Want to relive the glory of Minneapolis’ department store past? Take a stroll through a secondhand store.
Through the years, I’ve spotted silk-tie blouses, flouncy dresses and gorgeous coats bearing store labels from Minnesota greats including Schlampp’s, Young-Quinlan, Frank Murphy and Dayton’s Oval Room. They cropped up in stores including My Sister’s Closet in Uptown, Fashion Avenue in Edina and even Fridley’s Salvation Army store. And they’ve been a delightful surprise with their high-quality construction and stylish designs.
“We have several items from Schlampp’s right now,” said Rosemary Williams, co-owner of My Sister’s Closet. Schlampp’s was a furrier and fashion retailer located just three blocks from Williams’ Minneapolis storefront.
Twin Cities secondhand shops are well stocked with dresses and coats from the old store 24 years after its shuttering. The Schlampp’s label has also been spotted at the Corner Store Vintage in south Minneapolis as well as Everyday People and Lula Vintage, both in St. Paul.
“Stores like Schlampp’s and Jackson Graves had beautiful things,” Williams said with a sigh.
“But there was nothing like the Oval Room.”
The Oval Room was a legendary posh stop on the third floor of the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s. It was a place where moneyed ladies could sip tea while dropping thousands of dollars on a single blouse. “It was the only place you could get Issey Miyake and other stuff that was really high-end,” Williams said.
As Minnesotans say their final goodbyes to the Nicollet Mall Macy’s — formerly the great Dayton’s flagship, the last of our grand department stores — it’s a great time to go digging for Oval Room treasures.
Golden Pearl Vintage, on E. Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, has a nice selection, since the owner specifically seeks out Oval Room items. My Sister’s Closet is another good resource, although browsers might need to make a special inquiry.
“Right now I have two Pauline Trigère coats from the Oval Room,” Williams said. “I have vintage Adele Simpson from the Oval Room. I have an Emilio Pucci two-piece cashmere suit from the Oval Room, too.”
Like a lot of Gen Xers, I never personally experienced the greatness of these upscale retailers. I was an exurban kid whose family didn’t venture to Young-Quinlan or Powers or Schlampp’s. I couldn’t afford Dayton’s when I moved to Minneapolis for college in the mid-1990s. And I never considered the Macy’s Oval Room a glamorous spot — it was simply a place to cruise clearance racks over lunch hour.
For shoppers like me, beautiful clothes from Schlampp’s or Dayton’s mean nostalgia for an era we’ve never known — an era when the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul each boasted a handful of high-end department stores stocked with European fashions. My personal collection now includes a bright orange 1970s coat from Young-Quinlan, a classic steely-blue coat from Schlampp’s and — my favorite — a crisp two-tone trench from Dayton’s Oval Room by French designer Trigère.
She was a Minnesota favorite in the ’60s and ’70s. Diana Horvath, who worked for Frank Murphy in the early ’60s (she now works for the reincarnated Frank Murphy in White Bear Lake), remembers the St. Paul store carrying lots of Trigère designs. Frank Murphy also carried St. John, Oscar de la Renta and Christian Dior.
It’s easy to identify merchandise from old stores such as Frank Murphy, because the businesses were keen on inserting store labels whenever possible.
Horvath suggested that the labels were an old-school marketing move. “If they had a Pauline Trigère coat or gown, they would always leave Trigère’s name in there,” she remembered, “but they would add a Frank Murphy label with the beautiful black silk lettering.”
Want to wrap yourself in this wearable history? Keep an eye for labels from Schlampp’s, Frank Murphy, Field-Schlick and Young-Quinlan while shopping Twin Cities secondhand stores. Rarer yet are treasures from Jackson Graves and Powers, a pair of downtown Minneapolis stores that closed their doors in the ’80s.