Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dress To Impress

OK - the cold is just about gone. It really knocked me off track and, although I felt like I had tons to write, I just couldn't sit without the need of tissues and meds. So I finally gave in and slept as much as possible.

But it did get me thinking about this blog itself. Where is it going? What path am I on? At times I feel like I'm jumping around, but at the same time I am keeping it somewhat in era order -- anyway, this is what one does when they are too sick to type, but not yet knocked out from the magic of Nyquil. Think.

So, I'm gonna just bop around a bit -- when I feel like I've exhausted memories from a certain era, I'll move ahead. I suppose I felt a bit confused as to where I was after posting My Story a few posts back - which took me from 1982 thru to today. But those that have followed along now have a better understanding of who I am and where I've been. Grant it, I've got lots more to share.

Today we are going to explore the scene. No, not the gay scene or the punk scene - but the new wave scene in Philadelphia in the early 1980s. Although it has the reputation, the reality is South Street was not the epicenter for all things new wave during those years from '81 to '83. The epicenter was 21/Walnut.

By weird fluke, I got a job as assistant manager of Price-Cut Drugs, which was located on the corner of 21/Chestnut in 1981. With the Hot Club down the street at 21/South there was a number of squatter houses in that area, each filled with young artistic punks who preferred to dress up versus put safety pins in their cheeks. A weekend didn't go by that the 20th Street strip wasn't full of a bunch of 20-year old kids dressed to the nines in their 1950s outfits. But where would they find such fashion you might ask?

They found their outfits at ARMACORD, owned by Anita and her then-husband (name escapes me). Armacord was a vintage clothing store located on Walnut near the corner of 21st and was the place one could find just about anything fashionable to wear out and about. Anita had the largest collection of 1950s style peg-leg suits, porkpie hats, skinny ties and ballroom gowns. Long white opera gloves, cat eye glasses and of course cigarette cases - - since everyone seemed to smoke Dunhill's ... especially the colors ... crap, even i used a cigarette holder for a while back then!

My friend Jerry was a performance artist punk rocker and had a loft on Walnut that featured a few classic mannequins - he had a name for each girl and they were always dressed to party, everytime I was over his place. Sadly, they never left their stand. But you could see them from the street, looking a bit bored by it all as they gazed down onto Walnut with their hand-painted eyes.

Speaking of eyes - Jerry was a great storyteller, with the biggest eyes I've ever seen. The cooler the story, the bigger the eyes would open up! I still see him around today - eyes just as wide, stories just as fresh, but a bit older, as we all are.

In 1981, I was still living at home - in the farthest part of Northeast Philadelphia - a block away from the city limits. I was traveling an hour each way into the city to work at Price-Cut, just to get out of NE Philly. Plus, I was selling ads part time for my friend Steve who owned Terminal Magazine -which was a punk/new wave fanzine that he made at home and then had a team of punk volunteers distribute them to stores and clubs. I never did sell many ads (cept for Armacord) but I did get bit by the publishing bug - which quickly led to Au Courant Newsmagazine, then Freedom Pages, Thing Magazine and finally Swirl Magazine. Thank God that bug has been cured.

Anyway ... style was the key in 1982 - and embracing the class of the 1950s and early 1960s was the vein most traveled in at that time. If you couldn't find it at Armacord, you went around the corner to Rose's Thrift shop on 20th near Walnut. Plus there were a couple other sources all within that little neighborhood west of the Square. The coolest element was that these shops weren't just places that sold used clothing but they were community centers. You could go in and hang out for hours - while Anita played cassettes of the latest music on her boombox and everyone played 'dress up' to pass the time. We all would wind up buying something so it worked for everyone! This was all during the time when both rockabilly and ska were coming to light, so the 50s offered the best looks around.

A neat hook to this post is that, after moving back into Center City in 1993, within a year or so, I noticed a new store at the corner of my street - on 5th between South and Lombard. It was a vintage clothing shop and as soon as the sign was being hung - I let out a yell and bolted into the shop. Armacord had opened at the corner of my block and Anita was right there at it again!! It was sooooo good to see her and to have her nearby as I re-entered the urban jungle. Sadly the shop didn't stick and she closed a year or so later and I've lost touch with her. But I know she's doing what she loves - celebrating fashions from and earlier - and classier - era.



Liz said...

Funny you mention vintage clothing. I was thinking of that movie Pretty in Pink and how MOlly Ringwald's character was so fashion forward and the preps at the school all dressed like Miami Vice! hehe

Kenny said...

I'm from Jersey and the old Village Thrift Shop in Cinnaminson was full of 50's fashions and for so cheap back in the early 80's and it drew only a few select "cool cats". Now thrift shops are more money and full of bad oversized 90's attire! How awful..