I admit that I have taken a bit of artistic license with the department store featured in Dark Matter. I wanted to take you on a Victorian shopping trip and to introduce you to a beautiful part of Cincinnati. There really was a special department store in Cincinnati named Gidding Jenny, and it is where Jenny Walker goes shopping for a suitable frock for her court appearance.
Here is a nice blog about Gidding, and quite a few pictures of the colorful Rookwood facade, which is still there. But in truth, it opened in about 1907, 57 years after the action in Dark Matter. The first department stores started to appear in New York before 1850, and the idea spread fast but most of the places you would find in a city like Cincinnati in 1850 would be dry goods stores where you would find all sorts of things but they would not really be as fancy as the Gidding-Jenny store that I present you with (marble, staircases, lots of different areas in the store for lots of different sorts of products).
A woman in 1850 would have probably met with her dressmaker and picked out a pattern she liked for a new dress. Then they would go to a dry goods store and pick out the fabric and notions and the dressmaker would run up the garment in “muslin” (that is make a mock up out of a cheaper fabric so the true measurements and alterations could be worked out) and then the altered pattern would be cut out of the expensive fabric and sewn together.
The real Gidding-Jenny was an amazing department store in its day. It did have a big staircase and it was a fixture of Cincinnati life. The merchandise was all top of the line retail and they had a wide assortment of ball gowns, debut dresses, evening wear, hats, furs (!), perfumes and all the accouterments necessary for the well dressed woman of 1950-60 America. Times did change, though and modern ladies insisted on more casual less expensive clothes, and eschewed things like fur and hats. Gidding was on the down stroke and finally disappeared in the late 80’s.
One of the most loved events at Gidding Jenny was their sale which happened in the winter, as I remember. Clothes which had cost hundreds of dollars were marked down to a pittance and they were scooped up quickly. Unfortunately even that became passe as the fancy duds which were on sale had no place to go.
I brought back the old Gidding for one last lap around the track in Chapter 15 of Dark Matter to try to give the reader a little fun entering an old Cincinnati landmark in its heyday. Isabella is going to pay them a visit, too, in the future and you will get another chance to take a look at fashion in the 1850’s, and the thrill of novelty in antebellum fashion.