Sears called its Christmas catalog the “Wish Book.” It, along with other oversized glossy catalogs, came to American households every year heralding the Christmas buying season and giving children plenty of images to fantasize over.
Studying them is a remembered rite of passage. In the days before gender neutrality, girls’ thoughts turned to Mrs. Beasley Dolls and Easy Bake Ovens, while boys dreamed of Red Ryder BB guns and Lionel trains. The clothing pages were annoyance you had to flip through to get to toy nirvana. If the clothes were thought of at all, it was with certain trepidation that some well meaning relative might linger on one of those pages and buy something practical, like a snow suit.
What was unknown to us was that mysterious mechanism called puberty that would somehow transform neckties, briar pipes and pheasant-phestooned highball glasses into desirable Christmas gifts. With that in mind, I was a little surprised that the Sears catalogs were not as toy-centric as I remember. And on that note we present the Sears “Wish Book” of 1964.
These images are a few of what it offered in men’s clothes, in which you can certainly see the Ivy influence. Ten years after LIFE Magazine proclaimed that Ivy was spreading across America, it had now arrived in mailboxes everywhere. No longer solely on Madison Avenue, York and Nassau Streets, the look — or at least some reasonable approximation of it — could now be had on Main Street.
Marked by a slimmer silhouette and the diminutive lapels of the time, it is fair to say the clothes are a tad derivative of better-executed contemporary clothing offered at campus shops such as Irv Lewis in Ithaca or Hillhouse in Providence. Many items featured in the catalog were offered in family-friendly and mother-approved blended fabrics. The odd waistcoat is a nice touch. What is not known is whether this was just an odd bit of fashion recycling or a knowing homage to the Ivy look that began to rise to popularity in the ’50s.
The clothes were likely well made union offerings, better then what is sold today by its namesake, but still downmarket at the time. It is doubtful any of the buyers of these clothes had any loyalty to the Ivy League Look. Sears, like most of America, was fickle and would change with the trends, and a few years after this catalog Main Street started to look like Carnaby Street and Haight–Ashbury, and this would be reflected in the pages of the Sears catalog. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
Christopher Sharp lives in upstate New York. He is a former community-newspaper reporter and a veteran of the Global War on Terror. He has served in Navy Reserve for over 20 years. He was recently appointed assistant editor of Ivy-Style.com.