DANVILLE — The holidays always make me wonder what shopping was like before there were malls and big box retailers. I can just imagine all the department stores that lined North Vermilion Street, such as Meis and Carson Pirie Scott.
I was able to get a glimpse of what those grand department stores were like back in the 1950s and 1960s when I visited with Jane Starbody recently.
The longtime Danville resident was a professional illustrator who drew — by hand with a quill pen and ink — the line drawings of women’s fashions that dominated department store newspaper advertising back in the day.
The sharp dresser, who belies her nearly 89 years, attended Washington University in St. Louis from 1944-1947, earning an associate of fine arts degree.
In college, Starbody studied historic costume, color and anatomy, quipping, “If you don’t know how to draw an arm and a leg, you’re in trouble.”
A career as a fashion illustrator was sparked by her college roommate who majored in fashion design and Starbody’s own fashion-forward mother.
“My mother was quite the fashion plate,” she recalled. “My mother wouldn’t go anywhere without a hat on.”
Starbody had been attending college only three years when she had the opportunity to show her portfolio of fashion sketches to a representative of a well-known department store in St. Louis.
“I took my drawings to Famous-Barr, and she hired me on the spot,” she said.
“We drew every day from 9 to 5 at Famous-Barr,” she recalled. “We were given assignments. I don’t do infants or children, but I did do a few men’s ads. My specialty was women’s fashion.”
Starbody said she gathered inspiration for her illustrations by studying ads in the New York Times.
When she returned to Danville in the late 1940s, she drew ads for Meis.