Walking from the subway to the Graduate Center, where I teach, I pass by the shop window of the Garment Center, or at least what it’s become since its heyday. Some of the stores sell only wholesale (Al Por Mayor, bilingually); others tempt passers-by with clothing racks strategically positioned outside the store, heterogeneous tops and bottoms, all for $10. I peer inside and try to imagine who wears this clothing and where.
If I were to enter, would I find anything to wear? Certainly nothing to teach in.
In what universe would a woman, what woman, wear an evening gown like this? Clearly, I’m not the intended shopper, even if I’ve stopped in front of the window, fascinated. I can’t help feeling that I’m missing out on a lot of fun and glamour. I think this is called cultural dissonance.
When I was growing up, my grandfather had a tailoring shop in this same neighborhood, one flight up on 35th Street, off Seventh Avenue. He sold men’s suits, but he also made coats for his grandchildren in beautiful fabrics–serge, gabardine–with handmade buttonholes and sleek linings. He cut and Harry sewed, bent over the sewing machine, his lips closed over pins.
If the photo album tells the story, we were well-dressed little girls. Not that we appreciated the details at the time.
On the few bare building surfaces that remain, in this area dotted with quickly constructed glass skyscrapers, you can still see traces of that era―dresses hand painted on the walls. Soon even they will be gone.
I have very few childhood memories, surprising, perhaps, for a memoirist. But the atmosphere of quiet creation inside my grandfather’s shop, reached only after navigating the treacherous racks of dresses and coats being pushed along the sidewalks at breakneck speed, is a scene I now return to weekly, as I thread my way to work.