Dixie Hardman

Dixie Hardman

Back in the late 1950s, when good taste and quality fashion were more important than the newest thing, Dixie Hardman’s stylish Aunt Gilda took her school shopping to stores like Sablow’s and Bolun’s in Jacksonville to find matching cashmere sweaters and skirts. By the time Dixie graduated from Robert E. Lee High School, her passion for fashion led her to seek a degree in fashion design at the University of Florida.

Dixie in her retailing days

Dixie in her retailing days

“Most nice girls went to FSU back then,” says Dixie, “but I was allowed to go to the University of Florida because my big brother, Al Hardman, promised to look out for me.” With a rumored ratio of seven men to each woman, Dixie’s brother had his work cut out for him. “Al watched over me – that’s for sure! He screened all my dates!”

Dixie’s hopes were dashed when the University’s Fashion Design Class was cancelled, but not for long. She majored in marketing instead and eventually went into a fabulously successful fashion career as a buyer for some of the finest department stores in the nation.

Her first job was in Miami at Jordan Marsh of Florida. She then worked for Battlestein’s in Houston, Texas, and then Neiman Marcus in Dallas. Stanley Marcus, known as “the merchant prince of Neiman Marcus,” was on vacation the day she came to interview for a position as buyer, so she interviewed with her future boss in his famed Dallas home at 1 Nonesuch Place. “It was full of the contemporary furniture he loved,” she remembers, noting that Stanley Marcus became her friend and mentor as well as her employer.

As a buyer for Neiman Marcus, and later for I. Magnin in San Francisco, Dixie traveled twice a year to Europe, meeting designers in Milan and Paris and buying their seasonal creations. She was once written up in the Florida Times-Union as being in attendance at a high society party given by Bill Blass in New York City, and remembers a hometown friend commenting on the article and inquiring about how long she had been dating Bill Blass. “Obviously, the big names in fashion were not too well known in Jacksonville,” grins Dixie. However, when she later was compelled by family reasons to move home permanently, she found she had worried needlessly about losing her social and professional standing in the fashion industry.

As a buyer at Furchgott’s Department Store downtown, Dixie enjoyed all of the benefits she was used to, including twice a year travel to Europe, plus some unanticipated perks. “It ended up being the most rewarding job I’d ever had,” she recalls. “I loved working here. I was buying for friends instead of the general public and I would see them at parties wearing the dresses I had ordered!” Furchgott’s was up to par, too. In fact, when Furgott’s opened the Chanel Boutique, it was only the 22nd in the world to do so.  “That was a big coup,” recalls Dixie, “and it happened in Jacksonville!”

Dixie also met her late husband here – another perk of coming home. After getting married, she quit working for one year and then worked in the wholesale fashion industry, traveling the country doing trunk shows featuring the Adele Simpson line.  Dixie (a nickname from her father that she legalized as a senior at Lee High School), especially attracted attention in towns like Salt Lake City, Utah and Davenport, Iowa.  “In Davenport, they thought it was very special one night to drive me through the Southern Cemetery from the Civil War,” recalls Dixie. “It was thoroughly awful for me, but they were warm, wonderful people who were simply honoring my ancestors.”

Dixie Hardman

Dixie Hardman

Speaking of honoring ancestors, Dixie has long been a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee Chapter, and has remained close to her childhood friends throughout her life. Born in Alabama, Dixie and her family came to Jacksonville when she was a year old and has attended Riverside Baptist Church ever since. “No matter where I traveled, I always kept my letter at Riverside Baptist,” says Dixie, “and the church bulletin reached me everywhere I lived.”

Friends urged Dixie to go into real estate and, when she got her real estate license, her first employer was Doriana Atkinson, formerly fashion director at May Cohen’s.  Currently, Dixie works with Lee Norville Realty in Ortega and, again, feels she has found her perfect niche. “Lee Norville is the finest man anyone could ever work for or deal with,” she says. “He grew up in Avondale and lives in Ortega Forest. He knows this town and its people so well that it’s a delight to be associated with him.”

As both a retailer and a realtor, Dixie Hardman has flourished because she truly enjoys helping people find what they seek. “Some of my customers are now my best friends,” she says. One international couple came looking to buy a home in Ortega. They had been house-hunting all morning so Dixie took them to Carter’s Pharmacy for a hot dog. As they were walking in, a tiny boy, about six years old, ran out of the drugstore.  “Charge it!” he yelled back. The couple looked at one another. “This is hometown America,” he told his wife. “We want to live here.”

By Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

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