Swirling by the tables in a Zelda-esque frock, Sara Carnochan begins her impromptu fashion history lesson. “This is a Marlborough School graduation dress worn in 1925 by alumna Dorothy Miller,” says Carnochan, class of 2002, to a group of women, young and old. Some are her fellow classmates at the tony 109-year-old private school for girls in Hancock Park; others are alumni who primped for the prom while Coolidge was still in office. Regardless of age, they all refer to themselves as the “Marlborough Girls.”
Although celebrating Marlborough alumni from the ‘20s through ‘50s is the official impetus for this afternoon’s “Tea and Memories” at the gloriously refurbished Bullock’s Wilshire--now in its second incarnation as the Southwestern University School of Law’s library--many of the Marlborough Girls have used today’s invitation as an excuse to recall past shopping excursions at Wilshire Boulevard’s Cathedral of Commerce. Because as any veteran shopper will tell you, Bullock’s Wilshire was not just about buying a pair of shoes.
“If you were looking for something special, you could just call,” says Katharine Jean Richman, class of ’24. “Everyone knew you, what you liked. If they didn’t have anything, they’d tell you not to bother to come down. Then, a week later, you might get a call from your salesclerk saying something nice had just come in.”
The new Marlborough Girls float through the room, explaining their vintage school uniforms, many of which were originally purchased at Bullock’s Wilshire. There go those 1910 wool P.E. bloomers and that lilac tennis dress/sweater combo so 1970s it seems tongue-in-cheek. The girls stroll in teenage packs of twos and threes, stopping every few steps to listen to alumni stories recounted between nibbles of cucumber sandwiches and chocolate-dipped strawberries. There’s the class of ’74 member who employed her classmates’ graduation dresses to do double duty when they were her bridesmaids; there’s the class of ’50 graduate who fondly recalls her mother capping off their uniform-buying excursions with refreshments at Bullock’s Wilshire’s storied tearoom; and there was that nice man--what was his name?--who handled the department store’s elevators.
Back at Sara Carnochan’s fashion show, one of the Marlborough Girls seizes her arm. “Did you say that’s Dorothy Miller’s dress?” the class of ’26 asks excitedly. “My goodness, I went to school with Dorothy Miller! I haven’t heard her name in years.”
Everyone smiles, even the teenagers.