Sunday, June 8, 2014

Garments for the Discerning Driver by Saks and Company

I'm taking a little detour (pun intended) from the usual Sunday automotive posts this morning. I woke up to a rainy, cool June day and while perusing the aisles of the vast internet library I came upon the 1905 Saks and Company (later to become Saks Fifth Avenue) printed a catalog specifically targeted toward the growing automobile-driving consumer. They offered pretty much anything that the turn-of-the-century motorist would need, from clothing to accessories. So, I thought we'd take a look in the Saks catalog to see what we could find!

First there's the clothing. Remember, 1905 was a time before the closed car, windshield were an option and there were no heaters to stave off the elements. If you went for a trip and it started raining, you better have rain gear, and if you were driving on a dusty, rock-strewn road, well without the right equipment you might just lose an eye or a tooth to a chunk of gravel.

For those rainy days, you might opt for this little ensemble. A rain cape (I guess we'd call it a poncho) with a  ridiculous rumpled cap. The cape is advertised as large enough to enclose the steering wheel so that it doesn't get so slick you can't steer. Ah, comfort and convenience, now that's what I like!

 I can't get over the hat. It looks like something from a Laurel and Hardy or Fatty Arbuckle comedy. As if it'd been shoved on the model's head by an exasperated camera man who was over the whole automotive craze and would have refused the Saks contract if he didn't have three kids to feed.

Now we move on to the ladies. Though the bustle had fallen out of fashion by 1905, it was the era of the "health corset" and all those floor-length, full skirts, deep-cut necklines, and hats that you see in the pieces by many of the golden age illustrators like Harrison Fisher. The women of the era couldn't go for a ride in their beau's automobile without the proper attire and Saks was ready to provide everything she needed.

So, we give you what I like to call the bubonic plague dress, because the only thing that could make a woman less attractive than this getup would be an outbreak of festering boils. The overcoat is a cross between the military coats worn by the Wicked Witch of the West's minions the Winkies and the headgear looks like it could have come right out of an episode of Buck Rogers.

I'm sure the thought here was to protect your dearest from the oil, tar, soot, and debris that typically turned a motorist's face black, but couldn't they have done it with a little more style? I mean we're not too far from cinching a burlap sack over dear old Millie's head, are we? All she really needs is "Gold Medal Flour" emblazoned across her forehead.

Well, maybe it's function over fashion in 1905. Maybe we should keep in mind that the automobile was a new piece of equipment and we hadn't quite figured out what to do with it. It was a technological advance and on the cutting edge of the technology was the automotive speed demon, the racer pushing his machine to new land-speed records. There is perhaps no other automotive profession more in need of specialized, protective garments and Saks was right there at the beginning.

The first choice for our daredevil is this great Cyberman ensemble. Yes, you too can look like your favorite stompy alien menace while pushing your Model A to the edge of human endurance. Apparently this is a French design, though I suspect that the designer may have snickered when he sold it to his stupide americain client. Perhaps the record set in France was for duping Americans when it came to fashion.

The aerodynamics of this suit don't even make sense. The broad, floppy face mask with vision-limiting goggles would either be ripped off your head, or turn sideways and blind you totally as you go into turn one. You'll notice that even in the earliest Indy 500 races nobody wore an outfit that looked anything like what Saks is offering here? Well, that's because nobody wan'ted to look like a moron while driving a race car! Can you imagine the track announcer? "Here comes the hooded wonder driving car 8 down the short shoot...what an ass."

The science fiction theme continues in my final Saks offering for the man who "would count a mile in seconds". This one looks a little like something Evil Overlord Koth's henchmen might wear while operating the dreaded moon cannon that will bring eternal night to the earth and enshrine a new era where their master will rule over all humanity. Yes, the faceless servants of evil need hard-wearing clothing to protect them from the ichors, arcane energies, and cosmic rays that are part and parcel of henchmanship. Why choose anything but the best, because who wants to be horribly disfigured or mutated on the job?

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