Monday, 23 November 2009

You can't keep up with the mods

This is the first issue of The Mod's Magazine, published by Albert Hand Publications Ltd., in Heanor Derbyshire. There's no year given, but I'm guessing its 1964 or 1965.

Its welcoming editorial, written by the editor Mark Burns, almost admits failure before its even begun:

Hallo there!
For the first edition of "Mods Monthly" I hope that we have included everything that you want to read and see. Unfortunately, although we have a staff of very "with it" Mods, so many different styles and fashions enter the Mods world every week that it's sometimes impossible to include them all. I do hope, however, that you will enjoy this edition and the subsequent editions of "Mods" for our planning of the book depends on what you want in it, not what we think should be in it.

And so it proved - a failure, that is. The only information I can find about this publication was in the book Empire made: the handy parka pocket guide to all things mod! by Terry Rawlings and Keith Badman (a gift from my brother and the only source of mod-related information in my library). Their verdict doesn't pull any punches:

Short-lived cash in publication 'Mods' failed miserably after only a handful of issues. The publishers hopelessly misjudged the average Mod's notoriously short attention span and their ever evolving tastes. It was a fact that Mod fashions and accessories could change overnight, often meaning what was considered 'in' at the beginning of the week could just as likely be 'out' by the end. 'Mod's' monthly turnaround meant it constantly found itself out in the cold!

Operating from the depths of rural Derbyshire must have been another disadvantage, since the acknowledged centre of all things mod was obviously London. You would assume this venture hadn't a hope.

But they did have some credible contributors: Cathy McGowan models three outfits on the inside front cover, and there's an article by Andrew Oldham (no Loog in the author's credit) called "Mods around the world!"

Features included "The mod trend in hairstyles" (short bobs for girls, Beatle haircuts, a move towards buns on the top of the head using false hair), "Headgear that's real gear" (girls' caps with little peaks), "Can you invent a new dance?" and "Why are Mods so much in the News?"

There's precisely zero pictures of male mods, which is a bad sign for a start since it was surely all about the boys?

In the "Records for Mods" column there's a recommendation for Blue Beat records - specifically the Exotics' Cross My Heart - followed by a positive mention for the Rolling Stones' Not Fade Away:

Alright for doing a fast shake too, but I doubt whether your energy will last to the end of the record.

Perhaps the author was unaware of the official mod fuel, amphetamine? This is another worrying indicator of terminal unhipness (I'm not endorsing drug abuse by any means, but it was the mods' drug of choice and might have allowed our correspondent to continue his "fast shake" to the fade out).

At least I can now date this magazine to 1964, since Not Fade Away was released in February of that year.

I have four consecutive issues of this magazine, which I have discovered are as rare as hen's teeth, so here is a little gallery of the covers of a well-meaning but doomed publication:

And just to be both perverse and provocative, I'm going to add a British Pathé link to a delightful short film that the mods would have hated with a passion! This really is worth two minutes of your valuable time:


Saturday, 21 November 2009

What could you buy for one shilling in 1928?

Kissproof lipstick advertisement from Woman's Life magazine, October 27th 1928.

You could buy a Kissproof lipstick in a "rich, red, youthful colouring" that is not only waterproof but requires only one application in the morning because it is "as permanent as the day is long."

Now that is quite some claim to make, because I'm sure that right at this moment there are boffins in the labs of L'Oreal still busily trying to formulate a lasting lip colour to live up to that kind of claim. Perhaps the Kissproof formula included a pigment that actually stained the lips?

According to Wikipedia that was indeed the case: "long-lasting, indelible stains were the most popular" in the 1920s.

So if this lipstick (lip dye?) required only one application a day, presumably you wouldn't need much of it. In fact, the lipsticks were tiny:

Kissproof lipstick, with a cent for scale (apologies to UK viewers, the cent appears to be the universal indicator of scale - it is slightly smaller than a penny).

This example measures just under 1¾ inches (4.2 cm) long and just over ¼ inch (9 mm) wide. I can't remember how I acquired this lipstick, but I suspect it was from the days when my mother ran a vintage clothes shop and would sometimes find things (shopping lists, hair grips, handkerchiefs, no diamond rings unfortunately) in the old handbags she sold.

Its not cylindrical as you might expect, but a kind of flattened, oval shape, and it has been used right up to the nub (it was a matte, dark red colour, incidentally).

