John Romain Purses: the Must-Have Item from Childhood in the late 60’s
Recently I was discussing with friends the relativity of feeling poor while growing up, especially when it came to not being able to get things that it seemed “everyone else had.”
So here’s an interactive blog: Was there an item from your childhood that was a symbol of the times that you wanted so bad but couldn’t afford- a must-have item, that was so desired by all that it divided those who had them and those who didn’t into class identification of rich and poor?
There were several items that fit this description for me while growing up. I already blogged about being denied a Chatty Cathy and an Easy Bake Oven, due to limited finances on the part of my parents in my lower middle class upbringing.
But this blog is about an item that was hundreds of times more important than either of those toys.
The reason this item was so critical to me had everything to do with transitioning into being a junior high schooler, where so many new people were judging me based on looks and attire. As I explained before, I had numerous deficits going into junior high, as I was only barely 11 years old, having skipped a grade. So I was immature in many ways, undeveloped physically, and then to add more to this set of circumstances, I found out that I was more economically disadvantaged than most of our middle class suburban area.
In these middle school years, the pressure to be the same as everyone else gets so intensified, and though schools have smartly gone into uniforms, accessories can’t be regulated.
For me, the critical item was a John Romain purse. If you were a girl on the East Coast (or maybe all over the country) in junior high and high school in the late 60’s and early 70’s- you remember how essential to status these things were.
Thanks to education and a lot of hard work, I can pretty much buy any shiny new toy that I want, and if I wanted a John Romain or it’s equivalent today – I could just buy it. (and I did!)
This is the complete opposite of when I was growing up where my household focused on necessities. I had never classified myself as poor though because we had a place in our neighborhood, of middle to upper middle class homeowners, that we horrifically called “the projects,” a subsided housing development. They were the poor ones. I distinctly remember feeling more sorry for them than haughty though, especially around the May carnival, when most of us had pocket change to spend on fun stuff, and some of those children did not.
Looking back now, I had no reason to feel superior anyway. We were barely scraping by, unlike my friend and neighbor Joy, whose father was a dentist and who had everything in the world that I desired. In fact most of my neighbors seemed to be doing much better than my family.
If I wanted to play with a Chatty Cathy, Barbie Doll or Easy Bake Oven, I headed over there. Joy had it all.
My father, bless his heart, moonlighted as a taxi cab driver for extra money in those days. I remember taking some of his pocket change from him when I wanted candy money, or May carnival money, or later, a hot dog lunch at the cool place for pre-teens.
When I got to Junior High School, I became aware of income level differences for the first time and I felt both poor and deprived because the list of things others had that I wanted grew longer each day that I tried to fit in with everyone else.
I started babysitting in the sixth grade for clothes money to fit in with all of the well-dressed girls I went to school with who had all the latest fashions. The preppy Villager style of clothing was the rage then: things like A-lined skirts and matching cardigan sweaters worn with oxford shirts that had a semi-circle Peter Pan collar that was closed with what we called “circle pins.” (gold pins with the girls initials on them)
Although there were no uniforms in our public school, this was the definite uniform to be considered cool. (No pants allowed on girls in those days.)
The “have’s” also had initial rings and some of the boys had ID bracelets. Those were just a few of the status symbols of the day.
Aside from these beautiful clothes that I couldn’t afford, two main accessories tortured my existence in this era. One was a burgundy loafer called a “Weejun,” made by the Bass leather company with an adorable buckle and fringe.
The other was a purse called a “John Romain.” These purses were the ultimate preppy statement – made of burgundy colored rich leather, and a “jute” tweedy fabric, they included a metal lion symbol on the buckle that distinguished it from any lookalikes.
As if I didn’t have enough deficits in my gawky, awkward, pre-adolescent phase in junior high, I didn’t have either of these cool items. They quickly replaced any toy I ever wanted in my ultimate wish list.
