One of my mother’s first credit cards was a brown, narrow Neiman Marcus charge, a relic not just of her shopping habits in the ’70s but of the days when that was the only card the luxury retailer accepted. It was a policy that began in the 1950s and was rooted in the spirit of exclusivity that built the very first store on Elm Street in 1907. That credit-card policy lasted until 2011. My mom swiped her old credit card until it wouldn’t work anymore. The holographic butterfly is pretty, but the beige and brown are tradition.
For my mom, who was born in Germany and graduated from high school in Turkey, the appeal of Neiman’s was partly a learned response to settling in Fort Worth for college. It would be a mistake to discount her affinity for molded Jell-O salad; Helen Corbitt’s mandarin orange souffle version of it, served at the Zodiac Room for more than 60 years, seems to have a siren song all its own. But if you lived in North Texas and had the means, Neiman’s was the place to shop.
I don’t remember my first visit to Neiman’s. I was a baby. It would have been with my mom, my grandma, my aunt, and my older cousin, Lisa. My dad and brother made cameos over time, but strawberry butter and popovers were for mothers and daughters. The tea room in Fort Worth evolved into a sanctuary where sandwiches never had crusts and all the women in my family got along. After these lunches, I was allowed to wander through the children’s clothes and toys. When I got older, I could be found in the shoe department.
When I was 13 or so, my aunt took me to the Neiman’s beauty department and, against my mother’s wishes, introduced me to eye shadow. Senior year of high school, my mom and a kind Neiman’s sales lady helped me pick out my prom dress, a long, sophisticated, warm-gold silk gown. It’s still one of the most beautiful articles of clothing I own. And shopping is still something my mom and I do together.
I can only imagine that there are countless Dallas daughters like me for whom the pull of Neiman’s is now part of the blood, a genetic instinct aided by mainlining complimentary chicken consommé from the ages of 2 to 17. When I decided to attend New York University, it was an attempt to remake myself after feeling wedged into the role of shy, bookish outsider in a jock-obsessed Texas suburb. But I was homesick for that salty broth, especially when I was sad or ill. When Lisa, who became like a sister, had her first child, I was thrilled—not merely because Megan is darling and I loved her instantly, but because, finally, we had another excuse to order that stuff by the pot. This is the tradition I chose to keep.