Another popular lipstick brand was Tattoo:

This has the typical cylindrical shape, but is only 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length. It is etched with dancing maidens dressed only in skimpy grass skirts.

Compared to modern lipsticks, these are absolutely tiny, and must have been a boon in the days when handbags were correspondingly petite.

Just to return to the Kissproof ad at the top for a moment: it strikes me as a rather strange advertisement for a cosmetic product. Its very brisk and English, with two posh, outdoorsy women ("My dear") conversing on horseback. This is not the kind of scenario you might associate with a lipstick - I'd imagine a night club, or fancy restaurant, or one of those newfangled cocktail bars that came over from America during the 1920s. Where's the glamour, or the sex appeal?

Well, the Tattoo lipstick company knew all about sex appeal, and in a series of advertisements from the 1930s they laid on the glamour and exotic sex appeal with a trowel:

Vogue, 7th August 1935, full page ad on the back cover.

"From South Sea maidens, whom you know as the most glamorous women on earth, comes the secret of making and keeping lips excitingly lovely and everlastingly youthful.

In that land where romance is really real, you'll naturally find no coated, pasty lips. Instead, you'll find them gorgeously tattooed! Not with a needle, but with a sweet, exotic red stain made from the berries of the passion-fruit. The resulting transparent, even colour is alluring beyond words."

Now that's more like it! "Really real" romance! And there's even a glimpse of bosom!

The recumbent female figure with the dewy lips was a signature feature of many of these Tattoo ads:

Vogue, 21st August 1935, full page ad inside the back cover.

Here, a modern, swimsuit-clad young lady precisely echoes the posture of her South Sea island sister, who is so transported by the dreamy guitar melodies that she's writhing on the ground!

"TATTOO is so soothing, it will keep your lips soft and smooth . . . lastingly young . . . forever desirable! Oh, so desirable."

Phew! I think we're getting the message. I'll bet these overheated, sensual ads found a receptive audience beyond their intended market.

Incidentally, they've also dropped the claim that these lipsticks are made "from the berries of the passion-fruit" which I'm sure was completely untrue, not to mention faintly ridiculous, and was probably only added because it had the word 'passion' in it. EDIT: I've re-read the copy and its clear I misunderstood it - those South Sea maidens were supposedly 'tattooing' their lips with passion-fruit - it was not claimed to be an ingredient of the lipstick. I'm not convinced that you would get much colour from a passion-fruit so the idea is still preposterous!

Vogue, 4th March 1936, full page ad on the back cover.

They must have liked that swooning posture, because you can see one of the women at the top of this ad in more or less the same position, not to mention being naked and with two other naked women.

"Fling a challenge to adventure! Tattoo yours lips!"

And what kind of adventure might that be, hmmm?

Vogue, 15th April 1936, full page ad on the back cover.

South Sea exoticism is relegated to the bottom left corner in this 1936 ad, which features an ethereal Jean Harlow type, the right way up for a change. (This illustration is signed by Frank Farkas, about whom I've failed to find out much except that he trained in Europe and worked in an ad agency called Farkas-Jensen-Farkas in Chicago).

Vogue, 7th July 1937, full page ad on the back cover.

This last Tattoo ad, illustrated by John LaGatta has a "South Seas Enchantress" whispering secrets to a languid chestnut brunette in a gloriously liquid satin gown. Its perhaps a little more restrained (if you ignore the hint of lesbian eroticism, that is), although the copy is anything but:

"There's a magical ingredient blended into the New TATTOO that gives lips a thrilling new kind of softness . . . an endlessly yielding softness!"

Well, really. I can feel my inner brisk Englishwoman losing patience now. That's quite enough of that!

[Note: the Tattoo advertisements were found in bound copies of British Vogue, held at the Gallery of Costume, Manchester].

Monday, 16 November 2009

What could you buy for 16/5 in 1933?

You could treat yourself to a smart pair of co-respondent shoes from Saxone, delivered to your door.

But wait! I always picture this type of shoe in cream and brown, or possibly black and white if you're a bit of a flash Harry. These shoes betray their elegant half-tone illustration by being proudly offered in "Vivid green or blue" and white kid, along with those more conventional options. Can you imagine?

This advertisement was found in the July 1933 edition of The Wide World: The Magazine For Men, which is full of manly adventure stories about vicious head-hunting tribes in Ecuador, bank hold-ups in Canada, and shooting rogue elephants in the British Cameroons.

I suspect you'd have to be a particularly adventurous type of man (foolhardy, even) to wear "vivid green" and white co-respondent shoes in 1933. Or at any other time for that matter.

What could you buy for 6d in 1934?

Well perhaps not buy outright, since 6d is your deposit on "a delightful Spring Frock in Fashion's latest style," and you would in fact be obliged to make fortnightly payments of 1/6 (1 shilling and 6 pence) until the balance of 12/11 was reached.

Oh, and there's 6d for postage too.

But you do get a free pair of black patent leather shoes, so its looking more like a bargain. J.A. Davis was one of a number of mail order clothing companies advertising in the issue of Picturegoer magazine (June 2nd, 1934) that this ad appeared in, and it was certainly the cheapest.

Corot, of 33 Old Bond Street, London, was the dearest. It offered two models: "miss innocence," a pure silk crepe de chine frock for 3½ guineas cash or 10/6 monthly (a guinea was one pound and one shilling - 21 shillings - the 'posh' pound!), and "fresh as the morning," a linen sun frock with matching cape for 2½ guineas cash or 7/6 monthly.

Doing some sums - "miss innocence" is effectively 73s 6d and nearly six times the price of J.A. Davis' frock (with its rather less romantic title of "model 12").

This disparity in prices points to the wide readership of Picturegoer magazine, although even Corot would not have been considered a 'high end' clothing retailer at the time. Prestigious department stores were offering couture copy model gowns for up to 25 guineas, which gives some perspective on the market.

There's lots to pick over here - I always enjoy the fortuitous abbreviation of 'artificial' into 'art' when referring to synthetic fabrics, which makes them sound much more prestigious and appealing.

And I am always brought up short by the colour options listed, with the quite customary use of a derogatory racial term for shades of brown. Nobody would have turned a hair at that term in those days, and within my memory I recall seeing coloured pencils being labelled the same way.

If I'm ever lured by the warm appeal of cosy nostalgia - "things were so much better in the old days, you could leave your door unlocked, kids had respect for their elders" and all that nonsense - that's something to bring me right back down to earth with a bump.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Upcycling, recycling, remaking, reusing

hand made antique dolly peg
hand made antique dolly peg, originally uploaded by Trevira. This is made of a strip cut from an old tin, wound round a split stick.

In principal its ALL good, but having recently joined Etsy I've had reason to give it some more thought.

There's a lot of people busily remaking new garments out of vintage ones, and some of them are remarkably inventive and stylish. But I do have qualms about using, and drastically altering, vintage items that are perfectly wearable and undamaged as they are.

In their original state, they are authentic survivors of their era, and often have some value as collector's items or potential museum pieces. Once they have undergone such alterations, they are no longer authentic, and have lost that intrinsic value accrued by age, rarity and desirability - but on the other hand, they may have gained in appeal for the modern buyer who isn't the least bit interested in history or authenticity.

Of course, reusing and remaking clothing is nothing new. For centuries, people have plundered old, secondhand garments - unpicked silk dresses to remake the valuable fabric into something new; removed lace collars and trimmings to adorn another blouse or dress; snipped off buttons and saved them for the next suitable sewing project.

As fashions changed, garments might be altered to conform to the newest styles. When paisley cashmere shawls fell out of favour in the nineteenth century, for example, some of them ended up as neat little jackets or mantles. Here's a late example from the 1920s, held at the Gallery of Costume, Manchester.

In the days before 'vintage' became the lucrative marketing term it is today (something I've discussed rather pompously here), nobody was sentimental about secondhand clothing, regarding it as raw material to be used as they saw fit.

So perhaps I shouldn't be bothered. But the historian in me can't help but mourn the loss of items that have survived the years intact, only to be destroyed at the hands of some unsympathetic maker who is perhaps blind to its merits. (There is a case to be made, I suppose, that the 'new' items made from old ones become authentic artefacts of the current era).

That said, I find it hard to care about mass produced 1980s garments - they're not that old, they're plentiful and most of them are pretty dreadful (I'm being unforgivably subjective here!). Perhaps in twenty years I might feel differently.

My parameters for justified reuse are: badly damaged and/or worn out garments - or ones less than twenty years old - that have no particular qualities, uniqueness or style to them are fair game.

Admittedly, this is probably still ridiculously irrational and sentimental of me. Especially since I have quite a number of vintage clothes in my wardrobe that I wear on a regular basis and will eventually wear out and (effectively) destroy myself!

