Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and I have a clear image in my head of a circa early 1970s Valentine’s Day display window at the old and unfortunately long gone Thompson’s Bootery and Bloomery .If you are of “old Charlotte” you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, Thompson’s was a lingerie store specializing more in the campy and not so much in the elegant. The store’s two huge plate glass display bays fronted on the intersection of Independence Boulevard and Pecan Avenue. There were at least four (maybe six?) manikins in the windows unabashedly decked out in scanties usually in honor of which ever holiday happened to fall that month. From New Year’s to Christmas and everything in between, Thompson’s had you covered, or not so much, for your intimate needs of the season. Whether you wanted to dress up as a Leprechaun or a Pilgrim mother, Thompson’s would help you get the job done. Or if all you required was something short and see through, Thompson’s had that too. If you were traveling in the east bound lane of Independence, you could only hope the traffic light at that intersection turned red so you could take in the lavish monument to the secret vamp in Charlotte’s womanhood.
In this particular display, the manikins were dressed in various versions of pink and red teddies and sheer peignoirs, all with matching mule slippers of course, and accessorized with boas in complimentary colors, but the hands-down outstanding outfit was a torso sized white satin heart trimmed in red ruffles that would have only barely just covered a woman in the front and there was no telling what may or may not have been covered in the back. I suppose the idea was to present yourself as a life size candy box.
I thought a lot about that outfit and wondered what would you do with it. Should your husband come home on Valentine’s evening and find you in this heart, lounging nonchalantly on the divan, welcoming him with a casual, “Hello sweetie, how was your day?” Or would you excuse yourself after dinner to slip into something more comfortable and show up in this? More importantly, was this the kind of thing men actually wanted you to parade around in at home for romantic evenings? I was fairly certain my parents never did such things. But you never know about parents, and I cringed at the possibility of my mother having a secret wardrobe. But no, not my mother. My mother would never wear or do anything that would compromise her dignity and knowing her, she would have personally kicked the ass of anyone who intimated she should. But I digress. The candy box heart nightie was still pretty special.
I think Thompson’s also sold children’s shoes–Buster Brown if I’m not mistaken. What a sensible one-stop shop for a modern action mom on the go–unmentionables and children’s shoes. And there was a dog grooming parlor in the adjacent shop, so you could also drop off your poodle for a bath and a fluff while you shopped for lingerie with espièglerie.
Unfortunately, I can’t find a photo anywhere–which, if you remember this place, is a crying shame.
When we were old enough to be out on our own and brave enough to think of such a thing, a friend and I went into the store on a lark. The salesladies looked like they had worked there since the 60’s and they were delightful. They were sweet, they wanted to show us every piece of the inventory, did we want something special, we should absolutely feel free to try on a much as we liked. Although they looked like they were all grandmothers, no one batted an eye when a woman walked in an the first words out of her mouth were “Do y’all still have crotchless panties?” Someone went to the stockroom to get a pair for her and this woman turned to us and said, “My old man just loves these–if you’ve never tried them, you should!” leaving us naive school girls from south Charlotte wide-eyed, slack jawed, and intrigued. For the record, we left empty-handed, which really was too bad as anything from that store would surely be a museum piece these days.
Does anyone else remember Thompson’s or have a story about having shopped there?It was so not-Charlotte and it would still be so not-Charlotte. Back in the day when Charlotte’s cultural identity was more conservative and churchy, Thompson’s was one of those places that no one liked to talk about although it was right there in your face with its huge display windows on the corner of one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. Although still conservative and churchy, these days many residents take great satisfaction in broadcasting their preference for all things “eclectic,” but even for them Thompson’s wouldn’t be posh enough or artsy enough. To have shopped at Thompson’s meant that you were bursting with so much self-confidence, you didn’t give a flip what the rest of the town thought about you and that is very not-Charlotte. Even as the decades roll by Charlotte is more than ever a town that is predicated on conformity and driven by status anxiety. Thompson’s was light years ahead of its time.