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3 Things I’ve Learned From My Vintage Sears Catalogs

I recently picked up about 20 vintage Sears Catalogs from an estate sale. The earliest one in the collection is from 1975, the latest from 1992. I found them tucked in the corner of the basement, neatly stored in a giant Rubbermaid container and managed to purchase the lot for a whopping $5.

If you’re too young to understand the significance of the Sears Catalog, think Amazon.com and everything you can buy there. Now, imagine printing out every page on Amazon, binding that into a book and mailing it out to America.

That was the Sear Catalog.

These last few weeks, I’ve gotten actual joy from just sitting down and thumbing through the pages of these things. It’s like looking through a window to another place and time. The people, the fashions, the wants and desires of another time– it’s almost magical.

It’s also an education. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve started going page by page through my Sears Catalog collection. Things like…

1. Fashion In the 70s Got Gaudy Almost Overnight

Looking through the 1975 Sears Catalog, there are still hints of that Mad Men-esque aesthetic to everything from the clothes to the television sets. Sure, there are subtle hints here and there as to the direction America’s tastes were heading, but, for the most part, things were still classy.

Fast-forward to just one year later, and America has lost its collective taste (and possibly mind). Ugly wood finishes. Polyester as far as the eye can see. Leisure suits.

And yes, jump suits.

It’s jarring how quickly “The 70’s” aesthetic took hold. I expected a much slower build than what was clearly the reality. But, no. One year, people were dressing like adults, the next like oversized toddlers in the ugliest of ugly colors and patterns.

2. A Lot of the Models are Probably Dead

Leisure suits and polyester aside, the models in the Sears Catalog, male or female, are exceptionally pretty people. No surprise there as hotness is beholden to no year. But as I was making my way through a catalog from 1977, it occurred to me that the women I was marveling at and ruggedly handsome men I was jealous of were now old. Sure, the height of their youth and beauty were frozen in time thanks to the good people at Sears & Roebuck, but, in reality, these people were now, well, old.

And some of them? Some of them are dead.

All dead.

The Reaper comes for us all, and cares not that you elegantly modeled underwear that one time in a catalog.

The guy on the right passed away during this very shoot

3. Prices Aren’t as Low as You’d Think

When a new TV can run multiple thousands of dollars, it can be easy to long for a time when a brand new unit cost… $800? For a 26-inch TV? Are you kidding me?

Nope. Not kidding at all. Turns out luxuries like TVs, dinette sets, and, yes, CB radios were about as expensive back in the day as they are now.

And, looking through the 1986 Christmas Wish book, it occurred to me that I damn near bankrupted my parents with my childish greed. I have fond memories of waking up on Christmas morning with Transformers, GI Joes, Thundercats, Inhumanoids and other crap flooding from beneath the tree.

I always imagined that back then, those toys cost $4, $5 tops. Turns out that shit was hella expensive.

Sorry, mom and dad. My bad…

Check out the 1986 Sears Christmas Wish Book and bathe in it’s sweet nostalgia.


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