My parents compromised on the Weejuns. Although I had already worn out my real leather Bass penny loafers the previous year – the Weejun style was more than my parents could afford, so they let me purchase an imitation Weejun. The color and thickness were slightly different, but being the clever girl I was, I went to the store and bought “oxblood” colored shoe polish, and the shoes passed pretty close muster after that. (I can’t believe how I remember the unusual name of that shoe polish color, but it was THAT important!)
That left the John Romain bag as the last of the elusive “pie in the sky” item I HAD to have.
No matter how much babysitting I did (at 50 cents an hour) the leather and tweed preppy purses were still way out of reach for me. I had such a feeling of longing and aching to have one, and perhaps it was not just for the item itself, but the status and acceptance that I was sure came with it.
In the spring of my seventh grade year, my best friend came to my rescue. Though she had no limit on spending and acquiring wonderful items such as Ladybug clothes, Weejuns and John Romain purses, she didn’t lend me, or even give me one of hers. She did one better.
That spring, John Romain came out with a line of straw purses. With less leather on them, and without the trademark tweed, they were lightweight and therefore much more reasonable than the other ones. My friend collected money from our mutual friends and for my birthday that year, they presented me with one of the best gifts I ever received.
Never before did I cherish an object more than this precious purse. With my imitation Weejuns and my John Romain, briefly, very briefly, I was way cool. I didn’t feel deficient or utterly lacking, or, well poor. When I carried that purse around, I felt like a princess.
Didn’t get that one, but now this is in my collection – what a beaut!
Now that I can look back more objectively, though things were not easy to come by, compared to much of the world I now know, we were not poor at all – we had ample food, transportation and owned our own home. I guess my feeling of poverty came from comparing myself to the girls I grew up with who had everything of material value handed to them on a silver platter. I must say though, my appreciation for what I have as an adult, my life, my abundance and the people in my life count as much more important to me.
(The more read about my past though, the more you will come to understand why I have always had a bit of a shopping obsession.)
I know I am not alone in the feelings I described above, so now I am curious for some more nostalgia – what was your “must have” longed-for, yet unattainable item? And check out the photos of John Romain purses below – I ended up buying a few of these on Ebay as an adult.
Thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I wasn’t aware of the class system as a child, but I had an Great Aunt who gave me my first pocket book – A John Romain child size straw purse. I carried that thing forever. I know that princess feeling you mentioned. As an adult, I snagged two tweed bags like yours above – one with brown leather trim and one with navy. Those always make me smile. They also reminded me that things are things – but sometimes things do take on special meaning.
Thank you for sharing your story. A couple of years ago, I came across a John Romain leather bag at an estate sale. I fell in love with it! It still has the original warranty note that says, “To the lady who will wear this handbag…” I also have the original plastic cover bag. I don’t to if I should wear it or display it.
I always wanted the initial handbag, it pon it. I was lucky my Mothers friend sold villager and I could buy the samples
I remember making $25 a week at my job in Steubenville, Ohio in 1965 and bought a John Romain purse for $45 at The Hub in Steubenville, Oh. Sorry I no longer have it.
Yes, it was way out of proportion in expense for the time! Go to Ebay or Poshmark. I now own five!
My sister and (now) brother-in-law gave me this exact bag for my 16th birthday and I was in 7th Heaven. Couldn’t wait to go to school to show it off. I used it for several years. Can anyone recall another similar brand that was popular at that time? I just can’t remember the brand name.
Was just thinking of my Romaine purses. I parted with them about 10 years ago. I also saved babysitting money, birthday dollar bills and mother’s helper money. The purses were indestructible and came with lifetime repairs. I was horrified when someone at my lunch table spilled their chocolate milk on it. It never truly recuperated from that battle scar. I do remember borrowing my father’s Brasso to shine the buttons. The quality is exceptional. I currently own a pair of Aigner riding boots that I just can’t part with. The leather has dried out a bit but I cherish them. Still rockin’n the Weejuns, both tassel and penny. White tailored blouse, wool blazer with jeans and tassel loafers is my go-to outfit. I’m tall and plain Jane. That’s me.
