Fashion and Dress Design

I find it interesting, as well as surprising, that my posts on dress design and post-war fashion are visited not only with regularity but have become ‘top of the pops’, viewings even exceeding those of Sex and the Over Sixties — and other sex related postings. Who searches them out?

Post-war Britain was an interesting time for those keen to be dress designers. Wartime (and just after) restrictions (where all clothing bore a utility label, and ‘make do and mend’ was just as much a war cry as ‘dig for victory’) were being lifted, more fabric could be used and thought given to the body beautiful. Brassieres that shaped as well as uplifted, and girdles that nipped in the waist all helped to achieve an ‘hour-glass’ figure perfect for the New Look in women’s clothing. Extravagant flaring skirts reaching below the calf gave a new elegance, and soft dropped shoulder lines were a necessary casting off of uniform dullness that we had lived with for so long.

When the New Look was introduced in Paris I was just a young teenager with my heart set on being a dress designer. I was in my second year of a two year course at a secondary art school. I remember there was a lot of buzz as to whether using so much fabric was practical and desirable. I guess we had long been brainwashed into thinking about economy and practicability. I did well at the art school and was allowed to go on to take a design course at the Nottingham Art College. I loved it. We were taught not only about design of all types of garments but also pattern cutting and making up. No silly clothes in those days. Dresses had to fit the figure, and fit perfectly. Elegance and style were important. Local manufacturers looked for clothing they could sell. No cheap clothes you could just discard in those days, and few people had money to spare for frivolity.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the course during the second term when my dad, after years of struggle with a creeping paralysis, could no longer go out to work. In those days benefits were abysmal and grants in short supply. I got a job at a ladies’ outfitters for thirty shillings a week. I hated it there. The girls sniggered when I asked a young lady if she would like to try on a suspender belt as she was not sure about the size. Corsets were tried on but no one had ever suggested anything of lesser value.

When a consignment of nylons arrived, a queue formed reaching outside into the street. My pencil disappeared as I was about to write out a receipt. The boss’s wife refused to lend me hers or replace it. I was stuck with a waiting queue — my face getting redder and redder. She eventually relented (bad for business?) and told me to let that be a lesson not to lose anything.

Imagine my joy when an acquaintance of the family, who was secretary to the manager of the outwear department of a very large clothing manufacturer, suggested she ask her boss if he would consider taking me on as a trainee designer.

I was indeed taken on, initially to assist the chief designer and to help on the cutting benches, but, within a fairly short time I too was designing for the firm. (The factory is more or less as I have used for one of the settings in ;Awakening Love where June is the young designer).

More in the next post…

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One Response to “Fashion and Dress Design”

  1. Payton L. Inkletter Says:

    And this is why you write fiction with such authenticity, Gladys. You’ve been in the thick of the industry Awakening Love is set in, and have richly invested your story with that experience.

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