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This week in history...

Sales of women’s formal tailoring slumped, non-retail businesses threatened the future of shopping streets, and Drapers deplored the quality of apprentices.

10 years ago…

“Knitwear is rocketing, while formal tailoring is plunging,” reported Drapers on August 21, 1999, as it highlighted a dramatic shift in womenswear sales trends. 

Figures from consultancy Taylor Nelson Sofres’ Fashion Trak service showed sales of formal jackets fell 14% in spring 1999, while cardigans and fitted knit tops rose by 25% and 26% respectively.

A Drapers survey showed that for spring 2000, 49% of independent retailers would be buying more knitwear. Retailers said there had been a major shift in women’s shopping habits. Barbara Horspool, who was international design director at Etam at the time, said: We predicted very early on last year that trends were no longer about tailoring and consumers’ tastes had moved on to wardrobe dressing with pieces rather than suiting.”

Vicky Watkin, who at the time was buying controller for New Look, agreed. “Knitwear has become more trendy this year and tailoring has trailed off.”

The move towards knits was having an impact on merchandising, with dress and cardigan combinations replacing suits as a central feature on the shopfloor, while retailers were forced to bring forward their sourcing trips to meet the high demand for knitwear.

Also this week, an earthquake hit Izmit in Turkey, which resulted in injuries to clothing factory staff and disrupted production schedules and delays in deliveries.

New Look, which had stepped up its sourcing from Turkey, was one of those expecting delays. Its chief executive at the time, Jim Hodkinson said: “It’s a day by day, hour by hour situation.”

35 years ago…

The encroachment into traditional shopping areas of building society offices and other non-retail businesses was the big news story in Drapers’ August 24, 1974 issue.

The growing number of small retailers being forced to shut up shop and look elsewhere for premises caused concern, with the City of London Retail Trade Association saying it was “very alarmed” by the situation.

The association said that since 1966, it had lost 210 sq ft – or 5% - of its retail space in the City. Its chairman Frank Rendell said: “The shopping areas are being ruined by the presence of employment agencies and building societies.” He pointed out that rents were being pushed up to levels shopkeepers could not afford, and that some shopkeepers were being approached with tempting offers for their leases.

Non-retail businesses were forced to ask local authorities’ permission for a change of use on a building, meaning the shop would often stand empty for a couple of years while this was processed.  

To preserve shopping streets, Drapers called on the Department of the Environment to ensure that more change of use applications were refused, while Bernard Sinclair, a retailer in the City of London, asked retailers to “get together on a nationwide basis and show our strength”.

Drapers also reported on the growing cult of the designer, in which clothes from “individually-minded designers” creating their own style were becoming ever more popular.

“The word investment is entering the fashion vocabulary,” the magazine wrote, as customers see the value of collecting original, individual pieces that will not date. A picture spread highlighted eveningwear by London designers which fitted into this category.    

50 years ago…

A large-scale reorganisation of the cotton spinning, doubling and weaving sections of the fabric industry could cause a cotton shortage, Lancashire fabric producers warned in the August 22, 1959 edition of Drapers.

The producers appealed to makers-up and retailers to “place earlier and larger initial orders” for the spring 1960 season, saying that if they continued their usual practice of ordering late, many factories would be unable to meet their needs due to the closure of some factories and the re-equipping of others with more modern machinery.

One Manchester producer told Drapers that delivery for repeats on some of his styles was now nine months, and said on many other styles orders would have to be placed now to be ready in time for spring.

Another reason for the potential shortage was that Lancashire’s latest fabric designs were considered to be “better than at any time since the war”, arousing much interest among buyers from Europe.

Also this week, department store Peter Robinson opened its new four-floor fashion store on the Strand in London, which replaced its previous site in Leicester Square.

Drapers also illustrated the latest in women’s waterproof coats.

115 years ago…

The lull in trade during the holiday season, when “a majority of leading drapers are thinking of grouse-shooting or yachting, or at worst, of a month at bracing, salubrious Margate”, gave Drapers the opportunity to reflect on the current crop of young apprentices and assistants in its August 25, 1894 issue.

“They are not nearly so good as they were a generation ago,” it pointed out, adding that “he is not nearly so well grounded in the ABC of his calling as his congener of an earlier time. The word ‘thorough’ seems to have been eliminated from their vocabulary.”

The main gripe with these youngsters seemed to be their carelessness in measuring out fabrics for purchase, with their sloppiness in over-measuring fabric costing a draper’s shop a sizeable amount of money over a year. One large London business said if employers cared to remeasure cut lengths of material, they would find that in nine out of 10 cases a considerable number of inches were given away.

“Assistants are expected to take trouble in the performance of their duties,” added Drapers. “A practically perfect accuracy is obtainable, and employers are entitled to ask for nothing less.” 

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