California Culture Shock, 1957 – Cotton To Cashmere

By Anita Garner

Modeling at Webb’s Department Store, Glendale CA 1957

My family arrived in Southern California from the Deep South in 1957, part of a migration of Southern gospel singers and musicians. We didn’t own much more than the contents of the trailer we pulled on Route 66 from Louisiana to my grandmother’s house in Glendale.  I was a sophomore at Herbert Hoover High School, working after school and weekends at Webb’s, the major department store on Brand Boulevard.

On certain Saturdays, some of us walked through the store modeling different ensembles which we changed several times a day.  We carried cards that described our outfits and answered questions about what we were wearing and where to find it in the store.

This sweater in the picture was my first encounter with cashmere.  It was a lovely shade of chocolate brown and the skirt was authentic Pendleton in a cashmere and wool blend. In those days, a sweater like that required hand washing in Woolite and that skirt would go to a dry cleaner who charged by the pleat. Not exactly practical for high school, right?  But many girls at Hoover wore outfits like that every day and they arrived in the student parking lot driving their own cars, many of them fancier than the vehicles owned by our teachers.

My other job at Webb’s, which I loved, was running the elevator.  During my training I learned an elevator still has a lot of glide in it once you release the handle, especially when it’s carrying the maximum number of shoppers allowed, so bringing that machine to a stop exactly even with the floor every time became a point of pride.

I was paid $1.00 an hour and the guys in luggage (on the mezzanine) gave me coffee for free.  In spite of being surrounded by elegantly dressed girls at high school, every time I got a paycheck, instead of saving for cashmere, I bought a record album.


4 thoughts on “California Culture Shock, 1957 – Cotton To Cashmere”

  1. We have so many things in common. I moved from Susanville to Palo Alto in 1954. I was in the middle of my Junior year and was a big fish in a tiny pond. We wore levis, plaid flannel shirts and beaded Native American mocs or cowboy boots. I had a huge culture shock when I arrived at Paly High to find girls wearing Lanz dresses, cashmere sweaters and Pendleton wool skirts. I begged and saved for a cashmere sweater for my Sr. picture which was a lovely heather blue. I worked in a peach cannery the following summer to buy a Lanz dress to take to college. I returned to N CA to attend and graduate Chico State. Never looked back at Palo Alto!

  2. I love this story. Imagine us caught up in chasing specific fabrics. But that was the case. I’ve never seen so much cashmere in one place as the high school I attended. I’m more of a flannel/cotton girl these days. Levis and beaded things are much easier to care for and suit me just fine.

  3. I can relate completely. Cashmere, Lanz Dresses, Penny Loafers and a special blonde bouffant hairdo that looked just like Sandra Dee! (and sleeping in rollers just to accomplish this!) Those were the days my friends.

  4. Coming of age when we did, where we did – the stories keep us smiling. I hope we have years ahead of noshing and gossiping and trading stories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *