Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Charmed, I'm Sure

The day my mother revealed that she had enrolled me in charm school, I pitched an uncharming fit.  In fifth grade the last place I wanted to be on Saturday mornings was a classroom at the back of the local Sears appliance store learning what fork to use.  I went kicking and screaming.  But The Sears Discovery Charm School graduated over 100,000 little charmers from 1963 to 1972 and surprisingly, I am proud to say I was one of them.  I still ask my mother what possessed her to send her bespectacled bookish lass to charm school.  And then I thank her.  Profusely.

From the minute I walked into Sears' lowly makeshift classroom, I knew I had entered a special workshop.  The grey standard issue folding chairs, the pitted wood and metal tables, and the hanging appliance wiring schematics soon became invisible.  Instead I saw only our pretty instructor Mrs. Ames, dressed in fondant colors of sugary pinks.  I was bewitched by her dainty white gloved hands and her intoxicating powdery scent.  Her soft modulated voice and Tinkerbell laugh charmed any remnants of resentment for being there, right out of me - she was so darn fascinating.  During the course, with Mrs. Ames help, our drab classroom was transformed by our imaginations into  an Austenesque dance hall, a Georgian tea parlor, and at times, a sophisticated and elegant Manhattan theater district restaurant.

Mrs. Ames' assistant was a fetchingly designed ringed binder called The Sears Make the Most of You Discovery Book.  This book still exists out there and I am crushed that it eludes me - I have not  been able to snag a copy.  Mine was lost along with my Tressy Doll and her growing hair, my satin ballet toe shoes and other artifacts of a 60's girlhood. 

Studying our notebooks taught us manners and how to be a considerate girlfriend, should we be lucky enough to one day have a boyfriend.  We learned how to sit with our legs crossed at the ankles, how to sip tea quietly, and my favorite charming illustration in the book warned us not to spend all of our date's money;  his worried study of his empty pockets being the tip-off.  Mrs. Ames created mock dinner parties and balls where we practiced introductions and learned how to graciously accept a dance request.  She called in a male makeup artist and a buyer from the Sears Junior Bazaar Department, and brought in her personal collection of chiffon scarves, still faintly redolent with her lovely scent.  We learned how to find our best colors by draping the filmy scarves around our necks and shoulders and peering into small round drugstore mirrors with magnifying flip sides that later accompanied us home along with our notebooks.

At the end of the school's glorious eight weeks, we graduated by hosting a fashion show and tea for our mothers.  Sears generously loaned us a rainbow of pastel frocks to model and after parading across a small runway, we showed off our new skills by pouring tea and passing trays of store-bought cookies.  Mrs. Ames created an indelible impression on me and any remnant of tomboy-ness was left on Sears' dusty green checkered tile floor.  My love of clothes and journey to becoming a lady was jumpstarted by The Sears Discovery Charm School.  And of course, I am grateful to my mother, who knew best.


  1. I have never heard of this before, although I was sent to dance lessons in the seventh grade.

  2. I went to a "Modeling" class at Montgomery Ward in the 60s...charm school would have been far more useful!

  3. Lynn, there are some graduates online. It was a delightful experience. Debby, that sounds very similar. Wish they had things like this now for middle class girls.

  4. Donna - I would like to contact you about the Charm School binder. Can you please email me at lauramchugh at me dot com? Thank you! Graduate 1971-2 - Hayward CA