The purpose of this vignette is to give a humorous example of what I believe is a not so uncommon phenomenon: old habits don’t die, pun intended.
My mother died in the summer of 1990. I was born in 1947 and grew up in the Flatbush section of the borough of Brooklyn, New York. It was a low to upper, at best, middle-class neighborhood. Lillie Rubin was an upscale designer women’s clothing store that did not belong there. It was literally around the corner from the apartment building where I lived. Next door was a beauty salon where people lined up to watch flagrantly homosexual hairdressers perform their magic. Looking back I’ve wondered if it was not used as a money laundering establishment.
But we loved and were proud to have Lillie Rubin in our environs. In front of white silk drapery, the storefront windows were brightly lit. They showed off mannequins dressed in the high fashion, magnificent designer clothes of the namesake. Walking past the store, people could even enjoy window shopping at night. Inside was white plush carpeting with strategically placed gray velvet chaise lounges, chairs. In the middle, there was even a tufted circular banquette. These comfy places to sit made enforced shopping for the male of the species more endurable. Mirrors were all around, covering the PRIVATE dressing rooms. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling.
There was not another store that I knew of like it, unless you went into “the city,” aka Manhattan, uptown. If a woman knew in advance of an upcoming important occasion, she would wait for a sale. Therefore, she would be able to wear Lillie’s creation and be remembered as having worn it at the event. For mothers of the bride or groom, a Lillie Rubin dress was part of the dream.
I was pretty close to my mother as I lived with her after my parents got divorced when I was five.
SIDEBAR: We had to move to Florida because, at the time, the only grounds for divorce in New York was adultery.
I was married in 1970 and moved to the mid-Atlantic. At some point, with the decline of the area, Lillie Rubin closed, with only fond memories left behind with the residents who hadn’t moved.
In the mid 1990s I was shopping at Maryland’s The Mall in Columbia when, lo and behold, I saw a Lillie Rubin store, much as I remembered it. By then, my husband was a successful lawyer and finances were not particularly critical. I walked into the store and said to the sales clerk, “I am not really looking for anything right now, but I have such lovely memories of this store from my childhood, please indulge my nostalgic sojourn.”
This happened maybe a decade after my mother’s death and before ubiquitous cell phones. As I left the store, the thought went through my head that I couldn’t wait to get home to call my mother and tell her about Lillie Rubin.
Read more by Ada Mark Strausberg.