I loved your article. I was just thinking about my “purse”suit of a John Remain purse this morning and googled it. My Junior High story is very similar. In the summer between 9th and 10th grade I mowed lawns for my father ( I got a $1/hr, the boys got $3/hr). But I got my purse to start High School with at another school. Ha! Nobody cared at that HS! I still loved that purse however, and wish I still had it!
I understand how you feel. My mother grew up poor. She bought me Bass shoes and John Romain purses. Wish I still had them. Good article.
How much is the value of the bag you have on the right. I have one. Looks brand new
Thank you for sharing. I bought a beautiful navy blue all leather John Romaine shoulder bag with two small pockets in the front.. I did not buy for a status symbol, I loved the purse and had
made my money in the summer befor my senior year in high school, 1967. My mother would not allow me to spend that much money on a purse but later said to get it because it was my money. I wore navy weejuns with it. I carried the bag my freshman year in college and my roommate from Atlanta was very impressed by purse. I loved it and wish I could find one like it. I actually had a dream about showing the label of John Romaine in my purse last night. This morning I googled John Romaine purses and found your story and bought a purse on eBay which I thought was navy but I see now that it is green and with no pockets on the front. However, I was paid 37 and a half cents an hour plus tips that summer and I know the bag was very expensive but do not remember how much I paid for it. I had to be at workday 5:00 in the morning so I was very impressed with that purse. I hope to find one like it. It was lined with beige corduroy. Here’s to all the girls who worked to buy pretty things in the 60’s. God has been good to me. I have had everything I ever wanted. Personal relationships were my big thing.
I married my high school sweetheart after graduating from college. We lost our 39 yr. old son a year ago. He was born with 65 roses and had a double lung transplant. There are things that money will not buy. Please google his testimony: Brother Virgil Thompson’s Testimony 5/19/19 Liberty Baptist Church. You will be blessed.
Many thanks for this lovely memory!
It was Etienne Aigner for us in New England. We shopped mostly at a nice department store in downtown Boston called Filene’s (officially William Filene and Sons). Both Aigner and John Romain bags and leather accessories were sold there, but for some reason we gravitated more toward the Etienne Aignier label. As you said, we had to have what our friends owned! I recall slightly that JM might have been for a slightly older, more sophisticated person-a college coed maybe, but I could be wrong. It was the one of the many adorable small leather handbags for Fall and Winter and a wicker/rattan or straw style for Spring and Summer. A Bermuda bag with interchangeable covers was construed as “dressy” for special occasions.
I had the Bass Weejun penny loafers and also the ones you described with the buckle and fringe, which were referred to as “kiltie loafers.” And, yes!! that color was called Oxblood! Who could forget a name like that! I remember having clothes by Villager and Lanz, the Austrian mohair Lodenfrey coats, gorgeous shetland cable knit sweaters, Pappagallo flats, etc. I still love all of those things and to this day wouldn’t think of walking around in sneakers and yoga pants! I actually own black Bass Weejuns now, one JM bag and and an Aigner one, too! I’m sticking to the classics ‘til the day I hit the grave! Hate all the visible labels, logos and conspicuous advertising on today’s clothing, shoes and bags-it’s not for me!
I, too, know the situation you so well described. I got my first job at age 16 and saved and saved until I got my JR bag, just like the picture you posted. I’ll never forget that!! Never. And Im 69!!
I too love the John Romain purses. I have been looking for a tweed and navy John Romain for over a year. zDoes anyone have one for sale?
To Nancy Henson: I see a navy and tweed bag on Etsy now (04/21/21). Seller is called ModernAppalachia. Good luck!
Hi Arleen. Having recently undergone some huge changes, I’ve been very nostalgic for quieter days. I was lucky to have had my weejuns and my 4 Romain bags, including an initial bag, and I wanted a redo. Something I could hold, like a talisman. I found it in the shape of a new/old Romain bag. It made me so happy to open the box and see “her” once again. Like seeing an old friend. I wish I could send a pic. She’s perfect for being 60! Thanks for the walk down the lane of my teenage years.
