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This week in history...

Retailers closed down for the funeral of Princess Diana, the Burton Group acquired Dorothy Perkins, and female smokers were a burning issue.

12 years ago…

Retailers both big and small were closing their stores on Saturday September 6 as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in a car crash a week earlier.

Virtually all stores, from small indies to large multiples, shut to allow staff and shoppers to watch Diana’s funeral and pay their respects.

Marks & Spencer also closed its doors to allow staff to mourn, as did all Burton Group fascias, Next and Sears stores. Department store Selfridges donated some of its afternoon takings to one of Diana’s favourite charities.

Young fashion chains such as Oasis and Morgan also closed, as well as the major supermarkets. Harrods closed all day as a mark of respect to both Diana and Dodi al Fayed, son of Harrods owner Mohamed, who was killed alongside the Princess.

Fashion designers who worked with Diana also paid tribute. Designer Bruce Oldfield said he was “devastated” by her death, while Elizabeth Emanuel added: “She did a huge amount for British fashion and was instrumental in the success of the industry.”|

30 years ago…

The Burton Group revealed plans for 240-store womenswear chain Dorothy Perkins in the September 8 1979 issue of Drapers, after snapping up the chain for £15m from property firm British Land.

Burton promised to give the chain a new image, a revised merchandise mix and said it would close some of its smaller stores, but said no changes would be made to the chain’s buying team. Dorothy Perkins would fill the gap between Burton’s Topshop chain, aimed at 13 to 22-year-old women, and its more sophisticated Peter Robinson department stores.

Dorothy Perkins made a net profit of about £300,000 in the year to March 31, 1979, but its performance during the summer had been disappointing, and Burton vowed to improve the chain’s summer trading.

A facelift for the business was also high on the list of priorities, said Burton group managing director Cyril Spencer. “We shall brighten up the Dorothy Perkins image,” he said. “Frequent change in retailing is essential. We are shortly to launch a new look for Topshop – the third in five years – and I would expect Dorothy Perkins to change at a similar rate in future.”

Drapers also took a look at lingerie trends going into the 1980s. Three main themes were identified: “The prettily romantic, in mostly pastel shades; the more sophisticated designs in stronger colours which could possibly double as eveningwear; and homewear, which falls between the two.”

55 years ago…

The September 1954 issue of Cloth and Clothes (later incorporated into Drapers) reported on a new garment for men that had made “a very leisurely appearance” on British beaches.

Harking back to ancient Rome, the “sun toga” was praised for its versatility. “It is a towel, with a hole in the centre, which can become a collar. It has a sash waist and a large waterproof pocket at the front and will modestly envelop the wearer down to mid-thigh regions.”

It could also be laid on the sand for sunbathing, and used as a changing tent. For any lacking the imagination to picture the sun toga’s usefulness, a series of photos showed just what it could do. The toga used in the shoot was from retailer Austin Reed.

88 years ago…

“The woman who smokes as she shops” was discussed in the September 3, 1921 issue of Drapers. It seemed such maverick women had been seen around London’s West End, “but so far only in those shops which have a restaurant on the premises, and where she is probably finishing her after-lunch or after-tea cigarette.”

However, one woman had also been spotted “meditatively puffing” while inspecting house-furnishing fabrics, and a “well-known political hostess” was frequently seen smoking a cigarette in an “immensely long holder” while shopping.

However, Drapers’ inquiries among larger stores showed that the habit was still rare. Even though the number of female smokers was growing, it was still considered unusual to see them smoking on the street, never mind in a store.

But Drapers wondered whether stores would be forced to take steps to ban smoking in their stores, something which so far none had done. After all, store managers told the magazine that they did not welcome the habit, and of course there was also the danger of fire.

It added that many women themselves “would be the first to complain” if smoking became more widespread in shops, so “it might be necessary to forbid smoking to save causing annoyance to the majority of shoppers”.

Also in this week’s issue was a picture spread showing some of the latest womenswear styles.

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