June 24, 2012

More About Massachusetts Label F.M. Bistany

Of the many small dress shops that existed in the US, there are a handful
that have intrigued me. One is F.M. Bistany based in Lawrence, Massachusetts. After featuring the Bistany designs recently on our vintage fashion blog, I was so fortunate to receive an email from the owners' son Kenneth Bistany:

"My family was delighted to read your advertisement for clothes with the FM
Bistany label. My name is Kenneth Bistany and the owners of the FM Bistany
clothing shop were my parents. They both passed away many years ago as I am sure you can tell from the vintage of the clothing. If they were alive they
would've very much enjoyed reading your March 9, 2012 blog and the beautiful portrayal of the clothing that they sold."

I read this with delight! After further conversation, and with great thanks
to Kenneth and his brother Phillip, I have more information on the F.M.
Bistany label.

The shop was opened in 1924 and closed in December 1965. Its establishment in the 1920s stemmed from earlier experience in a family clothing store elsewhere in Lawrence, which was established at the beginning of the 20th century.  Eventually the Bistany family including Kenneth and Phillip’s father, Majied, separated this clothing store into a men's clothing shop (run by Majied's cousin) and a women's shop (run by Majied himself). These businesses were located in two different shops in downtown Lawrence.

The name F.M. Bistany was a combination of the names Majied and Frieda. Frieda, a very accomplished business woman in her own right was Majied's first wife. After her passing at a young age, Majied eventually married Effie, a talented young saleslady in his store.

A carefree vintage snapshot of Effie in hat and furs.
Kenneth writes "When Frieda died it was a great loss to the business as well as a great loss to my father and to my mother who had become quite fond of Frieda during the years that she worked in the store.  Subsequently, a romance developed and eventually my mother and father got married and my brother and I came along some years after that making four children in the family since my father and Frieda had two children during their marriage. As you can tell my mother became quite spectacular in her ability to step in and provide great help to my father in further developing the business."

She did do a beautiful job as evidenced by the exquisite designs we've seen.
Besides daytime dresses, this company was well-known for bridal wear in
Lawrence.  They also sold suits, coats, evening clothes and other women's fashions during the entire period Kenneth recalls. Until World War II they also sold men's clothing, although it was a lesser component of the shop. After the war the only men's items they maintained were rental tuxedos because they complemented the bridal wear sales.

Effie and daughter Dorothy in a wedding gown from F.M. Bistany.

Once Kenneth and his brother Phillip arrived, their parents luckily had "the
perfect babysitters" to entertain the children during working hours.
Kenneth describes that "across from their store were four movie theaters and
next to it was a 5th movie theater... On Saturday afternoons my brother and
I could treat ourselves to a double feature as well as many cartoons since
this was the normal fare at that time."

To select items for the shop, Mrs. Bistany traveled to New York and Boston
each season to view the collections available at various manufacturers. She
also visited between seasons to enhance the inventory and to buy particular
garments for customers. Kenneth and Phillip accompanied their mother on
many of these trips, which became special excursions for them. They were
taken care of by a close friend during the day, and afterward they went to
"great restaurants and other amusements" the young boys would enjoy.

Kenneth further explains that "she would take us into the various
wholesalers in Boston and New York who had become friends of hers over the
years and would introduce us to the owners. I have a very vivid
recollection of these occasions because I was always impressed with the
greetings that she received which were effusive in the extreme. One
would've thought that the Queen of England had just entered the wholesaler
or manufacturers showroom." This kind of excellent treatment was a hallmark
of the fashion buyers' showroom, and oftentimes still is. 

Sharply-dressed Effie in a black frock and red heels.
F.M. Bistany was known to cater to its customers, as they offered to special
order apparel and worked extensively to custom-fit clothes purchased off the
rack. The family "made a fetish of fitting the clothing on their customers
so that they would look their very best", and kept at least one experienced
seamstress available at all times to execute custom work. It's impressive
to note that both Majied and Effie could capably alter a garment as well.
Although they were accomplished at this, nearly all the items sold through
their shop were factory made and, from what we have seen, of beautiful
quality. Phillip recalls that on rare occasion, a dress or gown might
have been designed and created in-house, or purchased from a manufacturer
and then modified for a particular customer's need.

After closing in 1965, the owners eventually transitioned into a retirement
lifestyle - a difficult task considering their very active roles in the
daily operations of a thriving shop. If you visit F.M. Bistany's location
at 133 Broadway today, there is a Walgreens pharmacy where the store once

Kenneth writes "My mother had a very good eye for style so that all of the
garments in the store were carefully selected". She did indeed. Thank you,
Kenneth and Phillip, for sharing this piece of the past. It's greatly
appreciated and I hope it will illuminate research for those seeking
information about this wonderful label in the future.

Effie and Majied - a lovely couple with a beautiful business.