The era most associated with reusing and remaking garments is that of the Second World War - when 'make do and mend' was an imperative that no-one could afford to ignore. Goodness knows how many potentially valuable 'vintage' items ended up chopped up or altered (like my first ever vintage dress, which got off relatively lightly) during that time.

Anne Edwards, fashion editor of Woman magazine, provides some ingenious tips on how to decimate your poor husband's wardrobe while he is off fighting the war, in this 1942 British Pathé clip (this film might account for the relative scarcity of 1930s menswear!):


Even women's wardrobes weren't safe from the scissors! An evening dress is transformed into a becoming day dress (and turban):


And finally, "great grandma's priceless old lace" is turned into some attractive household decor items:

LACE (issue title is GIVE AND TAKE)

Saturday, 14 November 2009

How do you advertise when you don't have anything to sell?

Leafing through a copy of Modern Woman magazine from January 1944, I noticed that a number of the advertisements weren't promoting actual goods, but the promise of them after the war.

The frazzled lady above with the fire buckets is presumably doing the weekly wash, and couldn't wait until she was able to buy a new Hotpoint washing machine, something that I'm sure a lot of women at the time could relate to.

G.E.C. (below) used an arresting illustration to make the point that their production lines were diverted to munitions work for the duration:

Clothing manufacturers, such as Healthguard knitwear, were busy supplying the troops with uniforms and (presumably in this case) cosy and durable knitted sweaters and undergarments, although in this industry, unlike that of the electrical manufacturers, a small proportion of their output was devoted to the domestic market:

The tone is sympathetic but encouraging - acknowledging that their products will be scarce and probably require a concerted effort to hunt around numerous retailers to source - "annoying, perhaps, but well worth the bother." (I can't see that phrase catching on in the same way as "Keep calm and carry on," somehow).

Thomas Ratcliffe & Co. Ltd., makers of Moderna wool blankets, appear concerned to preserve their image as producers of high quality goods:

After explaining what makes their blankets so special - "pure lamb's wool . . . more threads to the inch in warp and weft than in an ordinary blanket" - they are obliged to confess that their wartime blankets, produced "under the current Govt. restrictions," aren't quite so special. In fact, its clear they really don't want to sell you their current, substandard blankets at all and instead urge wartime brides who are setting up their new homes to save their money for the (better) post-war Moderna blankets and in the meantime "make do with what you've got"!

Bourjois, the cosmetics manufacturer, congratulates women on maintaining their feminine allure whilst engaged in arduous war work, but urges them to use their scarce products sparingly:

In small print at the bottom, after expressing regret that their Evening in Paris perfume will not be available during the war, is this warning: "Any perfume offered to our clientele as 'Evening in Paris' is spurious and not a Bourjois production unless the bottle is labelled with our name and address thereon, in conformity with the Board of Trade regulations."

It seems that shoddy, counterfeit goods were another hazard of wartime life.

All these adverts appeared in a single magazine in 1944, five years into the Second World War, and their message must have been repeated throughout countless publications during the conflict. Although manufacturers engaged in essential war production were probably not suffering unduly, with their lucrative Government contracts, they were evidently anxious to maintain public goodwill and the future customer base that would ensure their post war prosperity.

For consumers, it must have been constantly frustrating to be repeatedly reminded about what they didn't have and couldn't get. Everything had to wait until after the war.

But what nobody seemed to realise (or perhaps didn't dare admit) was that all these enticing goods wouldn't suddenly appear in the shops once victory was declared in 1945. In fact, shortages and rationing got much worse! The government had huge wartime debts and just about anything worth selling was exported to help pay it off.

After six long years of deprivation, not to mention the stress and heartbreak of living through a long and bitter world war, the patient and enduring British consumers were faced with a further nine years wait before all rationing finally ended in 1954.

Of course, they weren't necessarily that patient and enduring (who would be?) If you want to learn more about the 'ordinary' British person's experience of the immediate post war years, you can't do better than Simon Garfield's book Our Hidden Lives. Garfield skilfully and sensitively edits the Mass Observation diaries of five people to illustrate how this largely overlooked era affected those five individuals, and it makes surprisingly vivid and compelling reading.

An aspect of wartime advertising I haven't mentioned yet, is the manufacturers' awareness of the limits of that assumed patience. An Atkinsons Eau de Cologne ad pleads: "Supplies are scarce though, so please don't be cross if the shopkeeper is out of stock." A Parozone bleach ad urges: "Don't blame your suppliers if you can't get all the Parazone you want. Bear with us please - we are doing everything possible to maintain supplies."

