Every little girl who lived on Cherry Lane in the seventies knew about Clara Walk’s fashionable, affordable Barbie boutique.
I met Clara not long after moving onto the street. She was the matriarch of the weekly coffee klatch, having teen aged children and beyond. I learned a lot from Clara. And, not just about children either, though she clearly had a soft spot for little ones and a great flair for doll fashion.
My first taste of Clara’s Barbie fashion designs came when I accompanied a friend to Clara’s. Her daughter’s new Barbie needed a wardrobe.
The array of outfits that Clara offered for Barbie was astounding. She not only sewed the tiny garments she created on the sewing machine, but she hand stitched embellishments such as flowers, pearls, buttons, and fancy pockets. She crocheted and knitted suits, coats, hats, caps, and scarves. Barbie could be outfitted for everything from tennis lessons to ball room dancing to playing in the snow in a matter of minutes, all right in Clara’s living room. (Barbies on Cherry Lane needed a lot of winter clothes as they lived near the snow belt in Ohio).
Barbie could even go to work in the board room with her two piece black suit in a soft wool, paired with her smart white silk blouse, her red knit cashmere scarf and beret. Clara would add a black shoulder bag and black pumps, for a mere fifty cents more, to finish the outfit. Her pieces sold for a dollar or two, well below store prices and far outlasted their store counterparts. What she earned could never have covered her expenses or her time. Yet, she loved designing and making the tiny garments for dolls of the neighborhood children. And, eventually for her own little grand daughter, now grown and with a little Barbie doll girl of her own!
The neighborhood girls were welcomed at Clara’s door to peruse her Barbie collection any time.
I watched Clara treat the girls with patience and kindness as they labored over their decisions and each item of clothing, weighing each against the money in their pockets. She never rushed them. She respected their choices, and only made suggestions when they were pairing stripes with plaids.
Whether it was a fancy evening dress with a glittery wrap, or a cotton tunic, or a corduroy vest, each piece of clothing was lovingly tucked inside a clear plastic bag to ensure it went into Barbie’s wardrobe just as it came off the rack in Clara’s work shop.
I don’t know the story behind why Clara created a boutique of clothes for Barbie but I do know she made many little girls very happy, including my three.
She worked toward customer satisfaction, which she always got in the way of a big smile when the child walked out her door.
Clara is gone now as is the Barbie boutique. But I am confident if I searched through some drawers or an old box of doll clothes I’d come up with a piece or two from Clara’s collection. The clothes, like the wisdom Clara imparted, made our lives richer.
It really is the littlest things that count.