Fashion for the People: a history of clothing at Marks & Spencer

Reference librarians Karen and Gillian write:

Recently, Rachel Worth, Professor of Dress and Fashion at Arts University Bournemouth, delivered a presentation on the history of Marks & Spencer at Chelsea Library. This post is based on what we learnt about the high street giant from Rachel’s fascinating and insightful lecture.

From very humble beginnings in a Penny Bazaar stall at Leeds Kirkgate Market in 1884, Michael Marks and – from  a partnership that began in 1894 – Thomas Spencer together built a company that would become Britain’ s biggest clothing retailer.

From the archives
From the archives

Today, Marks & Spencer is a company synonymous with quality, reliability and customer care, but do we associate it with fashion?

Well – yes! Marks & Spencer was at the forefront of bringing accessible and fashionable clothing to the masses, at the same time being a pioneer in using new textiles, displays techniques and marketing methods – including the use of “supermodels” before the word was ever invented.

In the 1890s most working class people made their own clothes, and initially the market stall sold haberdashery (dressmaking materials). The sales slogan of “Don’t Ask The Price, It’s A Penny” summed up the business model. By the outbreak of World War One the company had expanded considerably and had diversified into homewares, but clothing remained at the heart of the business.

Marks & Spencer revolutionised how we bought clothes and also how clothes were sold, focusing on ready-to-wear affordable goods; high quality, well designed and fashionable clothing. In the 1920s M&S was ahead of most other retailers in its marketing and retailing methods setting an upper price limit on clothes. It also accepted the return of unwanted items, giving a full cash refund if the receipt was shown, no matter how long ago the product was purchased, which was unusual for the time.

 

Picture from M&S Magazine, Christmas 1932 Womenswear advert with three women and two young girls
M&S Magazine, Christmas 1932 Womenswear advert © M&S Company Archive
M&S Fashion advertorial with a series of women in M&S clothes
M&S colour supplement in ‘Woman’ magazine, May 1958

It entered into long term relationships with British manufacturers, and sold clothes of the “St Michael” brand, introduced in 1928.  As the company dealt directly with manufacturers it was able to keep prices low and to maintain input in the design and quality of clothes sold in its stores. It was one of the first companies to introduce standardisation in sizing.  It also aimed to cater for all members of the family; children’s clothing and ready-to-wear suits being particularly popular.

M&S Fashion 4
A Marks and Spencer’s window display of St Michael Terylene skirts, Swansea store, 1957, taken from Fashion for the People, by Rachel Worth

Pioneering methods included having its own textile laboratory to enable the testing of fabrics and dyes before mass production, and the use of rainmaking machines to test water repellent fabrics. New synthetic textiles were particularly popular between the 1950s and 1970s. These included Tricell which was first used in 1957. Another synthetic fibre called Courtelle was first launched, nationally, by Marks & Spencer during  the 60s as was Crimplene and Terylene.

These fabrics were easy to wash, often drip dry, easy iron and held their colour or shape. Terylene, for instance, meant the fashionable 50’s woman could have a permanently pleated non-iron skirt. The introduction of Lycra in  the 1980s revolutionised hosiery,  swimwear and underwear because of its elastic properties.

M&S hosiery advert
Lycra hosiery, The M&S Magazine, Autumn/Winter 1988, taken from Fashion for the People by Rachel Worth

 

M&S Fashion 6
St Michael News, July 1953 taken from Fashion for the People by Rachel Worth

Marks and Spencer has always been design conscious, and no more so than in the 1950s when designs were Paris-inspired with an interpretation of the New Look being all the rage. Colour coordinated clothing and jersey knitwear enabled the fashionable women on a budget to change her look , updating key pieces when on a tight budget.

Picture of a large window display unit with knitwear suspended from the top
Window display of St Michael Orlon knitwear, 1950s

Display and marketing was always a key element of the presentation of M&S fashion ranges.  Before the days of mass advertising it was the window display that dominated; these were eye catching and innovative (see above). Early advertising concentrated on the opening of new stores, but post-war the company began to employ models in print media using the well know faces of the day, including Twiggy in the 1960s:

Ambassador Magazine, 1967 taken from Fashion for the People by Rachel Worth
Ambassador Magazine, 1967 taken from Fashion for the People by Rachel Worth

The heyday of this form of mass marketing was the 1990s when M&S began to use supermodels such as Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer.  Here is Vogue’s front cover of July 1996 with Amber Valletta wearing a Marks & Spencer shirt, which we found in our archives at Chelsea Library:

Vogue, July 1996
Vogue, July 1996


If fashion  is a concept based around our attitudes to  clothing then Marks and Spencer is part of its fabric: with its  high  quality/ good value ethos,  innovative and strong relationships with customers,  and its technological innovations  it  led the way in fashion for the masses.  Our thanks to Rachel for  revealing some of the secrets to the success of  the company over the last hundred years.

Rachel’s book, Fashion for the People: a history of clothing at Marks & Spencer is available to read at Chelsea Reference library.

