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This week in history...

…A Reverend scandalised Drapers’ readers, electricity restrictions on display lighting were eased and the Etam group revealed plans for a girlswear chain called Tammy

1909…

First, we head back to March 27 1909, where a Reverend RJ Campbell had scandalised the Drapers readership.

In a speech made almost four months earlier at a meeting of shop assistants at Champion’s Hotel, London, Mr Campbell said: “In some West End shops young women are paid such a miserable wage that they are expected, and, indeed, encouraged, to eke it out by the selling of their bodies.”

Of course, this did not go down well with West End retailers. Mr Campbell was asked by the Drapers’ Chamber of Trade, and Drapers magazine, to elaborate on his accusations. 

He finally agreed to a meeting with Chamber of Trade representatives on March 23. Unfortunately for scandalmongers, Mr Campbell said he would name no names, “and would confine himself to general statements rather than produce evidence.”

He refused to withdraw his allegations, although he accepted that he could not defend his argument that clothing retailers had “encouraged” their female shop assistants to sell their bodies. But he did point out an isolated case he had come across, “where the man who engaged a girl employee justified the low wages on the grounds that she “could have good introductions”.

Eventually, Mr Campbell was happy to admit the West End drapers’ innocence. “Mr Campbell now clears the West End drapers,” writes the Drapers reporter, “but he declares that he had the milliners in his mind. He boldly accuses the millinery trade of being the worst offenders, and he holds that the evil is rife among the work girls to a greater extent than the saleswomen or showroom ladies.

“For the moment we pass this libel on to the milliners, and record with satisfaction the welcome, if somewhat belated, admission by Mr Campbell: ‘I have no reason for believing that the vast majority of the shop assistants in the drapery trade are otherwise than perfectly moral.’”

1949…

The UK was still getting back to normal following the Second World War in the March 26 1949 issue of Drapers. A survey by the magazine revealed that the abolition of clothes rationing on March 15 had made little difference to retail sales.

It was reported that “there was practically no rush by customers last week except that demand was better for certain classes of merchandise, and the view was expressed that Purchase Tax and high prices were the real brake on business.”

The survey revealed that “in Leeds underwear sales were good, particularly in Utility rayon”, while “women’s underwear sold well in Glasgow, but demand in Edinburgh and Dumfries was for household textiles.”

Elsewhere in this issue, “display personnel” were celebrating the announcement the previous week by the Minister of Fuel and Power that restrictions on the use of electricity for shop window, advertisement and display lighting would be removed from April 2 to October 2. A number of retailers revealed to Drapers that they were planning special displays to mark the occasion. “Simpsons (Piccadilly), Ltd, propose to have a ‘blaze of light,’ including spot-lights on merchandise.”    

1974…

Fast-forward to March 30 1974, and the Etam group revealed plans for “a nationwide chain of at least 100 girls’ wear shops, called Tammy.” The first four shops were due to open in Grays in Essex, Wimbledon in South London, Havant in Hampshire and Birmingham, with the project led by Etam managing director Bernard Williams, who told Drapers that the idea came to him “when he considered that a certain party dress bought for Lia, his nine-year-old daughter, was too expensive.

“He then decided to see if his company could not produce a similar dress, in conjunction with suppliers, at a cheaper price and then develop a whole retail concept around it.”

Tammy’s target market of eight to 13-year-old girls was consulted on the shopfits, resulting in “units that are ablaze with colour”, according to Drapers

Autumn 74 womenswear trends were also covered in this issue, in a preview of trade show London Fashion Fair International. According to Drapers, “there is a feeling of fundamental change,” with “the thrown together, do-your-own-thing style being replaced by a much more co-ordinated total look”.

The key trends included longer-line skirts, while the styling was broken down into two main silhouettes – one slim, narrow and tubular nodding towards the 1930s, the other fuller, with more width and swing in the skirt, inspired by Japanese designer Kenzo.

1999…

Job losses at department store chain C&A were headline news in the 27 March 1999 issue of Drapers. Up to 300 jobs were set to be cut “as part of a total overhaul of roles and titles in C&A’s 110 UK stores and will mean the removal of a whole level of supervision at shop floor level below store manager”.

The announcement followed 83 redundancies in September and 344 in January at the business, both at head office and among store management.

A feature on hosiery later in the magazine showed the extent to which Millennium fever was taking hold in the UK.  At trade show Hosiery Week in London, “Millennium sparkle” was high on the agenda for buyers. June Broscombe, hosiery buyer at Peter’s Fashions in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, said: “I’ll mainly be buying sparkle for the Millennium.”

However, some buyers were sceptical. Gayner Johnson, owner and buyer at Johnsons in Hinckley, Leicestershire, said: “I won’t be buying unusual tights for the Millennium as I think people will be entertaining at home and not dressing up as much as expected.”

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