“Want to write about fashion from a historical perspective…?” Pattern  Editor-in-Chief, Polina Osherov queried this past fall.

If you weren’t aware, Indy has an emerging interest in fashion and Pattern is an organization dedicated to “Uniting and growing creators and consumers of fashion in Indianapolis.” They have also just published their third issue of Pattern Paper.

Upon learning the current issue’s overall theme was ‘transit,’ I knew just the angle to share: how the location of Indy’s beloved retail palaces was based on access and proximity to transportation (Beep beep, toot toot).

William H. Block moved his business from a bustling Washington Street (and National Road) to the corner of Illinois and Market Streets–a shrewd/ strategic move that would funnel those coming and going from the  Traction Terminal Building past his doors–the siren song of window displays filled with the day’s fashion, beckoning entry. You can read all about it in Issue No. 3 of Pattern Magazine.

How to convey the significance of this one time hub of fashion and shopping?

Illinois and Market

The two buildings in the background take up space that was formerly occupied by the Traction Terminal Shed

The first idea for a companion photo was to somehow splice an old picture of the Traction Terminal into the background with some fashionable ladies of varying eras in the foreground. That not being practical, we opted to shoot the other direction, with the former department store as the backdrop

Today, the ground level of the original part of Block’s Department store is used for a nationwide discount chain, and its later addition (1930’s) next door (and the entirety of the upstairs) have been remodeled into The Block Apartments. Photographer, Esther Boston was camped in on-again, off-again drizzle, not moving her camera in inch for the few hours of shooting required to put the final composite picture together.


Imagine yourself walking this bit of geography through almost one hundred years. That’s what we did. With model Brooke Hovermale transformed to represent the comings and goings here in the 1920’s, 40’s and 60’s, consider how many millions of pieces of clothing, accessories and other items have been conveyed through the doors of this once grand retail palace in its lifetime.

40's hair and makeup

Makeup artist Tara Dumser crafts 40’s makeup look

We traveled through years and years envisioning shopping Block’s and walking the streets of Indianapolis through the decades–with changes to hair, makeup and clothes for each time period.

Brooke Hovermale 1920's inside The Block

Inside The Block, 1920’s look- Going up!

1920’s: Underneath the velvet coat, a red dress worthy of a flapper–a good modern interpretation of 20’s style–somewhat loose and with room to Charleston. To be completely accurate, the coat should have been a bit longer, but sometimes you have to improvise and approximate. Added the fur collar to the emerald velvet coat to mimic the large fur collars so typical of 1920’s outer ware. This white cloche hat–a must for 20’s craniums–is embellished with rhinestones and a feather, and was paired with white leather gloves and fur muff to match the collar; shoes were bone color, leather t-strap with a French heel.

Brooke Hovermale 1920's

1920’s look, unbuttoned

 Dress only:

1920's looking dress

Behind the scenes, sans coat

(Hat: JoyRide6, Dress: TJ Maxx, Coat: Tammy Kirkman, Shoes, gloves, muff, fur collar: personal collection)

1940’s: A variety of women’s’ suits were popular throughout the decade–always with big shoulders, and longer skirts more prevalent towards the end of the decade–since, during war time, materials were scarce. Still, ladies liked to have well coordinated outfits and wouldn’t dream of not having gloves, hat and purse to match the rest of the ensemble. Hats started to be placed more asymmetrically or angled, and hair was coiffed in an artistic manner.

1940's outside William H. Block

1940’s suit

Green plaid suit with red pin stripe, green gloves, red leather purse (from H.P. Wasson), red jewelry, green velvet hat (personal collection)

1960’s: If you watch Mad Men–especially the earlier seasons, you will know that matchy-matchy is the way to go. This blue, green and gold patterned dress has a matching jacket, with great details on the arm (wish I’d taken a close-up) and a matching skinny belt. The white cone straw hat felt springy and the shoes, purse and jewelry all matched the shade of gold represented in the dress. She looked gorgeous. And ready for her close-up with Don Draper.

Mad Men in Indianapolis

Mad Men look in Indianapolis, 1960’s

(Dress, purse, shoes, hat: Tammy Kirkman, Gloves: JoyRide6, Jewelry: Personal collection)

Which look is your favorite? And which would look the best on you, ladies?

Thanks again to Pattern for inviting me to be part of this lovely issue! (You can get a copy of Pattern Issue No. 3 at Indy Reads Books and a few other select locations.)

Pattern Transit Issue 3

Sneak peek at the finished product!

Model: Brooke Hovermale, L Modelz Agency

Hair: Tabatha Bonham, Meridian Design Group

Makeup: Tara Dumser, La Dolce Salon

Stylist: Tiffany Benedict Berkson

Photographer: (of shoot featured in Pattern) Esther Boston

Big thanks to Emily at The Block Apartments for their assistance!


8 responses to “Road Trip: Vintage Fashion in Pattern”

  1. d mikels shea says:

    Loved it that someone fihnally recognized the “OTHER” downtown mecca (there was also Wassons which had exclusive on hats, including iconic John Frederics plus a great cafeteria even if not comparable with Ayres,Blocks.) So, a few memories from a been there-done that long ago Blocks shopper:

    Ayres Tea Room reigned supreme–but Blocks had white linens, even finger bowls long after the others. There was an eat-run hot cafeteria line that pioneered great vegetable plates–al dente and a salad with croutons that beat anything at LSA. And, seasonally, there were also models–parading the next season’s fashions from top designers like Teal Trana, Davidow, even Norell I think, strolling casually in and out of the tables of diners–and on that note a funny and verifiable anecdote:

    Let’s call them Mr. and Mrs. Stuffy (she was, he was in her shadow and given her stocky build her shadow was formidable!) She was a Helen Hokinson, DAR type original–controlling, overbearing, upward-questing and his escape was his downtown accounting office- he came in early, worked through lunch and stayed late–probably to escape going home. So, when a hot August day came that Mrs. S. informed him HE was taking HER to lunch in Block’s Tea Room (known for its prime time long wait in line) Mr. S. resisted. She insisted–he caved and so it came to be that they entered the lunch room to be seated at a small round center room—his first-ever visit to a department store tea room —not noticing the signage or table tents heralding an upcoming pre-season fur sale.

    (Now–totally unrelated–this came at a time in the 50’s when the local newspapers were carrying wire stories of some extra-marital hanky panky in Washington and a well-known businessman was outed having to do with buying expensive mink etc for his paramour involving the nearby Indianapolis Athletic Club. This has no bearing on the tea-room couple–except that it was the gossip of the day)

    So, poor hen-pecked Mr. Stuffy was concentrating on pulling out the overstuffed chair for his overstuffed spouse and just as he moved to be seated, up strolled a gorgeous brunette he had never seen before and to his consternation she moved into his space and as she did so she swirled and opened both sides of a stunning autumn mink full length coat–showing the embroidered silk lining and, addressing him directly, murmered something along the lines of :” My autumn haze fully let out mink is by (designer name) and comes personalized with monogram for a cost of onlyt $$$$$ ….” then turning to display its flowing back she gave him a smile warmer than her coat as she walked toward another table. And poor, flustered, red-faced and looking-guilty-as-sin husband began stammering to his seated wife:

    “I NEVER saw THAT WOMAN before in my life–I swear it—I have NO idea who she is and she came up and told me how much her coat cost!!!!!!”

    That’s the end of the story–his family passed it on down the next generation of how dear innocent Dad encountered guilt by association.

    But, Block’s did indeed give Ayres a run for its money in fashion (they carried finest leather gloves including lines like Mark Cross) and for many years a l0 or more foot glass display in prime space by elevators featured buttons by the hundreds, ranging from a few cents to high dollars. And an equally high priced fine fabrics on an upper floor where women of fashion created their own fashion. You could take your fine leather gloves leaving them to be cleaned on a balcony up over rear elevator area where you could also get eye glasses fixed and your umbrella “re-fixed”—-people of quality bought quality items and took care of them.

    At one time both Blocks/Ayres had their own staff-made bakeries in basement stores–Block’s was so vaunted that a Capitol Ave entrance was opened early, before store opening, to allow customers to make purchases on the way to their office in the morning. Block’s out-classed the Ayres bakery–and did even more-so seasonally when its holiday chocolates had to be “rationed” and pre-ordered way before the first snow fell. (The elderly woman who made the candy gave me and I still have her hand-written recipes.)

    And, last, the window displays–Block’s, Ayres were like IU-Purdue when it came to seasonal window decor–Christmas always was a win for Ayres but there came an Easter when Block’s spring display was a thing of awe and wonder-==bringing crowds who gazed agog—somehow a creative designer created a display of live blooming trees INSIDE the long display window facing Illinois at Market–BUT THE SHOCK was that by use of invisible suction or wires the tree limbs seemed to bloom right through the plate glass, projecting out over the sidewalk. It was the talk of the newspapers and Blocks reigned supreme.

    PS: That was the same show window that drew curious crowds of puzzled shoppers on a day that Indianapolis Times popular columnist Ed Sovola (young, handsome) did a first person column stunt.Working with display staff, he arranged to be seated among a group of life-sized mannequins. Sitting totally motionless, he would wait until a group gathered to gaze at the display and then, ever so secretly, he would perhaps “wink” or twitch a finger until an on-looker noticed….then go stock still again. “Did that mannequin just wink?” one watcher would ask another and as they watched intently, the trick would be repeated until finally an assembled crowd wondering “is he or isn’t he?” stood captivated.

    Block’s had its distinctive maroon sacks–a bane to the lawyers because frequently a caught-in=the-rain shopper would suddenly find a maroon streak on a whitecoat–or worse, put a damp bag down at home and find a red stain on valued wood furniture. But Mr. Block would not be swayed==”pay the claim” was his mantra and the maroon sacks lasted as long (perhaps longer) than the store.

  2. Brooke Hovermale says:

    My favorite was definitely the 20s look!;)
    You did a great job! I LOVE IT!:)
    It was so fun working with ya:):)

  3. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    You look beautiful, Brooke! And the 20’s definitely suits you!

  4. Norm Morford says:

    Good job, Tiffany.

    Now, isn’t it time to develop a list of those of us who actually boarded a bus at the Traction Terminal? And I suspect that the list of those still living who boarded an interurban train in that location is very small, but no reason not to honor them and hear what they have to say about their experience. I suspect that the wreck of a interurban train near Marion doomed the system sooner than it might have ended. And I would be curious to hear just what was the last interurban car to run and what route. If you watch carefully as you go across the rural ares, you can tell when you have crossed an interurban route because it would be like a railroad crossing with no rails, and a high tension electric line running along that route — e.g., north end of old Carmel where the line curved east on its way to Noblesville.

  5. Dawn Olsen says:

    I love this collaboration, and the finished spread you tease us with looks fantastic! Great job, everyone–the beautiful model, the skilled markeup and hair stylists. I’ve seen Esther’s work before as well (Tiffany, didn’t she take some of your portraits?). Oh, and there’s that stylist, too. Yeah, she picked out some good things as well. 🙂 My favorite is, by far, the ’20s. The coat looks amazing. So does the hat. (I’m a big fan of vintage hats; I have several, but don’t often have enough guts to wear them.) The ’20s, to me, seem more relaxed. Looks can still be “classic,” but they aren’t as “fussy” as other decades. However, I love the makeup from the ’30s and ’40s the best. I fail at replication. Also, since you featured the branding of Block’s in that post a few weeks ago, I keep running across their label everywhere! It’s nice to see it and recognize its significance to Indy fashion.

  6. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Dawn! It was a fun challenge and a great final result. Kudos to all involved!

  7. Clyde R "Rick" Cottrell Jr. says:

    A note about that old Traction Terminal: The old train shed itself was dismantled and donated to the Indiana Transportation Museum in Noblesville. It was stored away in a pile and forgotten, until one day interest was expressed in setting it back up – only to find that time and rust had eaten too much of it away. (as reported here on HI in September of 2012). The corners of the shed had two statues of eagles upon them. Those statues were relocated to the entrance of the old State Library (formerly Indianapolis City Hall) at Ohio and Alabama. One of them was accidentally crushed during decoration for an art show and replaced with a replica (as reported here on HI in August 2012).

    I wrote this from memory and looked afterward for sources, only to find the HI articles via Google. Nice to have found such an easy and familiar source to site! Loves me some HI! 🙂

  8. Norm Morford says:

    Has there been a comprehensive exhibit about the interurban era, with route maps and pictures of the Traction Terminal in Indy? And there could also be a value in a pictorial exhibit of those years when it was the major bus station for Indy.

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