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Benton Evening News - Benton, IL
  • Jim Hillibish: So where did your sailor suit wind up?

  • Once upon a time, every little boy had to wear a sailor suit. We blame Florence Eiseman, a children’s clothes designer who worked at Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department store. She created the first little sailor suit. It was too cute to live.

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  • I opened a package this week and out spilled the bane of my infancy.
    Once upon a time, every little boy had to wear a sailor suit. We blame Florence Eiseman, a children’s clothes designer who worked at Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department store. She created the first little sailor suit. It was too cute to live.
    Instantly, clones of her design appeared, casting a dark cloud of cuteness over every boy aged 1 to 3. It became a rite of passage, from diapers to short pants.
    “Isn’t he the most adorable?”
    Those words enthralled every mother, even mine, whose little Jimmy was far from it without his trusty sailor suit. Remember the photos of celebrity children: Princess Grace’s kid, the Kennedy brood, the Elizabeth Taylor family. All inflicted their little boys with sailor suits. That cemented the ensemble into the 1950s culture.
    This brings us to Marie Hill of Woodsfield, Ohio, who bought a mystery box of clothes at an auction in West Virginia. The box was an ancient one from Canton, Ohio. On the label was “Betty Hillibish.” Inside was a note from my mother’s hand, “Jim’s baby clothes.” And then, my sailor suit. She discovered a little wristband with my mom’s name on it, my first form of ID.
    The label indicated cuteness in 1950 cost one buck. Marie searched the Internet, and my mom’s name popped up with a story I wrote on her pumpkin pie. That brought her to me.
    She gently washed it, returning its sparkle, and asked if I wanted it. I hemmed, I hawed, but she convinced me that I must preserve this piece of Bish-a-bilia.
    I don’t remember wearing it, but I do remember my Aunt Flo, who never got over it. When talk turned to me, she always reprised it.
    “You were such a cutie patutti in your widdle saily suit,” she’d say, roughing my hair. I took that to mean, well, I’m now just an ugly old slob in blue jeans.
    Anyway, the sailor suit is safely back home. It’s made by Bo Peep, size 3, and it still generates fawning instincts among women who encounter it.
    Staring at this, waves of the past break over my driftwood life. I actually get a little teary — my own 15 minutes of cuteness there in the box. It brings back memories of playing doctor with Chippy, our neighbor’s dog, of best pal Brucie, the consummate cowboy, and of my older sister, who wondered why this little package from hell entered her comfortable life.
    Enough already, I’ll keep it.
    Still, my sailor suit probably is destined for chattel at my own final auction of material things. Where it will travel next nobody knows. Still, it will be cute.

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