It is the winter of 1954 and my mother, older sister and I have made our first pilgrimage of the year to the yardage department on the 6th floor of the Meier & Frank Department Store in downtown Portland. In May or June, we will return for a few bright cottons to be made into summer tops, shorts, and pedal pushers. School shopping is next at the end of summer followed by a pattern and fabric search in November for matching Christmas dresses. We always shop at the century old store because as my grandmother has often declared with a chuckle, “If you can’t find it at Meier & Frank, you don’t need it.”
We started the day searching for the perfect Easter dress in the pattern department located next to the elevators. The chairs in front of the long slanted tables, piled high with enormous McCall’s, Simplicity, and Vogue pattern books, were overflowing with mothers and daughters on the same mission. A woman behind a long counter found our dress pattern in file drawers packed with the latest styles.
I stay close to my mother so I won’t get lost as we move from the pattern department into the crowded rows of wooden tables covered with a profusion of color, texture and every type of fabric imaginable. The colorful feast seems to go on for miles or a least the full length of the building between SW Morrison and Alder Streets. Customers and neatly dressed sales ladies shuffle from table to table on the well-worn wooden floor. With such an abundance of choices it is hard to decide and harder yet for two girls and a mother to agree.
Finally, after my mother exercises her veto power and the fabric is cut and paid for, we walk around the escalators in the center of the floor, past the bank of ornate elevators to my favorite area - Notions. Cards filled with buttons from tiny to huge, modest to ornate; zippers of every color and length; a rainbow of cotton and silk thread wound on wooden spoons; bolts of linings and interfacings; packets of ric rac and seam binding; and coils of ribbons and trims – the abundance of choices spill out of drawers, load up the tables, hang thick on display racks, and cover every inch of wall space.
While my mother fills her list, I find myself entranced by the elegant laces, trims, and beaded decorations carefully displayed in a handsome glass topped wooden case. I am soon lost in my imagination wearing a silk-satin wedding dress complete with flowing veil and shimmering tiara. Just as I start down the flower-strewn aisle, Mother gently awakens me from my daydream to tell me it is time to go home.