There's a clear hint of the daily, small-scale conflicts that poor, hard-pressed shop staff had to face from frustrated and enraged shoppers. But, I ask you, could you tolerate this?:

At the bottom of this advertisement it says: "We ask your indulgence should your retailer be temporarily out of stock." My memories of Bronco are of the waxy, stiff and resolutely non-absorbent toilet paper that no-one would buy or use out of choice. To have only Bronco toilet paper available is torture enough. To have no toilet paper at all is beyond comprehension!

As my grandmother (and probably yours too) always said - we don't know we're born!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Connie bobs her hair

Connie, originally uploaded by Trevira.

Meet the lovely Connie, captured some time in the 1910s (quite possibly during the First World War), with her tumbling tresses, huge bows and pretty pale silk dress with pearl beading.

Hollywood buffs might be reminded of "America's Sweetheart" Mary Pickford, at that time the most famous woman in the world.

But then the 1920s arrived:

the new modern Connie
the new modern Connie, originally uploaded by Trevira.

And Connie was transformed! She's bobbed her hair, and wears a simple day dress with a Peter Pan collar.

Not only that, but her inscribed greeting on the photographs has changed from the rather formal and restrained 'with love Connie' to the brash and informal 'tons of love Con.' Its not just her hair that has changed!

After I uploaded these two pictures on Flickr I got some interesting responses, including one from anniebee drawing parallels with F.Scott Fitzgerald's 1920 short story Bernice Bobs Her Hair (there's a link to the full text of the story on that page too).

And magpie-moon claimed to prefer the pre-bob Connie, which led me to wonder about the modern appeal of these two different aspects of femininity. Both play on the 'girlish' - the older style a flowery, frilly and wistful look of an adolescent who can't wait to grow up, put her hair 'up' and become a proper lady; the 'newer' style, although it looks more modern to our eyes, actually references the kind of haircut and dress that pre-pubertal girls wore at that time, and suggests a wish never to grow up!

As a rough indication of the relative popularity of these looks, the 1910s Connie photograph has been 'favourited' 23 times and the 1920s Connie has 21 'favourites' - 1910s Connie is ahead by a narrow margin.

I can't let this one pass without the now obligatory British Pathé gem, so here's a young lady getting her hair shingled (a later variant of the bob) in 1924 by the eminent hairdresser Emile Long:


Monday, 9 November 2009

Everyone was so much smaller in the old days

"With love to dear Gwenn
With love to dear Gwenn, originally uploaded by Trevira.

Of course they weren't all much smaller in the old days, but its surprising how often I'll hear that repeated. Madame, above, photographed in 1909, is a particularly good answer to that lazy generalisation.

And here's another:

now identified: Mercedes Gleitze, champion swimmer

When I first uploaded this picture on Flickr I had no idea who this woman was, and hadn't a hope of deciphering the pencilled autograph across it. She wears a 1920s knitted swimming costume, which turned out to be a bit of clue.

A Flickr contact, alan.98, succeeded in identifying her as Mercedes Gleitze - a well-known endurance swimmer in the 1920s and 1930s who was the first English woman to swim the English Channel in 1927. This incredible feat, completed in just over 15 hours on a bitterly cold day in October, was, within days, beaten by Dr. Dorothy Cochrane Logan. Unfortunately Dr. Logan's 13 hour crossing was soon revealed as a hoax, which led people to doubt Mercedes' own achievement.

Determined to prove her case, Mercedes insisted she would swim the Channel again. Meanwhile, the prestigious watch company Rolex saw this new attempt - and the guaranteed attendant glare of publicity - as a golden opportunity to promote their recently patented waterproof watch, the Rolex Oyster. Miss Gleitze agreed, and wore the watch hung round her neck with a ribbon for her 'Vindication Swim.'

Unfortunately, her attempt at the crossing failed in waters that were even colder than her previous successful swim and she was pulled from the sea almost unconscious after enduring it for nearly 10½ hours. However, she had proved her stamina and endurance, the Rolex Oyster survived and kept perfect time, and Miss Gleitze supplied a glowing testimonial and was featured in subsequent advertisements for the watch. You can read a much more comprehensive account of this story here.

Mercedes Gleitze had the kind of sturdy figure that must have been perfectly suited for this kind of swimming. Although she looks 'big' she was obviously incredibly fit, not to mention incredibly brave and resolute. A thoroughly modern woman in the 1920s, and a name to admire to this day.

