Confessions of a Marsha Jordan Girl
By the time I got home that afternoon, Jordan Marsh had called; I was one of the 16. In an afternoon, I’d gone from a regular girl with oversized dreams to an almost-Marsha Jordan girl. A week later, I was in the store’s upper-floor conference room, eating brownie sundaes with executives and answering questions about everything from what makeup I liked (Bonne Bell!) to my favorite novel (Marjorie Morningstar!). Every Jordan Marsh store in New England had Marsha Jordan girls–high-schoolers who modeled at fashion shows at the stores and at mother/daughter teas, who conducted surveys on fashion at the malls and at their schools, whose pictures hung on spinning cubes in the Junior Department. By the time I left that interview, I knew I had to be a Marsha Jordan girl–I had to.
They told us they’d call with a final decision by 5:30. But 5:30 came and went and no one called. At 6:00, I was hysterical, begging Mama Rose to pray to St. Anthony, her patron saint. Puzzled by what exactly to pray for, she nonetheless set to work in front of his statue in our living room. My mother ordered me outside; I was making her anxious. When the phone rang at 6:15, I was too nervous to answer. But my father did; I heard his slow drawl saying that yes, Ann was home. “Ann,” he said, “it’s someone from Jordan Marsh calling for you.” I took that phone and said hello to my future.
In so many ways, I grew up at Jordan Marsh. The seven other Marsha Jordan girls and I were given uniforms: gray-and-white-striped pants and jacket, a cranberry blouse with white cuffs and collar. We traveled on our own by bus to that flagship store on Washington Street for fittings and fashion shows. We ate chicken-divan crepes at The Magic Pan and salads with sticky buns at The Engish Tea Room on Newbury Street. We hailed cabs and walked across Boston Common, a gaggle of long-haired, long-legged 16-year-olds. At home, we stood on pedestals, mannequin modeling. We dated college boys who worked there for their summer jobs, getting first kisses in their Fiats and Mustangs in the parking lot. On one night in December, the store closed for Men’s Night, and only men were allowed in to shop for their wives and girlfriends, while we walked around the store in a revolving array of clothes. Bonne Bell sent us makeup to try and cartons of Ten-O-Six lotion to tackle our pimples.
I wanted my days as a Marsha Jordan girl to never end. I wanted those summers of long kisses and hours of fittings and runway shows to go on and on. But like all things, those days did end, and soon I was off to college, where I traded in that gray-and-white-pinstripe uniform for a khaki-pants-and-Izod-shirt one. I still went to Filene’s and Jordan Marsh when I wanted to buy something special: Christmas gifts for my mom, beautiful housewares as friends got married, splurges for myself. And then I traded in that preppy uniform for a Ralph Lauren-designed TWA flight attendant’s uniform. On layovers I rode escalators in department stores in Paris and London, San Francisco and Manhattan. Harrods was bigger, Henri Bendel more chic, Nordstrom grander. But none of them compared with my first loves, those early visions of glamour and sophistication that anchored the Warwick Mall back home.
Today, Jordan Marsh and Filene’s are gone. At the mall now, Macy’s and Target have taken their places. Like my childhood dreams, those venerable stores have faded in my memory. But when I bake those muffins, when I pull them from the oven warm and sparkling with sugar, I can almost go back there. I close my eyes and take a bite, and a rush of images passes through me: my mother in Filene’s, testing a new shade of red lipstick; my friends and me buying 45s of Three Dog Night and Simon & Garfunkel in Jordan Marsh’s record department. I’m giggling with my friend Beth. I’m opening a slender box and finding a brown suede bracelet with my name engraved on a gold decal: Ann-Marie. The muffins are sweet. Their taste lingers for a long moment before it’s gone.