Vintage Toronto Ads: Eaton's '68

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Eaton’s ’68

The department store embraces "New Era of Elegance" and the face of Swinging London.

As Eaton’s headed toward its 100th anniversary in 1969, the venerable department-store chain was working to keep up with the times. Earlier in the decade, there was a sense of stagnation; statistics compiled in 1962 revealed that the typical Eaton’s manager was a male in his mid-50s armed with a high school diploma and over a quarter-of-a-century of experience with the retailer. As costs rose and revenues flattened, a decision was made to emphasize what had been a dirty word at various times in the company’s history: profit.

Signs of the future were evident during the run-up to the anniversary celebrations. By late 1968, most small Eaton’s locations in Ontario were closed, while plans revealed for new stores such as Scarborough Town Centre pointed toward an emphasis on larger, urban branches. In-house factories were sold off as product was sourced from smaller firms and foreign manufacturers. The traditional drawing of curtains on window displays on Sundays (lest one be tempted on the Lord’s Day) was scrapped. A fresh coat of white paint was slapped on the chain’s flagship at Queen and Yonge. New boutiques for lines like Pierre Cardin opened within stores.

Eaton’s advertising in 1968 reflected the era’s artistic influences. Out went conservative department-store ad layouts, in came designs inspired by psychedelia and other trendy influences. This stylized approach earned Eaton’s many advertising awards during this period. Our gallery features a small sampling from this era, highlighting period fads like Nehru jackets for kids.

Several of these ads mention the “New Era of Elegance” fashion show held at the Eaton Auditorium (now the Carlu) in September 1968. The main draw was superstar British model Jean Shrimpton, who to many was the face of Swinging London. Before the show, she told reporters that she hadn’t been on a runway before because she suspected she’d hate it. Eaton’s staff weren’t fazed by her admission—“they were awfully nice about it.” When she walked out in front of the audience, fright crossed her face. “She dashed onto the stage,” the Globe and Mail observed, “flinging that famous Ophelia hair out of her eyes, froze for an agonizing minute then sprinted around the runway and off again as if chased by a thousand devils.”

Shrimpton was slightly calmer during her subsequent strolls out. The audience, mesmerized by her appearance, didn’t mind. One observer felt Shrimpton’s nervousness gave the show a touch of humanity onlookers related to.

Additional material from The Store That Timothy Built by William Stephenson (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1969); and the September 11, 1968 editions of the Globe and Mail and the Telegram.

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