Maybe it’s because we spend most of our free time glued to Turner Classic Movies. Or perhaps it’s the fact that, since we never actually had a real Christmas (don’t cry—we got a veritable trough of Hanukah presents), our ideas about the holiday are bathed in a rosy mid-century glow. Whatever the reason, the arcane Vermont Country Store Christmas catalog, a flimsy book hardly more substantial than a pamphlet, exerts a powerful pull on our imagination.
This year, the catalog’s cover depicts the requisite bulbous Santa ensconced in a chimney and carrying a Kewpie doll, a plaid flannel robe straight out of Jean Shepherd, an Uncle Wiggly game, a Dick and Jane primer, and a bottle of Arpege, presumably for the frazzled mommy of the brood getting the rest of the stuff. All these items, and plenty more like them, have been tracked down by the Vermont Country Store, and they’re not vintage—they’re brand new, in many cases reissued by their original manufacturers.
Here, then, is a reproduction 1935 Monopoly game (now there was a year—though at least there was a Democrat in the White House); pink Princess telephones (the dials have been fitted with push buttons); Howdy Doody and Lamb Chop puppets (two dummies from the golden age of television); and a gaggle of high-necked, floor-length flannel Lanz nightgowns (perhaps the least seductive garments in the history of lingerie). Of special interest this season is a reproduction of the original 1964 G.I. Joe doll, complete with M1 rifle and spare cartridges. This fellow, apparently missing in action since the Tet offensive, has finally emerged only to be redeployed, going house-to-house in Falluja.
(If your heart breaks for Joe, as well it should, you might prefer to mark the season with a $3 “Bring the Troops Home Now” refrigerator magnet from United for Peace and Justice, the wonderful folks who organized the massive anti-RNC demo last summer. And in the end, weren’t they right to refuse to march to the West Side Highway? )
The Vermont Country Store isn’t the only place awash with nostalgia. At Lucky Brand—a line we always think has a certain hipster charm though it is in fact owned by the fuddy-duddyish Liz Claiborne company—the decorated cardigans, replete with tiny pearl buttons, beadwork, jewels, and other embellishments so reek of old-fashioned glamour that they could have hugged the celebrated busts of Elizabeth Taylor or Joan Russell. The best of them, alas, is also the most expensive—a pale China-blue cashmere appliquéd with roses and sporting a row of tiny satin-covered buttons. Though it’s $228, which is a lot more than you’d pay if you fished it out of a bin at the local vintage store, at least if you know there won’t be any lingering stains from a martini spilled 50 years ago.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 16, 2004