Did you know that The J. Peterman Company catalog still exists? Yes, it does! I signed up for the catalog not too long ago, because I am a copywriter, who loves catalogs, and The J. Peterman Company Owner’s Manual has long been held as an astonishing example of catalog copy, mostly because they spend an extravagant number of words on each product description. Extravagant for a medium and retail arena that focuses on shoving in as much information as possible.
When I received Owner’s Manual No. 146, Early Spring 2017, I had time to sit down and read a few of the product descriptions.
My jaw dropped.
Honestly, what the hell is this? This: “If you are thin, this dress will positively make you look more thin, chic, feminine. …If you are not thin but more of the voluptuous persuasion… Decadent gifts of choux à la crème from the finest Parisian Patisseries….An over-abundance of social engagements.”
Let me translate that for you. If you’re thin, you’ll be even prettier. And, hey, even thinner, which is chic and feminine. If you’re fat (sorry, J., even your fancy wordsmithing isn’t clever enough here), people will shove Twinkies and Hohos in your direction, because they’ll think you’re too thin. Oh, and you’ll finally get asked out.
Surely this is just a fluke, right? I took a look at some of the other descriptions for the women’s clothing.
Nope. Not a fluke. Just across the spread a pleated collar blouse promises to have people ask, “Dear God, who is that charming little darling…?” Because, “little” is what any woman should be and strive to be, right?
No, no, no, say it isn’t so! The J. Peterman Company surely is doing better, right?
Then, there’s this dress that “hide[s] what you want to hide and accentuate[s] what you want to accentuate.”
“And of course there are the colors—slimming and eye-popping.”
Really, they should have started and ended the copy here: “The thing is, a simple yet alluring dress like this makes people feel good when they see it.”
Take that in.
Let’s just sit with that a moment.
Because, it’s all about WHO is looking at a woman, right, J.? Never about the actual woman. Never. Go figure.
But, across the spread, I found one amazing, inspiring description. I’m not being sarcastic either.
In its entirety:
The merger hasn’t been announced but everyone’s in panic mode.
Brantley said you’d be okay but nothing’s concrete. The good thing is you’ve got a niche. They need you. Don’t they? Wait, do they expect you to move to Berlin? You’re asking the wrong questions.
How about, do you need this headache?
Do you even like Berlin?
What’s the weather like on the Spanish waters this time of year?
These questions are more befitting of someone ready to turn the page.
Tomorrow you’ll tell them how it’s going to be.
Hell yes! This is the woman I imagine wearing J. Peterman clothes and, really, any brand. The woman who doesn’t depend on anyone. Who isn’t told what to do. The woman who forges her own path. The woman who’s ready to turn the page.
C’mon, J. Peterman! How about some more copy like that last one? A little less focus on women’s bodies. No more feeding into the vicious cycle of body image. You’re better than that. Or, maybe you’re not. Doing a quick Internet search, I found that you’ve written eyebrow-raising copy before. Check out this piece on Jezebel about a “rapey” description. Good thing I’m ready to turn the page.