I can't help but notice that although she was 'modern' in her pioneering activities, her personal style was actually quite old-fashioned. Her long hair proves that not every woman in the 1920s chopped their hair into a short bob - even though it would have been even more practical for her as a long-distance swimmer. Footage shows that she wore her hair in two plaits which were then coiled round over her ears - Princess Leia style! - which was a popular strategy to avoid actually cutting your hair whilst still approximating the neat, short, fashionable look of a bob.

Miss Gleitze went on to complete marathon swims across the world - including being the first person (not woman, person) to swim across the Straits of Gibraltar in 1928. As if there aren't enough reasons to admire her, she used the money earned from her swims to open the Mercedes Gleitze Home for the Homeless in Leicester in 1933.

The fantastic British Pathé has come up with the goods again! This film supposedly shows Mercedes Gleitze shortly after her failed Channel crossing, although she looks rather too perky to have just been pulled from the waves to me:


And here she is in action, setting off from Folkestone in 1926 on one of her failed attempts to cross the Channel:


Saturday, 7 November 2009

Plus fours - why?

plus-fours and plus-eights
plus fours and plus eights, originally uploaded by Trevira.

Having failed to find any photographs of outrageously wide Oxford bags (see a previous post) among my own fairly extensive collection of old snapshots, I realised I had a few good examples of another baffling men's fashion favourite of the interwar years - plus fours.

Originating as comfortable golfing trousers or breeches generously cut so that they billowed below the knee by four inches - hence the name - these garments became popular as leisure wear appropriate for all kinds of locations, not just the golf course.

That famous men's fashion leader, the then Prince of Wales (you know, the one who made cosy social calls on Hitler and abdicated to marry Mrs Simpson) helped popularise the trend worldwide. And despite their Bertie Woosterish associations these days, it wasn't just upper class twits sporting them, but men of all classes.

The two gentlemen at the top were from the North Shields, and because I have quite a bundle of photographs from the same family I know that they and their friends lived in semi-detached or terraced houses, and fixed their bicycles by the shed in the back garden. They are evidently not members of the landed gentry. The precise location has yet to be identified, but the date is somewhere in the mid 1930s, and I implied with my caption that the chap on the right's plus fours look particularly capacious. Note the Argyle patterned socks that seem obligatory with plus fours.

mob of lads, North Bay, Scarborough

This cheery crowd of youths from around the same date, or possibly a year or two earlier, display quite a range of men's leisure wear, with one brave pioneer in the middle in plus fours. Other photographs from this set show that these boys were camping in tents somewhere in Scarborough, and I'd be prepared to bet that this was probably their first holiday without their parents. Let's hope they behaved themselves.

plus fours, 1920s/30s
plus fours, 1920s/30s, originally uploaded by Trevira.

These gentlemen are old enough to know better. The circumstances around this photograph are lost to history, but its fair to assume that alcohol might have been involved given the array of glasses at their feet. This does not explain the teapot, however, or the chap kneeling behind and holding something like a bicycle inner tube over his friend's head. Clearly none of this would have occurred had they been wearing sensible, double breasted suits.

From this limited selection of photographic evidence, it seems that plus fours brought out the light-hearted, jovial, devil-may-care aspect in a man's character. Something that may explain their virtual disappearance once the Second World War started spoiling everyone's fun.

But the fun can't end just yet:

plus fours?
plus fours?, originally uploaded by Trevira.

This joker from South Wales has either gone completely potty and had some plus tens made (imagine the trouble in store), or he's actually tucked his trousers into his socks for a laugh. I'll leave you to decide which.

By the way: can you picture wearing a pair of trousers (please refer to the Oxford bags post earlier) over these plus fours? Hmmm.

Friday, 6 November 2009

What I did on my holidays (in Cromer)

blackcurrant and cassis sorbet
blackcurrant and cassis sorbet, originally uploaded by Trevira.

No this won't be a school essay!

But I always do plenty of research before our holiday breaks because I don't want to miss out on any good places to see, enjoy or eat at in the vicinity, and its always useful to find reliable testimonials online.

One of my best sources for travel information is Anne at I like, who shares an enthusiasm for the "Great British Holiday" and has impeccable taste. Her regular reports of her jaunts, with copious photographic evidence provided on her flickr photostream, are always full of places, attractions and businesses that are worth making an effort to seek out. (Of course, there's plenty of other good reasons for checking I like, but we're talking holidays here).