Golborne Street Festival

Gaynor, Lending Librarian at North Kensington library, writes…

The library stall
Library stall at the Golborne Street Festival

On Sunday 19 July, Sandeep, Margaret, Natasha, Leanne , Nina and myself manned a market stall at the Golborne Street Festival. The day did not begin well: rain and extreme wind made setting up the stall with bunting and posters very interesting! By the time the festival started, however, the sun had broken out and we were taking shelter under the stall canopy. We took turns to staff the stall and leaflet the crowds.

Sandeep and Gaynor take shelter
Sandeep and Gaynor take shelter

There was a fantastic atmosphere with representatives from a variety of organisations and community groups, food and craft stalls, plus the obligatory bouncy castle, face painting and live music. For us it was a unique opportunity to reach a wide cross-section of the community we don’t normally see in the library and tell them about all the resources, activities and services libraries have to offer. Lots of people did not realise that the library service is not just about books; they were pleased and interested to hear about Zinio, Universal Class,  e-books and events.Golborne Festival - staff

Nina completely exploded the myth of the traditional reference librarian by dancing down the street and completely raiding the police and food stalls. She ran a gang of street urchins (also known as her friend’s children), whom she bribed to help us distribute Summer Reading Challenge leaflets.

We had a great day, distributing more than 200 Summer Reading Challenge leaflets and, over the course of the day, spoke to many hundreds of adults and children about our wonderful libraries!

Introducing the Punch Historical Archive!

 

Karen, Reference Manager, writes…

Looking for some political predictions from phrenologists?  How about Victorian era investment advice? If you’re after some scathing commentary on 19th and 20th century society, look no further than the Punch Historical Archive! One hundred and fifty-one years of this legendary satirical magazine have been completely digitised and are now available at your fingertips!

Sketch of Punch by Harry Furniss, from jan 1882 edition
Furniss, Harry. “An Undoubted Old Master.” Punch Historical Archive [London, England] 14 Jan. 1882: 14. Punch Historical Archive. Web.
Spanning from the very first issue in 1841, all the way until the final issue in 1992, the database contains full colour scans of every issue.

Snippet taken from article: Public Affairs on Phrenological Principles"  Aug. 1841

“Public Affairs on Phrenological Principles.” Punch Historical Archive [London, England] 14 Aug. 1841: 57. Punch Historical Archive. Web.
In addition to providing a comprehensive archive, the database also offers a collection of fascinating essays from leading scholars.  For example, Dr Annie Grey has analysed the representations of food in Punch, while Professor Brian Maidment investigates early Victorian comics. Of particular interest may be Dr Mike Benbough-Jackson’s article exploring how Punch handled humour during the First World War.

Cartoon taken from Punch Almanack 1915
Raven-Hill, Leonard. “Almanack.” Almanack. Punch Historical Archive [London, England] 1 Jan. 1915: n.p. Punch Historical Archive. Web.
To access the Punch Historical Archive, simply visit the library’s online databases!

Fashion and Flowers in Chelsea

Gillian Nunns, Reference Librarian writes…

We noticed some new trends on the King’s Road over the past week… garden inspired shop-fronts, beautiful floral dresses and new visitors to Chelsea Library, who are exploring the area whilst visiting the Chelsea Flower Show.  Surrounded by so much floral beauty and enthusiasm, we’ve also caught the flower fever and been inspired to explore fashion and flowers in our Costume & Fashion collection.

The Chelsea Flower show in the 1920s:

From The Chelsea Flower Show by Hesten Marsden-Smedley
Taken from The Chelsea Flower Show by Hesten Marsden-Smedley

And we love this image of the flower show in 1918, showing off the fashions of the time:

From The Chelsea Flower Show by Hesten Marsden-Smedley
From The Chelsea Flower Show by Hesten Marsden-Smedley

In our Vogue magazine archives we found lots of garden-inspired illustrations, fashions and adverts from the May and June issues in the 1920s.  In May 1926, as well as checking out the flower show, here is what you mind find shopping along Sloane Street:

Vogue, May 1926 edition
Vogue, May 1926 edition

And from the same month, an illustration of a fashionable garden of the time:

Vogue, May 1926 Ed.
Vogue, May 1926 ed.

And when it rains…

Stormproof... taken from Vogue May 1926 Ed.
Stormproof… taken from Vogue May 1926 ed.

We liked this arty picture from Vogue May 1924, with the shadows of trees in the background, entitled Flowered crepe is a medium of the mode:

Taken from the Vogue archives, 1924
Taken from the Vogue archives, 1924

In June 1929, a model poses in a rock garden:

The description for this beautiful dress also sounds like a delicious dessert.
The description for this beautiful dress also sounds like a rather delicious dessert.

