Sunday, April 29, 2012

Farmer's Rest and Writing Room for Ladies

Farmer & Company store at 436-450 George Street (1928-1976)
Farmer's Rest and Writing Room for Ladies

Location: Pitt, Market, & George Streets, Sydney, Australia

Opened: Farmer & Company began operations under this name in 1869

Closed: Store "badged" with the Myers name in 1976

Farmer & Company Limited was one of Australia's oldest and largest department stores. If you've been to the flagship Macy's in New York's Herald Square, you probably get the general idea. The store began its life as a drapery shop in the 1840s, but didn't become known as Farmer & Company till 1869. From then on, it expanded and branched out into many other lines of merchandising before finally becoming a public company in 1897.
Farmers display window

Their final building (shown above) at 436-450 George Street, designed by Robertson & Marks, dates to 1928. However, it appears that Farmer & Company had operated a store at this general location since 1889. Business was conducted under the Farmers name until 1976, when it was "badged" with the Myers (Myers Emporium Ltd) name. The building is now part of Sydney Central Plaza.

It was not until this kind of department-style retailing developed in the 19th century that shopping became branded as a "feminine" pastime, as an opportunity to stroll and ogle and gawk--not just haggle over necessary provisions. In fact, Farmers & Company is credited with installing Sydney's first plate-glass windows in 1854. This short history of Australian shops and shopping goes on to observe the following:

Retailers have gone to great lengths to cultivate the female shopper. From the early twentieth century many stores produced elaborate displays of fashion items. They lavished attention on their women customers and displayed goods to appeal to feminine fantasies.

In dividing their stores into specialised departments such as clothing, hardware and shoes, retailers began to designate men's and women's departments. David Jones had a Men's Grill. Gowings installed a barber's shop (one is still open for business). Women had their own rest rooms complete with writing areas and telephones. Even the furnishings reflected the differences: marble floors and timber fittings for men, mirrors and soft fabrics for women.

Farmers took a special pride in their Rest and Writing Room for Ladies. In fact, they actually published advertising copy extolling the room's virtues. Oddly, this reads more like a prose poem than an ad for the latest shipment of hats. From the Sydney Morning Herald, November 30, 1922:



In the midst of a hot, busy, rushing day in town--to get "far away from everything" for a brief spell--into a cool, peaceful atmosphere--to lie back and shut one's eyes and relax--that is the way speedily to secure a new lease of energy for shopping or other business--and it is quite simple and practical if you make use of the Ladies' Rest and Writing Room.

Or you may have urgent notes to write in time for the very next mail. In this same charming room--upholstered in soft rose shades--are all writing facilities.

This artistic room is adjacent to the Corset Salon, on the Fourth Floor. A nominal fee of 8d. is made for its use, including all accessories.

I wish I had a photo or drawing to share, but no such luck. You'll just have to shut your eyes and journey there yourself.

There's something of a twisted paradox here, though. Funny that the women's "artistic" rest and writing space is literally next door to the women's body-crushing space (the Corset Salon). I'll have to ponder that a while.

Some of us ladies "of a certain age" can still recall the days when ladies restrooms actually had facilities for rest. When I was a child, I can vaguely remember fainting couches in the small ladies lounges adjacent to some of the nicer restrooms. But those facilities were limited to a handful of old theaters or museums, not department stores. And nearly all of those are extinct now as well. When one considers the ladies restroom at Wal-Mart, rest is the last thing that comes to mind. No one would ever dream of them as being quiet spaces to collect one's thoughts or scribble down a few lines on perfumed stationery. It's just a place to get your business done, wash your hands, maybe drag a comb through your hair, and get out.

Such is progress???

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