Anne's keen interest in unusual, quirky and/or neglected tourist attractions led her to establish the essential nothing to see here. This has developed into a prodigious online repository for the informed and discriminating tourist with an appreciation of the unusual/quirky/neglected.

Back to my holidays. We stayed at the Hotel de Paris at Cromer, which caters mostly to the silver-haired coach party crowd. Indeed, it proved rather hard to secure a booking at all, but it was worth the effort (and regular phone calls on the chance of a cancellation) for a sea view room that looked right over the pier.

Cromer is a modest little seaside town on the north Norfolk coast, which has little to offer the nightclubber or funfair fiend. It was perfect!

There's plenty of book shops and antique and collectors' shops for junk hounds, including Collector's World, easily found on Church Street, where I secured some brass fringes from a Mason's apron and a clutch of enamel badges. The friendly owner showed me an extraordinary set of Freemason's ceremonial robes - white with a red crusader's cross on - that had more than a passing resemblance to a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

Fine dining seems in short supply in the area, but I did really enjoy a (birthday treat) meal at La Griglia, and can wholeheartedly recommend their seared scallops starter, and seafood risotto made with "whatever's fresh from the market today." I would have taken pictures but the lighting was so low I could barely see to pick up my fork!

Mary Janes (award winning) Fish Bar on Garden Street supplied at least two more of our meals during the break, but don't try and sit down in the restaurant too late or the waitresses bellow at you "we're closed" as you push open the door (this was at about 8.30 p.m.) Don't let that robust Norfolk charm put you off though, the fish and chips are great. Just head to the take-out bit and enjoy your fish supper on a bench overlooking the nearby pier (weather permitting, of course).

In nearby Sheringham is the wonderful Ronaldo's Ice Cream parlour. Ronaldo's uses local cream, milk and fruit for its ices and spurns artificial colours and flavourings. It took some time to make up my mind:

Ronaldo ice cream parlour
Ronaldo ice cream parlour, originally uploaded by Trevira.

And then it turned out that they didn't have any chocolate cappuccino and Tia Maria on that day. Fortunately, my second choice - blackcurrant and cassis sorbet - was sublime and can be admired at the top of this post.

Finally, 'Joyful' West's Shellfish Bar, in Sheringham too:

'Joyful' West's Shellfish Bar
'Joyful' West's Shellfish Bar, originally uploaded by Trevira.

which supplied freshly made crab sandwiches for my birthday lunch (eaten on the seafront and shared with some very cheeky starlings), not to mention the best dressed crab at prices half those I saw in Cromer.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

What could you do for £2 2s in 1933?

Eugène permanent wave

Advertisement from the Davis Standard (a Croydon cinema newsheet), November-December 1933. Eugène permanent wave, originally uploaded by Trevira.

You could perm your 'whole head' at Ede, hairdresser to the ladies and gentlemen of Purley. Or half your head for 25 shillings, if you were a bit strapped for cash.

£2 2s in 1933 would be equivalent to £111.09 these days, according to the handy calculator on measuringworth and using the Retail Price Index alone. This was a considerable sum to invest in a process that might last a couple of months before it grew out.

Ede of Purley favoured the Eugène system of permanent waving, developed by the Swiss Eugene Suter and his Spanish technical whizz Isidoro Calvete in London in 1917. There's some marvellously alarming photographs of their perming machines in the Wikipedia entry on the Perm (hairstyle), including this example from 1923:

Photograph from Louis Calvete, son of Isidoro Calvete, used under CC license.

It might look terrifying, but it must have worked, and indeed worked very well. So well that Eugene's name became "synonymous with permanent waving throughout the world," and you don't achieve that by electrocuting your clients!

And this little film from 1935, courtesy of British Pathé, shows a later system which used heated clamps allowing the permee [??] to wander about rather than being tethered by the hair to an electrical contraption:


Monday, 2 November 2009

Oxford Bags at their widest

"Oxford Bags" at their widest, originally uploaded by Trevira.

Sometimes stories get a bit distorted over time, as evidence is repeated second, third and fourth hand until little essential parts of it go missing.

This picture was found in the book These Tremendous Years 1919-1938 published by the Daily Express. Its a marvellous run through of all the major events, personalities, fashions and crazes of that period, and here - in the 1927 section - is a photograph of a man wearing extraordinary trousers.

