In Texas the ultimate arbiter of good taste has always been Neiman Marcus, the Dallas-based department store that marks its ninetieth birthday next year. Neiman’s is known for the high quality of its apparel and jewelry and its unusual assortment of gifts and goodies, which shine most brightly in the store’s annual Christmas catalog. Every year the slick wish- book wows shoppers, particularly with the traditional His and Her gifts, which gently spoof Texas excess. This season Texans can order anything from an $8.50 coffee mug to a $1.6 million stereo cabinet topped with miniature instruments and trimmed with diamonds and gold. A similar panoply of trinkets, from functional to fantastic, graced the colorful pages of catalogs past.
In 1939, the year the Christmas catalog was introduced, one item was a copy of an eighteenth-century game table. At $6.50, few sold—until Neiman’s reintroduced it in 1959 as a TV tray table for $225, and customers ordered thousands.
The first His and Her gifts, in 1951, were vicuña coats; customers passed. But later duos were doozies: a two-seater submarine (1963, $18,700), matching pink-striped hot-air balloons (1964, $13,700), live camels (1967, $4,125), and ancient Egyptian mummy cases (1971, $6,000). In 1962 the catalog offered a set of Chinese junks at $11,500 a pair, with the tongue-in-cheek headline “Junk for Christmas.” To the store’s astonishment, it received eight orders.
Before the era of political correctness, Neiman’s offered an elephant-foot wastebasket (1963, $350), and its His and Her Beech-craft airplanes (1960, $176,000) were, by today’s standards, sexist: His, a seven-seater corporate jet, cost $149,000; Hers was a baby four-seater for a mere $27,000. Wrote a West Texas rancher: “I already have a plane, but if you will break the pair, I’d like one for the little woman, who has been hankering for a plane of her own.”
In 1958 the “Neiman Marcus Model’s Smock,” a simple wraparound robe, retailed for $25.95. Purchasers included actresses Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, and Helen Hayes.
Wretched excesses (furry division) included a mink handbag (1957, $395), an ermine bathrobe (1961, $6,975), and mink earmuffs (1977, $60). Twenty-four-karat-gold novelties included a wig (1967, $35,000), a box of paper clips (1975, $12.50), and a toilet seat (1965, $250).
Many items have been only-in-Texas marvels: white mink cowboy chaps (1962, $1,875), cowboy boots equipped with golf cleats (1979, $320), and a ten-gallon hat for a dog (1963, $10).