In all honesty, I thought the J. Peterman catalog was dead. I remember it as something I used to read on the toilet in high school, and later heard the people on Seinfeld joking about. So when I went over to my mom's house and saw it on the table, my jaw dropped. It is the same as ever: A noble attempt to inject romance into getting dressed. Telegrams, full skirts, Lady Margaret, Paris anitique stores, sunny India — no dream is too far-flung to sell a dress. In fact, it's easy to forget what is actually being shilled. We parse Peterman's pitches on a few choice items, after the jump.
The pitch: "'A foolish consistency is the hobgolbin of little minds," observed Mr. Emerson. He might have been talking about polka dots… After much searching, we're pleased to offer these individualistic beauties from Eastern Bali… Espresso brown on a warm cream."
What it is: A white dress with brown dots.
The pitch: "One minute you're baking a batch of your signature parmesan crisps. The next, you're the empress Noor Jahan, presiding over the upper zezana terrace of a Mughal Garden of Paradise… Melting snows flow down from the mountains into long canals that crisscross acres of jasmine, marigolds, and orchids, sweet melons, groves of pistachios, all punctuated by splashing fountains."
What it is: A caftan.
The pitch: "Time to get back to the summer place. Set the clocks ahead an hour (and don't forget the VCR). Chase the mice out of the water pipes, repaint the maypole, vaccum the canoe…"
What it is: A sleeveless seersucker dress.
The pitch: "Anything was possible then. She took him hunting for blue crabs along Chesapeake Bay… They shook hands with Elektro The Mechanical Man. They gasped at the television-telephone in the Drug Store of Tomorrow…"
What it is: A short-sleeved linen shirt.
The pitch: "The invitation arrives by telegram… Mr. Porter waves you over from the piano bench; he shoos the cats ("Anything" and "Goes") onto the zebra-skin rug, pats for you to sit down…"
What it is: A rayon blouse and sateen skirt.
The pitch: "Breeding will show… Yours to wear without having to endure those tedious state dinners and prying photographers, although you must expect a certain amount of favorable attention."
What it is: A linen skirt.
The pitch: "Miss Karamanji spreads the fabric out on the counter of her brilliant little sari shop in Jaisalmer, smelling of roses and cardamom…"
What it is: Another caftan.
The pitch: "With dangling earrings and many bangles, you are Daciana, the sultry Bohemian rebel… With a long, full skirt, you are Nadia, the gypsy dancer… With lost of eye makeup and a penetrating stare, you are Madam Obolensky, the fortune teller…"
What it is: An embroidered blouse.
The pitch: "Let's start over at reel one. Brigid O'Shaughnessy walks into Sam Spade's office again, but this time she's not wearing a boxy suit. Shes wearing this knockout."
What it is: A different polka dot dress.
The pitch: "The ad team from the big London agency arrives at Little Whipping to discuss marketing plans fro Lady Margaret's homemade jellies…"
What it is: A cotton floral shirtdress.