In fact, everywhere we looked in the May and June Vogue issues we found flowers and gardens.  Here is Twiggy in May 1967 and on her dress is a “Pyramid Myriad of Flowers, triangles of tiny multi colored ones….”:

Twiggy from the May 1967 edition of Vogue
Twiggy from the May 1967 edition of Vogue

In the 60s Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell had a chic Chelsea boutique Quorum, and we found this great floral design of theirs from 1968:

From Fifty Fashion Looks that Changed the 1960s
From Fifty Fashion Looks that Changed the 1960s

Fast forward again to May 1988, a budding affair:

A fashion shoot from May 1988
A fashion shoot from May 1988

 

 

We hope you enjoyed  taking a quick browse through the flowers and fashions at Chelsea Library.  There is lots more to discover in the library and online, in the Berg Fashion Library Online, which you can access for free with your library card.

Book Award round up

Sally Connew-Volpe, Triborough Stock Librarian, writes:

The Miniaturist by Jessie BurtonHave you seen our Book Awards page?

We’ve gathered all the contenders and winners of the UK’s most popular literary awards in one place! So if you’re keen to read a whole shortlist, want to know what all the fuss is about a particular winner, or are just looking for a great book to read – take a look. All our book lists link straight in to the library catalogue, so you can find out which libraries hold copies of the book you’re after and whether they’re available (you can reserve from here too).

The book awards we feature include the Man Booker, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Specsavers National Book Award and many more!

Book Awards page - part of the RBKC library catalogue
Book Awards page – part of the RBKC library catalogue

Why not try The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (above) – winner of the 2014 Waterstones Book of the Year, winner of Book of the Year and Best New Writer in the 2014 Specsavers National Book Awards. This is a wonderful read set in 1686 Amsterdam. It follows eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman as she arrives from a small village to the Amsterdam household of merchant trader Johannes Brand, her new husband. A gripping story unfolds as she is given a cabinet by her husband containing an exact replica of their house.

The Paying Guests by Sarah WatersTake a look too through the excellent shortlist for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, including the latest book by Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests. The winner will be announced in just a couple of weeks!

Each time a new shortlist is announced, the lists are refreshed – but we are gradually building a ’round up’ list of past prizewinners, so you can always be sure to find some great quality reading.

Borrow one today!

 

Introducing Universal Class

Universal Class Logo
Over 500 educational courses – free!

Librarian Owen Grey writes…

Alongside Learning Nexus, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has recently invested in a fantastic new online resource for library users interested in the pursuit of lifelong learning!

Universal Class is a real treasure trove of online learning, with over 500 free courses to choose from, in almost any subject area you can think of. All you need to do is join the library (if you are not already a member) and sign-up online.

Subjects range from ‘Office Skills’ and ‘Psychology’ to ‘Performing Arts’ and ‘Finance.’ Each course comes with dedicated instructors, module based lessons, assignments and tests. You can sign-up and look for the course you are interested in anywhere, anytime: among the many benefits of Universal Class is the ability to learn at your own pace, and in your own time. This flexible approach is especially useful for those of us juggling multiple priorities in our day to day lives!

Of particular interest to existing customers of Kensington Central’s Business Information Point will be the online business courses, which are available to anyone wanting to study business, start a small business or need help with their existing business.

So – whether your interest lies in Mindfulness, Web Development or Creative Writing – visit our Universal Class information page and take the plunge! The service is completely free for library users. A whole world of knowledge awaits you…

If you want to find out more before getting started we will be holding introductory ‘Online Learning’ sessions during Adult Learners’ Week in June.

Dates
North Kensington Library: Tuesday 16th June 9.30 – 1.30
Kensal Library: Thursday 18th June from 2.00 – 5.00
Brompton Library: Friday 19th June from 9.30 – 4.30

 

Introducing the “Library Anywhere” Mobile App

Library Anywhere app logo
The ‘Library Anywhere’ mobile app

Have you ever had that sinking feeling – perhaps in the middle of a holiday – as you realise you’ve forgotten to renew your library books? Do you find yourself wondering if the interesting-yet-obscure book you just discovered at a friend’s house, or in a shop, is in stock at your local library?

All this could be a thing of the past with the “Library Anywhere” mobile app! Library Anywhere – free from the App Store and Google Play – gives you access to your library account information, opening times and much more. Search for items on the Library Catalogue, place holds and renew your borrowed items wherever you are. The app comes with a handy option for scanning barcodes so you can easily check to see if that cool looking book is indeed available at your local branch.

For more information, visit the library website.

iPhone and Android users

Download the ‘Library Anywhere’ app free from the App Store or Google Play.

Blackberry and other smartphone users

You can also use the app interface in a ‘universal version’ by going to http://bit.ly/LibAnywhere. The Barcode Scan feature is not available in this version.

Feeling Clever? Quiz Yourself at Encyclopaedia Britannica

This month we laughed at politicians getting names wrong or being scared to do their times tables on air. What about us? How do we stack up? One fun way of testing ourselves is by taking on one of these Encyclopaedia Britannica quizzes

Quizzes at Encyclopaedia Britannica
Quizzes at Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

How did you do? Will we vote for you at the next election?

You can always learn a little more and do even better next time by consulting the Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Find out about the things you are interested in (or feel you ought to know!).

[Owen]