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Going to work in the business world in the 1980s meant one thing if you were a woman. You needed a few skirted suits. Not dresses. Not slacks and a jacket. Not a blouse, cardigan and skirt. Only a suit would do, and not just any suit. It had to be of the highest quality.

You might be making a $1200 a month (before taxes), paying $46 a month on a student loan, $400 for your first apartment, $236 for a car payment, and maybe $600 a year for car insurance, but you had to look like you had a cool million sitting in a bank account somewhere. It wasn’t uncommon to spend $200 on a suit without batting an eye—a lot of money when you’re barely getting by. I have to admit that I was never good at math, and therefore, I often found myself eating considerably less than I expect to eat today. (I still have two of my first suits, both in wearable condition, though technically, they are vintage.)

No woman who was serious about her career left her house in the morning without arming herself for what was essentially still very much a man’s world. I remember it well, as do most of my contemporaries. And here in Indianapolis (where I had my first serious job in the real world) there was no place better to shop for women’s suits than the now defunct L.S. Ayres.

This month, the Indiana Historical Society opens a new exhibit, That Ayres Look, celebrating the rich history of the department store founded in 1874. Today, I’m guest posting for Pattern Indy in a story that shares the influence L.S. Ayres had on Indianapolis, and a behind the scenes look at what it was like to be an Ayres model who walked the floors of the Ayres Tea Room. These svelte sophisticates were responsible for a big part of Ayres’ success as a fashion leader.

In this guest post, meet my best friend’s mom, who first visited L.S. Ayres when she was eight.

Do you remember what it was like to shop in an old-line department store? I don’t know about you, but after years of online shopping, I find myself returning to my old ways, visiting a mall when I really need something. Is it just me, or do we all crave the more personal experience that a knowledgeable sales person can give us?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.

The artwork for this post is courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.