Harriet, the narrator of my coming-of-age romance novella Tomboy, never explicitly states where she grew up in the United States, but she drops some clues. Probably the biggest one is when she mentions her fellow classmates going back-to-school shopping at Wanamaker’s.
Harriet mentions the department store in a passage that takes place on her first day of school in 1951, when she enters the fourth grade. I’m sharing it as part of Rainbow Snippets, a Facebook group where readers and writers share six lines from a piece of LGBTQ+ fiction—one for each line of the rainbow flag. The snippet can be from their own work, or just something they enjoyed reading.
The whole school was out on the playground, and it was harder than I would have expected to find a short-haired girl in a blue jumper. There were lots of blue corduroy jumpers darting around the swings and monkey bars and jungle gym. Wanamaker’s must have featured them in its back-to-school sale that year. My dress wasn’t new. It was a hand-me-down from my older sister, with a ribbon tie and a skirt made with less fabric than the newer fashions. Shelley and I had done a test run of our first-day outfits the previous week, and no matter how fast I spun around, my skirt failed to billow as dramatically as Shelley’s.
For nearly a century, Wanamaker’s was the leading department store in the northern mid-Atlantic states. Founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by John Wanamaker, it was the first business in the United States we would recognize as a modern department store. Mr. Wanamaker introduced an important innovation to the retail business: the price tag. His was also the first department store to take advantage of electric lights, the telephone, and pneumatic tubes for moving cash and papers between departments.
Themed sales were another of his inventions. To boost sales in the slow retail month of January, he held the first white sale in 1978 (“white” means “bed linen” in this context, as they were only available in white). But I couldn’t find out if he had a hand in creating the back-to-school sale.
In 1910, he had a new building constructed on the site. It was quite impressive, both inside and out.
John Wanamaker established a second store in Manhattan in the early 1900s. Over the century, additional stories opened in other parts of Pennsylvania, as well as New Jersey and Delaware, but success didn’t last. In the 1990s, it was bought out by Woodward & Lothrop, which was then bought by Hecht’s, which was then bought by Macy’s.
The Philadelphia store has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark and still functions as a department story under the Macy’s brand.
You can learn more about the context of Tomboy by reading through my posts about the 1950s.Who invented the price tag? Click To Tweet
Some kids’ heads are in the clouds. Harriet Little’s head is in outer space.
In 1950s America, everyone is expected to come out of a cookie-cutter mold. But Harriet prefers the people who don’t, like her communist-sympathizer father and her best friend Jackie, a tomboy who bucks the school dress code of skirts and blouses in favor of T-shirts and blue jeans. Harriet realizes she’s also different when she starts to swoon over Rosemary Clooney instead of Rock Hudson—and finds Sputnik and sci-fi more fascinating than sock hops.
Before long, Harriet is secretly dating the most popular girl in the school. But she soon learns that real love needs a stronger foundation than frilly dresses and feminine wiles.
Tomboy is a very sweet and delightful love story set in post-war America, following Harriet’s growing up and the gradually blossoming relationship between two school friends. … Beautifully written and genuinely touching – I loved it.Netgalley reader review
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