June 11, 2001-- Home Textiles Today,
Although I grew up in a rural area, I was not raised in a country music household. There was no Grand Ole Opry piping from the radio in the Negley kitchen, there were no visits to the hoe-down stage at the annual county fair, and "Hee Haw" was something we saw only in the millisecond it took to turn the television knob to another channel.
Perhaps that is why I so vividly remember the first time I came across Dolly Parton and Porter Wagner. They appeared in a not-very-lavishly produced series of TV commercials pitching the merits of a laundry detergent called Breeze, whose greatest attribute seemed to be that each box contained a free towel.
As I recall, Dolly and Porter spent nearly as much time touting the towel as they did promoting the detergent. In fact, the ad concluded with Dolly chirping in her perky Tennessee-ese: "Remember, you can't buy them; you can only find 'em in box-uz of Breeze!"
These days I wonder if it wasn't all sadly prescient — anticipating the time in which towels would become so completely commoditized that price served as their chief virtue. Other times I wonder whether the Breeze promo might not instead mark a more enlightened era when towels were considered sufficiently romantic to act as a selling point.
When you think about the status of the towel today, you realize that it took some doing to take an item that humans daub over their intimately bare bodies and transform it into a widget. Many retailers treat towels with little more finesse than they do toilet paper — marking them low, stacking them high and marking them down again to drive foot traffic into the department.
More unfortunately, most makers of toilet paper do a better job explaining the delectable comforts and soothing pleasures of their product than do towel makers.
Like most consumers, I didn't give much thought to towels before I found myself covering home textiles. I hung on to even the most faded and threadbare pieces in the motley collection I accumulated over the years because, although they weren't pretty, they still performed their basic function.
I now realize that I simply had not been properly motivated to buy towels. So that future generations will not suffer the same fate, I offer a "relativity" guide, which may prove of use to enticing the unenlightened:
A Villager set at Kohl's (bath towel, hand towel and washcloth, reg. $34) costs less than a portable CD player/boom box.
A Charter Club set at Macy's (bath towel, hand towel and washcloth, reg. $32) costs less than a cordless phone.
A Ralph Lauren bath towel at Foley's (reg. $25), costs less than aNew York Times best-selling hardcover.
A "super-sized" bath towel at Sears ($7.99) costs less than a Domino's pizza.
Or maybe the industry needs to bring back Dolly. After those commercials ran, I begged my mother to buy a box of Breeze. A dedicated Tide user, she relented, no doubt to teach me the folly of my ways.
The Breeze towel wasn't all that sizeable — not even by a kid's standards. And I noticed right away that it was coarser than the others we owned. Unlike the others, though, the Breeze were striped.
Cheap, sure. But doing their darndest to be fashion-forward.
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