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This week in history...

Women’s figures threatened the British Empire, men’s hat wholesalers struggled to meet demand, and the rise of kinky boots caused concern

1904…

Sunday trading “is contrary to the best interests of the community,” was the opinion of Drapers on April 2 1904. The magazine criticised the steady growth in shop openings on Sundays and voiced its support for a government Bill proposed by the Early Closing Association to clamp down on trading.   

Laws passed in the reign of Charles II prohibiting the pursuit of business on a Sunday are now seen as an anachronism, complained Drapers, and “the evils of Sunday trading have undoubtedly increased”.

The new law, if passed, would impose a sliding scale of fines on any shopkeeper trading on a Sunday. For a first offence, five shillings would be the penalty; for a second, twenty shillings, and on a third occasion, £5. Those still allowed to trade would include chemists, vendors of intoxicating liquors and other refreshments, tobacconists, newsagents and dairymen.

Also in the magazine was a piece headlined ‘Are Women’s Figures Deteriorating?’, an essay complaining that the “flat busts and narrow hips” of today’s women are a threat to the British Empire, in that the men who created the Empire were borne by “women with breadth at the hips, and busts”.

The British Empire was not built up by “the weakling sons of unnatural women”, harrumphed Drapers, but by “men and women born of healthy, vigorous parents, and particularly of women who have the shape which Nature intended for them”.

1929…

The April 6 1929 issue of Menswear (which was later incorporated into Drapers) gave over its front page to a reader’s views on the power of a brand’s advertising compared with the small retailer.

The name of a brand and its guarantee of quality now has the greatest influence on shoppers’ buying habits thanks to successful advertising, said the writer. As a consequence, retailers must spend a little more on their own advertising in a bid to persuade customers to say “I always get my underwear at Smith’s” rather than “I always wear such-and-such underwear.”

A retailer’s advertising “should always be aimed at selling himself and his shop rather than at selling his goods”, said the writer. As a final word, he emphasised: “Advertise so as to get people to come to you. If you can’t sell to them when that is done then you are not a salesman.”

Elsewhere, there had been a rush in hat sales for Easter, with wholesalers struggling to cope. Suppliers blamed retailers for ordering too late and failing to anticipate demand.

The early Easter, an influenza epidemic among warehouse workers and burst and frozen pipes in the factories due to a cold snap compounded the problems.

The magazine also ran a picture of contrasting golf attire (pictured).

1964…

“Does the fashion trade think all its customers are Beatles fans with kinky boots?” was the question posed by the Drapers’ Chamber of Trade on April 4 1964.

The rush to sell to younger customers meant that older women, who were either not suited to the younger fashions or just didn’t like them, were not being adequately provided for by clothing manufacturers, it was claimed.

With the age composition of the population growing older, the trade body asked: “Surely these people are entitled to find in the shops clothes of suitable length and elegant design perhaps in less strident colours than are suitable for the young?”

Nevertheless, the front page of Drapers carried a pic of a cap, on which “a natty Beatle-and-guitar motif adds the Merseyside look”. The wool felt cap (pictured), was from a new range of Beatle-badged berets and caps by Kangol, “who have the exclusive rights for Beatle headwear”. 

1994…

The big news in Drapers on April 2 1994 was the continuing growth of retail chain and mail order operator Next, which doubled its pre-tax profits for the year to the end of January 1994 to £73.5 million.

However, chief executive David Jones said UK expansion would progress at a steady rate, and that the retailer would focus on adding space to its existing stores rather than add new ones. “We are not going into the space race of the mid-1980s,” he said.

Next’s 300-shop retail division posted an 80% rise in operating profits, while the mail order Directory business recorded a 32% rise in operating profits.

Jones emphasised the importance of only having two “short, sharp” Sales during the year, and closer links with suppliers. The group also said it was “satisfied” with sales at its first US store in Boston.

A feature later in the magazine looked at the increasing pressure exerted by buyers on fabric manufacturers to provide a rapid turnaround, and posed the question as to how far “quick response” fashion can go.

The phenomenon was put down to the growing popularity of short-order buying. “Clare Johnston, colour and pattern designer for Marks & Spencer, said: “Short orders can be used in sensible ways to freshen the look of a store; the new looks helping to keep customers. Everyone feels insecure about long-term planning – it can make you feel vulnerable.”

However, one young fashion supplier to chains such as Miss Selfridge, Topshop and Oasis, said: “Fashions now change so fast and we have to react very quickly. It has reached its peak – we can’t work much faster than we are now.”  

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