store named Litwin’s in the next Kansas town south. While it sold ladies clothing too, its long suit was menswear. Walking through the store’s front door, a customer inhaled masculine smells of tweed, wool, and leather.

The new Southern Lady magazine has a short article on two women who have become successful at men’s haberdashery. They started by making ties, ties with Southern motifs and character. The article brought up an old memory I had not thought about in years-my own practice of tie-making.

It was the 1970’s and DH worked at McDonnell Douglas as a designer. He had to wear a dress shirt and tie everyday. My friend in the apartment next door had made her hubby a tie using a pattern from a fabric store, and she shared it with me so I could sew my new hubby one too. I was looking for a teaching job, but Language Arts teachers were a dime a dozen then, and I had a few months with a lot of time on my hands. She and I fossicked for fabrics finding wild, new patterns and hues not meant for men’s ties until we created and stitched up our handmade neckwear. When DH wore his to work, the other men commented on the colors. One day a man offered to buy his tie and DH, never one to turn down a money-maker, pulled it off his neck and came home that night with cash in hand. He soon began to carry a few choices to work each day for Show and Sell at coffee breaks. Eventually, a few men ordered specific colors and fabrics, but most just bought their choices from the “traveling tie salesman”.

My claim to fame as a fashion designer was short lived. When we left St Louis for a job in the southwestern corner of Missouri, only 30 minutes from old Harry’s hometown of Lamar, DH’s new employer did not require anything in dress beyond causal. Times were changing and so were ties. But somewhere in the back of St. Louis closets today (or in a local thrift shop!) there are some of my handmade ties lingering.


irishoma said...

Hi Claudia,
You are so talented. Love the ties and the story.

Linda O'Connell said...

What a great story. Anything sells if you put a discount sign on it, so maybe you should try again and hit up the yuppies. From looking at your ties, I think you could have a lucrative business.