Going to the Sales in 1906

olivias-shopping-001Now that the January sales appear to be in full swing it might be valuable to take the advice of the pseudonymous ‘ Olivia ‘, a copy of whose ‘ prejudiced guide to the London shops ‘of 1906 cropped up in a pile of books. This chatty and opinionated, and possibly American-born, veteran of West End emporia, took retail therapy to new heights in her search for quality, elegance and good value. Here’s what she has to say about the vexed matter of sales.

The magic word that stocks our wardrobes, deletes our purses, disorganizes our routine, fascinates us, repels us, delights us, disappoints us twice a year regularly in London—for how much is it not answerable?

The ethics of sales are so disturbing, one time so morally and clearly good, the next minute so conspicuously disappointing and bad, that no woman, I believe is quite settled in her mind regarding them. 

Personally, I find it a delightful thing to buy a pretty piece of stuff ‘marked down ‘.Even when I can buy the same thing fresh and by the yard, and at the identical price, it never thrills as does that remnant with the wrong amount of yards, the torn edge, and the marked down price. There is no doubt we all love a bargain, even when it is only on paper.

This trait in our feminine character is fully appreciated by the shopkeeper. Therefore, there are sometimes disappointments to be encountered at sales. On the other hand, some of us attempt to remain level-headed in the matter, and are not to be won over. Continue reading

Press release for an early Coco Chanel Exhibition

coco-chanel-picFound in a box of ephemera — this press release from the Paris HQ of legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel announcing a forthcoming exhibition on a May 5th (possibly 1933) of over a hundred dresses made entirely from British materials.

The aim of this non-selling exhibition, which was to be held at 39, Grosvenor Square and would last a fortnight, was to promote co-operation between textile manufacturers and exclusive model houses in Britain and designers in Paris. The show was the result of a previous visit to London when Mlle Chanel had met with forty textile manufacturers. From the samples they had brought with them she had produced a collection that aimed to prove that’ it is possible to be appropriately dressed in British materials for a cloudburst at Ascot or a hurricane at Lords, as for a dead calm at Cowes, or a tropical spell on the Scotch moors.’

‘These dresses and their many accessories ’, the press release continues, ‘will be displayed by English girls, (including Mrs Ronald Balfour and Lady Pamela Smith), and as each dress appears, a card will be shown stating the name of the manufacturer of the materials employed. Continue reading

Odd photos bought online 1

Bought for the price of a cup of tea at eBay – the infinite online flea market, a photo of a jumble sale*, in England and likely to date from the earlier part of the 1960s. It is stamped on the back Salisbury Journal with a phone number ‘Salisbury 6933.’ The women are mostly wearing rain bonnets probably  because it was raining outside and possibly because it might rain (a fairly good bet most of the year in England, especially Wiltshire) or it may have been a fashion. The younger woman to the left with a transparentjumble plastic bonnet would indicate recent rain and also dates the photo in the 1960s, the rest of the women could come from the 1950s if not earlier. The goods displayed on the table are fairly meagre– some very basic bookends, a thermos flask without its cup, a lamp without a shade, a glass fruit juicer, some glass and tin jelly moulds, a cut-glass vase and one slim book. Some sort of raffle or tombola was also being offered (‘every card wins a bottle’.) The woman in the middle is obviously a keen and seasoned jumble sale shopper- she has three objects she may be buying from a box (a ruler, a chopping board and a wool hat or tea-cosy) and three bags ready for stuffing with bargains. Possibly she is holding these objects in order to be able to see or deal with things further down in the box. The lady to her left is either a friend or someone waiting to dive in…The woman behind in hornrim specs anxiously waits her turn – it is probably the very beginning of the sale, the first rush. Jumble sales still go on with bargain hunters, also online traders sourcing their wares , and people trying to help out the charity that has organised the event.

  • A sale of a mixed collection of things that people no longer want, especially in order to make money for an organisation, usually a charity. UK and Australian usage. In USA and Canada they are known as rummage sales.
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Arnold Bennett and ‘dressing apraxia’

Football fans among the Jot 101 community may remember the ridicule which greeted the failure of the childlike Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, to don a  simple training bib. Fans blamed the footballer’s apparent dimness , but his difficulties with clothing recall a syndrome known as  ‘dressing apraxia ‘,which, according to the consultant neurologist G. D. Perkin, writing in the British Medical Journal,  ‘are graphically described by the novelist Arnold Bennett in Clayhanger*

Bennett ‘s Journals reveals the novelist to have been interested in medicine as it concerned his own chronic poor health , some of the symptoms of which were neuralgic pains, headaches and insomnia, but also that of his  father, Enoch. Perkin argues that the ‘dressing apraxia’, clearly demonstrated in Darius Clayhanger’s inability to dress himself, was a reflection of Enoch’s own medical condition. Having failed to identify the disease responsible for the symptoms suffered by both men, Perkin final alighted on Pick’s disease, a rare neurodegenerative condition, a description of which he discovered in a French medical journal of 1928. As this disease is often familial, and according to Bennett’s biographer Margaret Drabble, it was reported to have killed two of his sisters, might  the symptoms suffered by Bennett suggest that he too may have been afflicted, though Perkin maintains that the Journals ‘nowhere support the possibility’.

Bennett’s sometimes frantic search for quack remedies for his chronic bad health occasionally placed him in further danger. Could it be that the ill-judgement, a product of the cognitive impairment brought about by Pick’s disease, caused the novelist’s own tragic death. In January 1932, while staying in a Paris hotel, Bennett refused to pay for mineral water in the restaurant and, ignoring the advice of the waiter that this was not a wise thing to do, downed a glass of tap water from the carafe. He was taken ill with typhoid and died two months later. [RR]

*For many months now he had helped Darius to dress, when he came up from the shop for breakfast, and to undress in the evening. It was not that his father lacked the strength, but he would somehow lose himself in the maze of his garments, and apparently he could never remember the proper order of doffing or donning them. Sometimes he would ask, “Am I dressing or undressing?” And he would be capable of so involving himself in a shirt, if Edwin were not there to direct, that much patience was needed for his extrication. His misapprehensions and mistakes frequently reached the grotesque. As habit threw them more and more intimately together, the trusting dependence of Darius on Edwin increased. At morning and evening the expression of that intensely mournful visage seemed to be saying as its gaze met Edwin’s, “Here is the one clear-sighted, powerful being who can guide me through this complex and frightful problem of my clothes.” A suit, for Darius, had become as intricate as a quadratic equation.