When I Failed to Explain Sears Catalogue

When I was getting my hair cut last week I had a bewildering conversation with my hairdresser. She is a friendly, chatty young woman who talked to me about all sorts of things including how she had once been forced to run down the hallway of the mall to get away from a stalking ex-boyfriend. She had to hide out in a store where a friend worked.

Sears Welcome Home Catalogue
Sears Welcome Home Catalogue via newswire.ca

I had been having the usual chat you have with new hairdressers about whether or not I was married and if I had children. This led her to ask me about dating and what I thought it took to sustain a long-term relationship. I said that I thought it was important for her to establish her own career and interests before deciding to commit to someone long-term. She didn’t seem too convinced of this idea, but she said that for the time being, she was happy being single. We agreed that dating today is not what it was when I was her age, twenty-three.

It was clear that we had very different life experiences but that became even more obvious when we talked about Sears.  In the mall where she works there is an empty store that used to be a Sears store. I asked if she knew if there were plans for any other business to take over the space, but she didn’t know.

Sears Closing
Sears Closing via CP24.com

Then I said that Sears was the Amazon of its day. When she looked bewildered I explained that they used to have a catalogue that we would browse in order to buy all sorts of things. Sears could be relied upon to deliver the goods after a few weeks, and for people in remote areas, the catalogue was often the only way to buy furniture and appliances. I described how it was as thick as a phone book and included everything in their store.

Sears Catalogues
Sears Catalogues via Kijiji.ca

The first problem was that she wasn’t familiar with the idea of a phone book. After a pause, she said, “Oh, yes, I remember my aunt cutting out coupons and taking them into the store for a discount.”  “No,” I said, “This was bigger than the coupon book.” I gestured with my hands to explain that it was about two inches thick, but the concept was still a mystery. I don’t think she had ever seen a city phone book like the one I had in mind.

I added that the Christmas Wish Book was a big deal every year, but for her this was a bridge too far. I was speaking an unknown language. She didn’t seem to understand why a department store would make a print catalogue of all the items it had for sale, let alone make a special one for Christmas. I tried to make a parallel between Sears and stores listing goods on Amazon, but I think it was hard for her to see any similarity at all.

The whole conversation made me painfully aware of the huge cultural distance between the life of a sixty-nine-year-old and the life of a twenty-three-year-old.  If two women can’t understand each other’s perceptions of storing phone numbers, dating, and shopping, there isn’t much hope for a meeting of the minds.

I thanked her for my haircut and she thanked me for my motherly advice.

Sears Wish Book 1975
Sears Wish Book 1975 via collectorville.net


  1. Can you imagine her bewilderment if you had told her at one point homes could be ordered through the Sears catalogue!

      1. That was my thought too! Here’s a lovely BnB in the middle of Nowhere, NE, that is a Sears and Roebuck house. My husband and I stayed there to visit my brother, and a year later we had a family gathering there. It’s still a remarkable house! Their website includes a link to the history of the house. https://bywayguesthouse.com/about-us/

        I too would probably exhaust my ability to explain aspects of our former, every day lives. Well, receiving the Christmas catalogs in the mail was not an everyday part of life; that was an event! Fortunately, we received the Montgomery Wards, JC Penneys and Sears Christmas catalogs as there were a few siblings sharing this event.

        I have the gift of having the same hairdresser (actually a trained barber!) for about 20 years. Ten years ago I was sitting in her chair when I received the phone call my mother had passed. One of the many reasons she is an important person in my life. She also understands the nuances of my hair, which is quite the gift. Fortunately, she’s a few years younger than me, so I have her skills available for a few more years, I’m hoping!

        1. That is a lovely house! I would love to live in a house like that; I’ve always wanted to live in a house with a veranda. I had not known how good those Sears houses were.

          It must be lovely to have a good hairdresser whom you trust and know well. Don’t let her go!

  2. Society, technology and life changes between the times of our parents and grandparents flowed like a river making it easy for the younger generations to assimilate when told about it. In the last 50 years, changes have flowed like a fire hose. When I saw the youtube video of teenagers trying to figure out how to use a rotary phone it gave me grace at the fact I sometimes struggle with the newer technology. It’s as if our neurons are set to fire differently from the things we learned growing up. I saw a video of a baby trying to turn the page of a real magazine and she kept swiping the page expecting it to change. In some ways, it’s a wonder and in others, it’s no wonder.

    1. I don’t mean fire different from what we learned….. I mean from the things we learned, our neurons fire differently than how and what the younger generations have learned affected their learning neurons.

  3. Oh my gosh, that’s funny!
    My kids remember the Sear catalogue and they are 26 and 21! Come chat with them,lol
    I miss Sears! Especially the Christmas Wish Book.
    I have friends of many different ages, some really young and some really old and it always amazes me, how even just a small age gap can make a difference. Even in friends who are only 10 years younger than me, there are major differences in our levels of understanding. Not just cultural things but sort of developmental things too.

  4. I can remember when Sears had pages upon pages of just cups and saucers, and I got to cut out the ones I liked. I was maybe five or six. And ladies in (gasp) full body corsets, and men in long underwear. I still have the last wishbook they put out, it was fun, but nothing like the early ones.
    We lived near Boston when I was little, and we would go to the Sears Building there at Christmas, to do our shopping. Those were also the days when you dressed up to shop. Sunday clothes. =)

    You want to shake her up, Snowbird, mention rotary phones. pay phones. Cameras and film. encyclopedia salesmen. I just realized, that poor girl has probably never seen an encyclopedia. Or a rotary phone.

    1. Cups and saucers! That is a wonderful memory, judyt54. And the underwear…it doesn’t bear thinking about.

      I remember dressing up to go shopping, too. Wow. These days it’s hard to find anything to dress up for.

      I don’t think my hairdresser would be impressed by the technology of yesteryear, and she would be right. Today’s is so much better!

      Thanks for these thoughts, Judy. Now you have me reminiscing.

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