I have four old beauties that are like my old friends as well. I can relate! They are easy to find on Poshmark. Thanks for commenting. I reminisce frequently on this blog!
Omg. I can sooo relate to 95% of your upbringing. I just told a friend last night about John Romain bags. I grew up in a southwest Philly suburb, graduated high school 1975. My mom paid $1 or $2 a month installment payments to buy these bags for my older sister and me. My dad, a sweet man, had no idea she did this for us. Our lower middle income status made it hard for me of junior high age to understand why we had to wait a year to pay off our desired bags. I also babysat .50 -$1/hr to buy my own clothes in the 69th St. shopping district. What we lacked in status material items, however, was made up for with love and security. Thanks for the visit down Memory Lane.
That was so very kind of your mom. How touching! Thanks for sharing!
Loved your article- I grew up in NY during the late 60’s and 70’s graduating from HS in 1979. I must have missed all of this because our go to clothing was bell bottom jeans, men’s flannel shirts and work boots.
You really captured my youth. I was the third daughter of a similar ”scraping by” family from NE Philly. I was lucky enough to get a few hand-me-downs from my older sister, who actually went to work for Ladybug/Villager. I often felt ”I’m not worthy” as SNL comics made famous yearS later.
I enjoyed reading your article. We, also, were middle class and I didn’t go without but didn’t purchase items like John Romain bags for myself. My friends got together and purchased one for my 16th birthday. I received many poorboy sweaters that year, too. I think most of us experienced similar feelings and didn’t realize it til we were grown
Yes, you are right! Thanks for writing in.
if you know where I can find a navy leather and tweed bag in near perfect condition, please let me know. My better half has several brown ones and I’ve been looking for a navy one for her.
Thanks so much !!
I noticed that Ladybug pin on the purse! I found a linen and leather one just like your all leather one on the left. It was exactly like the one I carried in high school. I’m looking for the Capezio street shoes!
Thanks Jolee – I also have a linen and leather one in the style of the all leather one but it is a bit more beat up than the two shown. I treasure them. You are right about the Ladybug pin. I used to get them from friends so I could appear cool, and when I told a friend that, she mailed me one she had saved in her old Jewelry box so I put it on my beloved purse.
I got really sick in 6th grade – my uncle who had no children of his own told me he would take me to the ‘best mall’ in town and buy me something when I was well. More than a year later……HA! Little did he know I had my eye on a JR purse. Guess you could say I ‘bamboozled’ him, but he got a kick out of telling everybody how much that ‘promise’ to me cost him! I eventually bought several others w/my own babysitting money too. Wish I had kept them. P.S. do ya’ll think JR purses are the COACH purses of today? (won’t say the popular Louis Vuitton, b/c those are not comparable at all.)
Thanks for this beautiful addition to my blog. I am wondering how much they cost because at the time I babysat for 50 cents an hour and could not possibly save up for one. I would say yes to the Coach comparison, because everyone HAD to have a Coach at some point.
1971 I started junior high. My parents would not have bought a JR bag for me – there were 5 children in our family and though we weren’t “poor,” that bag would have been extravagant and my parents just wouldn’t understand.
I saved for so long and finally got $10 and change, enough for the smallest leather bag. I walked all the way to our little downtown (malls were not abundant then) to the shop and bought the little purse.
No, it didn’t change my life by elevating me with to in-crowd, (I don’t think anyone really noticed my purse!) and I guess it was a good lesson for me.
I still treasured it, and each year in school thereafter I did give in to some fashion must-have, but without the delusions – and never again that expensive.
Thank you Amy for your story. It must have been more than 10 for the linen and leather ones because I earned 50 cents an hour babysitting and no matter how hard I tried, I never had enough saved. Good job on reaching your goal.
I read your story and felt like it was my sister and my story. I did buy my first pair of Weejuns in I think 1966 with my 50 cent an hour babysitting money. They were $13.00. It took a long time to save but finally I had enough and my girlfriend and I bought our first Weejuns. I know exactly the John Romain you were talking about. That small wicker one was my first one also .After I got a job at a local deli, I was able to save more and bought the fishing tackle box like one. Villager and Lady Bug were also out of reach but we bought “knock offs” at a factory outlet and would go to the Ladybug store and swipe a Ladybug pin or two (or three) and put them on our collar. Thanks for the memories! Our story is the same as yours.
The number under the name John Romain means the Month and year the bag was made
I.e. 7 – 68. July 1968
My Mother recently gifted me a John Romain purse and on the inside right underneath his logo and name, there’s a number “7-10” on it. Does anyone know what these numbers signify? The only thing I can think of is maybe he only made 10 in this specific style and this is the 7th one? The only problem with this theory is the fact that I can’t see a high end designer only making 10 of these handbags.
Any input would be greatly appreciated.
I’d like to know about the numbers, too. Mine says 1-88. People have said the numbers are the month-year it was made, but that would make yours 110 years old!
John Romain WAS the bag to have. I’m 66 and I had one and I had John Romain sandles, too. I wish I had saved the bag. I’m looking for one on eBay. I’d pay anything to have one that has the box and has never been used. But I don’t think that exists.
If you had your John Romain bag, your Weejuns and your Ladybug and Villager skirts, sweaters and blouses you were set. I was an only child and I was lucky my parents could afford these things. But I also bought a lot on my own with my babysitting money. If I could find these skirts, sweaters and blouses again I would definitely wear them now. And because I’m 66 I wouldn’t care if I looked odd.
I love this purse. Where can I purchase this purse. I absolutely love.
Hi – this is Arlene, the publisher and writer of Hot Flashes blog. Go to Ebay.com and type in search John Romain vintage handbags – there are plenty for sale and some are in good condition!!! Good Luck!
I advise you to write such sorts of articles daily to give the audience like me all of the necessary info.
In my opinion, it is better to be ready for all of the unexpected situations beforehand, so thanks,
it was pretty cool.
That is a pleasure to see your post and eventually clarify the issue myself.
I still have my burgundy leather with my initials on it in the box it came in i naught in 10th grade1970 it is still in great condition
What a keepsake to have! Good for you for saving it!
You are right it was a must have. I did have one and loved it!!
Loved reading your blog Arlene! And what your friends did for you really got me choked up. I grew up in the NE as well. My family was not able to afford all those “little” things. But, I knew that I was loved and that seemed to make up for those things in many ways. My father died when we were in 11th grade and for me, those “little” things didn’t much matter anymore.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment Lynne. I am so sorry about your tragedy at such a young age.
Thanks Arlene! This brings it all back. I had totally forgotten about those purses! My parents DID splurge on a pair of Weejuns for me one birthday though. I cherished those shoes until they fell apart, years later.
I remember that EVERYONE had those shoes except me!!
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Oh my gosh I loved this! Same here! Villager clothes, weejuns, john romain and Etienne aigner! The tennis sweater with a navy blue a line waistless skirt and a pale blue oxford…such a twit I was! My favorite was the olive green skirt with a navy cardigan and a pale yellow oxford. I am online now looking for a vintage etiene aigner straw fishing creel purse. I had one but of course it is nowhere to be gound. Loved your article, brought back a lot of memories.
I enjoyed reading and reminiscing. I was tall, gawky and had bad acne in Jr High School. Although never part of the in group, I had good friends and was lucky that my parents did get me Weejuns and a John Romain handbag when they went on sale. I treasured those items, polishing my shoes and using a special leather paste on the bag. I still can imagine the scent after I polished my shoes and bag.
Thanks for the wonderful memories!
And is that a ladybug pin on the bag!!!
Yes it is. When I finally got these, a friend who saved her pins gave me one to put on it! Good eye!!
OMG! I saved up birthday and babysitting money to buy my John Romain when I was in high school. It was one of the smaller ones, all I could afford, but the status of carrying it made it okay. I was so proud! Also had Weejuns, so we must be the same age or near to it, and I grew up in Western Mass, so get the East Coast reference. We also had heather colored wool skirts, with sweaters and knee socks that matched. It was so important to look like everyone else.
I get more mail on these purses! They were something else, weren’t they? So lusted for at the time! And you are right, it was so important to be just like everyone else.
I have the same leather and cloth John Romain pocket book. That’s the first designer I remember. I have another leather shoulder bag that has the flowers painted on it.
Great article. Did you have capezio shoes a status symbol in 60 s in york Pennsylvania. The boys had barracuda jackets. Girls wore chesterfield coats. Great memories.
I just stumbled across you while searching for some information on a John Romain purse I inherited from my grandmother some years ago. I came across it just the other day. Do you know how I can find out information on the purse?
Thank you for your story it reminded me of when I saved up for my Aigner purse. I worked at Burger King after school and when I finally had the money to buy it, I had no money to put in it!
Thanks again for the stroll down memory lane.
I have been searching for the leather handbag I saved all summer, 1969, to buy one of these purses. Can’t find it anywhere! It is very similar to yours, but all leather.
Those jr. high days were rough.I also remember Chatty Kathy and I still have mine,although she doesn`t talk anymore ,but still in original clothes. My aunt recently moved to be closer to her children. While helping clear the home I came across a John Romain handbag.After all was said and done yard sales etc, She said I could have the leftovers.The handbag was still there and I always wanted one.Its the all leather bag with brass trim .I has held up beautifully. The best thing of all is ,while going over old family photos there was my Aunt in the yard of my Grandmothers with that John Roman bag dressed perfectly as a Southern Woman should be. I really cherish this family heirloom.
Thanks for writing. Would love to see a photo of the all leather one. Is it like the one above in the photo? Would love to see your photo with your aunt and the purse. I treasure my purses, all bought via ebay.
Wow, Arlene, you really nailed it. You’ve described my early teen years exactly. I scrimped and saved and used money from my bat mitzvah gifts to purchase a John Romain bag, the most precious possession for quite some time. And those Villager and Ladybug clothes that I could never afford (I used to swipe the little ladybug stick pin that came on the clothes). I still have the circle pin.
Shortly thereafter, I began sewing and made all my clothes. They looked like Villager/Ladybug clothes, until we all started wearing fringe and embroidery and then it all went to more creative endeavors. I even sewed my own fringed bags, made from some sort of vinyl.
And now, if I could wear Villager-style shirts and sweaters, I would. I would skip the skirts…
A FB friend asked us to post humorous notes about the recent romaine lettuce recall, so I posted a photo of a John Romain bag and told people to google it. That’ how I found your post, Arlene.
Thanks so much for stopping by and reading and commenting. You have no idea how many people I have heard from who like you and me longed for the status symbols of those days!
Wow – brings back memories. My family could not afford a John Romain bag, Weejuns, or Ladybug clothes. My older neighbor gave me her Ladybug hand me downs. My aunt sewed samples for the Heartsville brand & I got sample dresses for $2.00.
My friends gave me a Romain belt & key chain for my birthday.
Made my own purses adding leather trim to straw bags. Bought a wooden purse that resembled a fishing creel. Stained it, varnished it, decopaged it with strawberries, lined it with red & white gingham & attached lining with red thumb tacks. It is my sewing basket today. Sewed two
prom dresses for my senior year
at a deep discount <$50.
Could not afford those Pappagallo shoes & Villager clothes – also not in my budget.
Might I ask what an original John Romain bag cost, brand new, back in the 60s? I just purchased a beautiful one from Goodwill for $5.00! It had never been used; it still had an old Macy’s tag on it but was missing the price. It’s in pristine shape, smells brand new and is a gorgeous, complete leather, burgundy purse. I’d love to know what it retailed for back when it was in stores in the 60s!
Wow, lucky you!! Please post a photo. I believe they were in the 40 or 50 dollar range back in the sixties when that was the average weekly salary for many people. They were purses for the well-to-do.
I was just thinking about John Romain bags (whatever happened to them?!) and came across your site.
We must be the same age. I remember all of those must have items when I was in junior high in the late 1960s. Like you I had to have a John Romain bag and I did get one which I cherished. I also remember many of the other girls having extensive wardrobes (or what seemed like it at the time) and my own collection of clothing was sparse. Oh, how I wished for some of those Villager & Ladybug clothes and I remember my mother saying that they were too expensive!
I grew up in Cherry Hill, NJ which was a in a booming upscale suburb. My parents weren’t poor but didn’t believe in spending beyond the basics for me. Babysitting in those early years was one way of having some extra cash.
I was grateful in more ways than one that when I got into high school in the fall of 1968 girls were finally able to wear pants! Not only were they more comfortable than skirts & dresses but by wearing the same jeans all the time one couldn’t tell if I had a lot of clothes or not. I wore the same few pairs of jeans over & over.
At first we were told that they had to be nice pantsuits or slacks but that was ignored from the beginning. We wore hip hugger bell bottoms with tie dye tees. This was before expensive designer jeans took off a few years later.
I just might look for a vintage John Romain bag now….thanks for bringing back some old memories!
I grew up in NE Philly so we were neighbors! I was the poorest on my block – we had no discretionary money at all. I babysat from the age of 10, including overnight mother’s helper jobs to get cool clothes. I graduated high school in 1972 and when I was in tenth grade, we were allowed to wear pants, and then eventually jeans. By senior year, anything goes and we wore jean cutoffs and micro-minis.
Your story really hit home to me, too. We moved to the suburbs of Atlanta from a small town in Pennsylvania when I was in 6th grade. Being the oldest of four children from a family that did not have a lot, I didn’t have a clue at first about any of the status symbols of the times for junior high school girls, but I learned fast! I coveted the Weejuns, John Romain purses, and Villager clothing, but was stuck with the homespun dresses my mom made me and one nice pair of sturdy shoes for school (usually basic loafers or saddle oxfords). My mom taught me how to sew soon after we moved to Georgia and would let me pick out a few fabrics and patterns to make outfits. I would window shop at stores like Rich’s and Davidson’s, and a popular clothing store in our town of Marietta, called Lois Ashworth’s. Then I would set to making knock-off outfits that closely resembled what other girls had. I got pretty good at it! When I was 13, I started babysitting for many of my neighbors and even had an after school babysitting job every afternoon. I saved and saved, and got the Weejuns and the John Romain. After that I was able to start buying a few pieces of clothing from those stores that I once could only wish for. I remember one day in 9th grade, wearing John Romain sandals, headband, and purse, a girl in my class asked me if everything I owned was a John Romain! I couldn’t help smiling all day.
These days I buy things I like, not for labels, but if I truly like them. However, I still look for vintage John Romain bags on eBay and Etsy, and buy them occasionally. Someday, maybe I will open a vintage store on Etsy and sell some of them. But for now, they bring back memories of being a girl that worked hard to get what she wanted, even if it was silly materialistic belongings.
Thanks for your very similar story! Good for you on both the sewing and the purchases! By the way, though it is not pictured here, I also bought the exact straw model that was gifted to me. I think now cell phones are the must have item. Such different times! There was nothing more beautiful and well constructed than these beautiful purses! Arlene
The reporter covering Kate Spade’s death quoted Chelsea Clinton as saying that her first designer bag was a Kate Spade. I could barely retrieve the name of my first designer bag – although I could picture it – then it came to me, I googled it and got to this article.
I grew up in the Phila western suburbs and I guess I was relatively privileged so I had the John Romain bag, the Weejuns, the A line plaid skirts with matching heather tone sweaters, and remember going to the Villager/Ladybug factory outlet stores for those iconic blouses.
One day, my bag was stolen (at school) by another Great Valley High School student, and crazy enough, I recovered it the same afternoon when I saw the girl with it in a store about 2 miles from school. She was charged with theft, I did get the bag back but had to walk along the route she had driven in order to retrieve my wallet, hairbrush, autograph book, etc. , the contents of the bag she had thrown out the window of the car.
I never really thought about it until I read this article. Clearly, she was someone who wasn’t stealing money – she threw out my wallet – it was that John Romain handbag, a very important status symbol that was beyond her means.
WOW! What a story! Thanks so much for sharing! I wanted one so bad, but never thought of stealing.
you had a joy, i had a margaret mary neighbor that had everything! similar era, and life experience. i had to wear the bo bo sneaks and had a knock off ken doll. i survived, and compared to today i think we had better childhoods!
This was an interesting read. I never felt the desire for any material things when I was in junior high school or high school. Actually, my junior high school years were a part of my elementary school years, since my elementary school went up to 8th grade. I was not an Oxford Circle girl, I lived on the “other side of the boulevard”, where Jews were in the minority. I was very naive, and was not aware of the distinction as I was growing up. My mother picked out my clothes until I started high school. I don’t remember objecting to whatever my mother brought home for me to wear… except one day, when she brought home a red dress. I was very upset, and said I would never wear red to school, nobody wore red! The dress just hung, unworn, in my closet. Other than that, I was very complacent.
Then when I went to Girls’ High, teens were racially and economically diverse, coming from all parts of the city. I definitely did not identify with the “typical northeast Jewish girl”. Actually, I remember feeling pride in that. In an all girls school during the late sixties, I didn’t feel judged by what I wore. I was always into looking fashionable but never cared about labels. I’m still like that today. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t afford or wouldn’t buy something that was a label, but I don’t seek it out. If I buy something, name brand, it will be because I really love the item.
The competition was FIERCE where I grew up. You had to be like everyone else! I am glad this bypassed you! I will buy no label things but I have certain favorite labels too, where I seem to love everything they make.
Being one of seven children and only getting hand-me-downs from the neighbor girls, I never had any of those items. I remember wanting a John Romain bag and Weejuns so badly! I also wanted white go-go boots and patent leather shoes that tied with ribbons. Jackie Greenwood had several pairs of the patent shoes and let me wear a pair one night to a dance at Jardel. I wore an 8 and her’s were 6’s!! My toes have never been the same!
Funny, now, I have no desire for designer anything! I definitely have depression mentality! My husband has to force me to buy clothing!!!
Thanks for the memories!
Isn’t it funny how we had the same deprivation and I am the opposite of you?!!
WOW……This blog hits very close to home! I was fortunate to have Weejuns, and one John Romain bag, which were my pride and joy!
I clearly remember my older, big sister taking me to Brownies discount store on Bustleton Avenue to root through racks and racks of clothing searching for Lady Bug clothes. When a designer article of clothing was found…..It was like hitting the lottery!
My biggest desire was a gold, round initial pin to be place strategically between the collars of my butterflied collared blouse, which I never did get!
Thanks for posting this “blast from the past” all of which were lying dormant in my old brain!
Loved, loved, loved Brownies!!
Enjoyed this blog & the description of your memories as you are absolutely correct in that everyone can identify with the sense of lack no matter what economic background but we can only recognize & understand why once we get to the “hot flash” stage of life. I did not know of John Romain purses as this is a just a few years before my time & interest but oh, they are lovely & I will be looking for these! Have a wonderful day! I will also go back & comment on FB….
Thanks for reading and commenting Lynn – you are so very right!!!
Arlene, I totally relate! I have not heard or thought of those name brands in so many decades and I do remember wishing I could have those things. I couldn’t afford any of them, not a one. I immediate recognized those brands though- John Romaine, Ettienne, Villager and Ladybug, Weejuns and Bass shoes and that oxblood color. Once a year though, I did buy a few new cute school clothes and items at Kleins or Korvettes on sale and I loved that! Great, fun blog, Arlene! Nowadays, I don’t covet labels snd do enjoy the lovely things I have, but still love a good sale!
So funny, I did my back to school shopping at Klein’s too! Only I used my own money! It went farther there! I babysat to get new clothes!
Good article. I loved all of these items too. One of my favs was m y initial handbag!!!
You were SOOO lucky! You had an initial Etienne Shoulder purse?!! I only wish I had one. Coveted those and John Romains!