View Full Version : Old-timey department store look like?

07-28-2015, 07:47 AM
Hey I was wondering how a department store that was built in the fifties or sixties would look like. The sort I'm thinking about is high-end and could have multiple stories.


Edit: Just noticed that the title is supposed to be 'What did Old-timey department stores look like?'. Another reason why you should just turn off your computer and go to bed after 2 am, kids.

07-28-2015, 08:07 AM
Think macy's (macy's was a bigger deal back then) or nordstrom's. They were both around back then and you can find some images on google or bing. You could also try some of the more 'glam' movies from the 60's, that hollywood heyday time for some scenes from a store.

07-28-2015, 05:09 PM
Also try the Emporium in San Francisco.

07-28-2015, 05:52 PM
I don't know for sure how accurate it is, but Mad Men did a storyline with a high end department store (Menkens) and there are some scenes set there. They typically do a good job with historical accuracy, so it might provide some visual help.

07-28-2015, 09:40 PM
Thank you, but do you think you could tell me exactly what a 'glam' movie is? Maybe give me some examples?

07-29-2015, 02:17 AM


Or search Google Images for 1950's department store.


Dave Williams
07-29-2015, 12:01 PM
A high-end store might have a restaurant or coffee shop, intended more for socializing or small club meetings than dumping unruly children. In the 1950s it wouldn't have been unusual for there to be some sort of child care in the store, as a courtesy to shoppers.

Some stores had fairly dramatic internal architecture designed to impress their customers, unlike the usual "boxy building with stuff in it" of today.

"High end" generally meant "established." That would have meant downtown instead of in the suburbs. In most places downtown was where the good stuff was. Suburban stores might carry the same stuff, but they were nouveau upstarts.

The cosmetics or "women's wares" section would sometimes have a cosmetologist or even a salon.

There would have been one or more seamstresses to fit off-the-rack clothing to customers.

Departments were usually walled or roped off, each with its own manager and sales staff.

There were chain stores, but large and/or high end ones tended to be independent. Instead of getting their stuff from a central warehouse they dealt with multiple - as in dozens or hundreds - of salesmen from upstream retail vendors. This sometimes took multiple staff.

An upside of this was, if you didn't see exactly what you wanted, a salesman could dig out the applicable catalogs from those salesmen and put in a special order.

Some stores sold "on account", sending monthly invoices. Others had "charge plates", which operated about the same as modern store credit cards. Being able to buy on credit was a status indicator.

Lots of places back then still operated 9-to-5. Some of them would have been closed on Sundays, or severely restricted on what they could sell, due to "blue laws."

07-29-2015, 12:53 PM
Sak's Fifth Avenue if you want to be really ritzy. Bullocks, Robinsons, Macy's, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Gimbel's etc. Of course, Sears and Penney's were around back then too, if you want something more aimed at middle class folks. My mom says her first-ever credit card was from Sears (that would have been the late 50s or early 60s, I'm guessing). Many of the classic indoor (or in parts of the country with nice weather, outdoor) malls with two or more big department stores as "anchors" were built in the 50s or 60s, I believe. They were certainly established fixtures of suburban life by the early 70s. But some big city department stores go back to the 1800s.


The sears in this picture looks a lot like many of the Sears stores that were around in the 70s and 80s. In fact, the ones in many malls here in CA still look a lot like this, presumably because most of the ones around were built in the late 50s or early 60s and have had only minor face lifts since.

And omg, here's an old picture of a Buffums (https://www.google.com/search?q=Sears+in+1965&biw=1344&bih=685&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAkQ_AUoBGoVChMI-PfL4_f_xgIVgn6ICh1nDgTo#tbm=isch&q=department+stores+1960s&imgrc=AWAGTjSpL98dWM%3A) store in the Pomona mall (http://viewlinerltd.blogspot.com/2008/06/pomona-mall-california-1960s.html) in the 1960s. I'd almost forgotten about those.

And yes, lots of pinterest pictures.


I got an eyeful of interior shots by doing a google image search "department stores of the 1950s"

To be honest, last time I went into our local Macy's, I was taken aback at how little it's changed over the decades. The details of the fashions are different, of course, and the mannequins are skinner, but the basic lay out and floor plan is very similar to how it's always been in department stores.

07-29-2015, 02:36 PM
I live near one that is still around here in Massachusetts. Wilson's Department Store in Greenfield, MA. It has been around since 1960 or so. Pretty much unchanged (aside from selection of merchandise). I always feel like I am walking through the past whenever I go in. Don't know how many pictures you can find online. I did a brief search and found a couple.

07-30-2015, 01:26 AM
A site that might have some info & pix for you is The Department Store Museum (http://departmentstoremuseum.blogspot.com/). On the front page you can see a list of different department stores included, and the pages for each have info like floor directories, branch stores, & pictures. Some of them have good info in the comments too.

Alessandra Kelley
07-30-2015, 01:34 AM
Check out the library for history photography books.

Arcadia Publishing specializes in dense little historical photography books of local interests, including Hudson's in Detroit, Marshall Fields in Chicago, and probably lots of other old department stores.

I have somewhere copies of useful picture books like "Remembering Woolworth's: A Nostalgic History of the World's Most Famous Five-And-Dime" and "Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class".