The text explains things quite clearly:

'"Oxford bags" at their widest were seen in the West End of London when a man, wanting to win a wager, walked out in trousers measuring forty-eight inches across each leg. The fashion of extra-wide trousers, begun in 1923, though still popular among undergraduates was now dying out generally, but trousers have never got back to the narrow widths of pre-war days.'

So this isn't a fashionable young man pushing the stylistic envelope. In fact he looks like rather a grumpy middle aged man who wants to prove a point. Oxford bags were widely mocked, and even, according to Beverley Nichols, 'somehow connected with atheism, [and] effeminacy.'

This man is ridiculing Oxford bags, and the godless, sissy undergraduates that sported them at the time! You can almost hear him harumphing as he submits to the newspaper photographer's attention while he marches down the road.

But the interesting thing is I've seen this exact photograph reproduced in a popular men's fashion history book to demonstrate the extremes that Oxford bags went to, with no mention of the wager at all.

So a humorous wager and publicity stunt gradually becomes recorded fact and the context is lost to history.

UPDATE: Having given this some thought, the original caption to the picture is misleading. It claims that the trousers measure "forty eight inches across each leg," but I would suggest that that was the circumference, and not the width. A 24 inch width (two feet) is still pretty vast. This confusion between circumference and width might account for the ludicrous misreporting (and its repetition over the years) of the Oxford bags phenomenon.

And further - I've found another picture of this same man in a rather more jovial mood. Perhaps he'd just collected his winnings?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Scarves and buckles

Not long ago, I showed a visiting friend a British Pathé film (forgive the regular British Pathé references and links - I'm officially obsessed with it) from 1942 demonstrating some ingenious ways to wear headscarves. We were both filled with enthusiasm and inspiration so I dug out some old scarves for us to experiment with.

First the film, which is well worth the link leap:

TURBANS (issue title is WAYS AND MEANS)

My friend tried the 'natty little pussycat' with just one long scarf rather than the two recommended, and was so taken with it she left it on. Some of the other variants were possibly a little too complicated and involved pins so we left those alone (particularly prudent after a couple of glasses of wine).

What could you do for 2/6 in 1924?

Where to dance, originally uploaded by Trevira.

You could go dancing in one of the palatial new dance halls that were appearing all over the country, the first of which was the (recently demolished) Hammersmith Palais de Danse, built in 1919.

The murky newsprint photographs don't give much idea of their scale and splendour, but you can make out the huge, 'oriental' style lanterns that became a signature feature of many of these Palais.

H.V. Morton made a visit to 'A Suburban Dance' recounted in his book Nights of London, published in 1926. His account helps fill those murky little photos with the people and life that is absent from them:

You give eighteenpence to a young woman who is imprisoned behind a brass grille, and you enter the dance hall.

The floor is covered with young men and girls fox-trotting to the music of an excellent band. The hall is large. Big yellow lanterns hang from the roof. Your first impression is that the girls are extraordinarily pretty and the men surprisingly ordinary. The girls have dressed for the dance; the men do not possess evening clothes. Here and there a star dancer has changed into a special kind of trousers, grey or black Oxford trousers as a rule, which billow over very pointed brown shoes. With these trousers he wears the coat and waistcoat of his lounge suit. Young men who do not dance linger in vague, drifting groups on the outskirts of the floor, smoking cigarettes and making comment. Pretty little wallflowers sit out by the dozen. Now and again two girls rise and dance together.

The music ends, the lights go up. Then a surprising thing occurs. In an instant men and girls have parted! The girls go over to one end of the room to sit on chairs ranged against the wall; the men group themselves in bands and coteries around the floor and light up the cigarettes which they had left parked on the radiator!

You look at the girls with interest. Most of them work in the big shops in the district. Each one wears a knee-short, tasteful evening frock and light stockings. You look along the rows of chairs and realise that here are seen the prettiest, neatest legs in London. In the Ritz, the Savoy, Claridge's, the pretty woman is easily picked out from the crowd; in this eighteenpenny suburban dance 'hop' a new beauty dawns on the sight of each minute; the girls are all between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. Perhaps that is the secret; they have abundant vitality and youth. They also have abundant lip-stick and powder, and one or two have Eton-cropped their heads.

It strikes you again and again that they are too vital and brilliant for the dull youths who lean against the wall and smoke cigarettes and whisper.

And if you'd like to see a glimpse of possibly 'the prettiest, neatest legs in London' the British Pathé film archive has a short clip of the Wimbledon Palais (the dance hall at the top of the advert) filmed in 1926: