I’m not sure how it started or exactly when, but every Christmas my Dad would trek to the big magazine shop downtown on his lunch break and pick up a copy of Town & Country magazine to include in my mother’s stocking. And being the magazine fiend I was by the time I was a teenager in the 1980s, I would eagerly snatch it away from her as soon as she set it down.
Town & Country wasn’t a typical fashion magazine. With few exceptions, the faces weren’t models and movie stars, but the often stuffy — sometimes downright frumpy — heirs of America. Like Tatler in the UK, Town & Country catered to the wealthiest of the wealthy, something evidenced by the sheer number of ads for jewelry in every issue. Unlike Tatler’s reader, whose family were old-money English, usually titled and super-posh, the typical Town & Country reader was American. Very, very American.
There was, of course, the requisite society pages in every issue, snapshots of weddings are parties you weren’t invited to. There was a handy social calendar highlighting all the charitable balls and parties you couldn’t get into if you tried. It was a weird, fascinating magazine, and a traditional holiday staple in our house. Once-a-year was about the right frequency (for me at least) to dip into Town & Country’s pages and try to find the articles amongst the pages of those aforementioned jewelry ads and party lists.
Revisiting the December 1984 issue, I came upon a piece about the history of upscale retailer Hammacher Schlemmer which I wish I had read when I was writing my book about the cultural history of shopping 10 years ago. But after that brief bit of Americana it’s off to Europe (Vienna for Christmas and New Year’s) to remind readers that it really is better to be rich on the other side of the pond. This goes on for pages and pages, and I pass everything from a Diane von Furstenberg ad to one for Leona Helmsley’s Palace Hotel along the way (and yes, the legendary “queen of mean” is indeed wearing a tiara in the photo). When the Vienna trip finally ends — I confess I couldn’t get through it all and simply skimmed much of the article — there’s a brief spot of men’s fragrance recommendations before a thick insert on how to throw the perfect society party appears, followed by the feature, “Christmas in Old Newport,” which is exactly what the title suggests: a wealthy family celebrating Christmas in Old Newport.
If there’s anything overty gauche about this Town & Country issue, it’s the “Super Santas of ’84” list of rich people and how much they bestowed upon what organization or institution that year. Then it’s on to women’s fragrance recommendations, followed by visits to more wealthy families’ homes. There’s the Budweiser-founding Busch family in Cooperstown (all photographed in spectacularly soft focus), a jaunt to Montana’s Big Sky ski resort, and winter gardening with all your favourite New England families. By the time I reach the antique and horoscope pages at the back, I think I’m good to go another year before exposing myself to the pages of any issue of Town & Country, past or present. But Christmas is only a few short weeks away and my Dad will surely include the December 2014 issue in my mother’s stocking. And I’ll surely read it. After all, it’s tradition.
All images originally appeared in the December 1984 issue of Town & Country magazine:
1. Mary Busch Hager photographed by Joel Baldwin. Lace sweater by Pat Crowley.
2. Tiffany & Co.
3. Vicky Tiel.
4. Ultrasuede. Suit by Eileen Rubini and Patrick Dean.
6. Bally of Switzerland.
7. Adolfo/Saks Fifth Avenue.
8. Photograph by Cy Gross.
9. Diane Von Furstenberg. Photograph by Helmut Newton.
Thirty-Year Flashback is a monthly feature on periodicult.com.