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.

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The Chelsea Society discovers treasures

Lucy Yates (WW1 Centenary Project Support Officer) writes:

On 13 July, Local Studies welcomed the Chelsea Society on a tour of the archives. The members were particularly delighted to see their Walter Greaves grisaille watercolours of riverside Chelsea, which are stored in the archive. Plans and descriptions of Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens, once an eighteenth century pleasure ground (where the Royal Hospital now stands), were also studied with interest.

Chelsea Society visit to RBKC Archives and Local Studies 2015
Chelsea Society visit to RBKC Archives and Local Studies

Amongst the other treasures down there, Dave Walker, the Local Historian, had unearthed fascinating mortuary books, which contained details of those killed during bombing raids in World War Two.

The Chelsea Scrapbooks, with their wealth of vivid World War One posters proved to be of great interest too.

'Meet me at the Chelsea Fair' WW1 poster, RBKC Archives and Local Studies
‘Meet me at the Chelsea Fair’ WW1 poster, RBKC Archives and Local Studies

“I suspect that you might find some of our members camping in Local Studies over the summer,” remarked Camilla Mountain of the Chelsea Society, and we were very pleased to have raised awareness of the wealth of material in the archives and how to access this.

The visit concluded with a well earned glass of wine upstairs and a hearty agreement that we’d be delighted to have the Chelsea Society back any time.

Opening hours for Local Studies
Tours for groups can be arranged by appointment. Contact Dave Walker at dave.walker@rbkc.gov.uk for further details.

Kensington and Chelsea’s Great War: Online Guided Tour

Lucy Yates, WW1 Centenary Project Support Officer, writes….

Do you know where shrapnel fell on Kensington during the First World War? That the Suffragettes started a nursery for WWI orphans near Notting Hill, or why Rodin gave eighteen of his sculptures to the V&A during the war?

You can find out all this and more by downloading the interactive scavenger hunt/ tour guide app ‘Huntzz’ on your smart device.

Designed in conjunction with local cadets, this interactive online walk (with ten clues for you to solve along the way) showcases the World War One history of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Picture of local cadets visiting the sites they researched for mapping
Local cadets mapping the sites they researched

The 236 cadets, pictured above with their leader, braved the late evening darkness to help map the World War One sites they’d researched so as to turn this information into a guided online walk of World War One heritage around the borough.

A screen shot from the app, describing the tour, duration and distance.
A screenshot from the Huntzz App

The walk starts at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Huntzz App can be downloaded for free via the Apple Store/ Google Play store on your smartphone. Look for K&C WW1.

The first clue from the K&C WWI Huntzz App
A sneak peek at the first clue…

http://www.huntzz.com/

Happy hunting!

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!

Local Studies & the Household Cavalry

Lucy Yates, World War One Project Officer, writes:

We’re lucky to have the Household Cavalry as one of our community partners on our Kensington and Chelsea’s Great War project and so we were delighted to host a visit from their representatives.

soldiers

 

Soldiers were fascinated to see the wealth of material we had in our archives including The Illustrated London News, which was eagerly searched for photos of their regiment in action.

 

soldiers1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The picture they painted of modern soldiering, in comparison to daily life in the trenches a hundred years ago, was fascinating. Their input into our World War One commemoration project was hugely appreciated.

 

Stop Press: new Kensington & Chelsea WWI website

Lucy Yates, World War One Project Officer, writes:

We’re delighted to announce that the World War One website (mentioned in our previous post!) is now up and running. You can find it here, so please do log on and have a look.

ww1_website

 

You can search the material by personal stories (from the Mayor of Kensington to munitions worker Lottie Meade), by local regiments or by place to find out about the internment of Germans at Olympia or the model trench in Cheyne Walk.

We’ve been busy putting up a wealth of material, which ranges from tickets for the Army Christmas pudding fund to posters from the war-time Chelsea Kitchens. However, a big part of our website is collecting contributions from the public about life in Kensington and Chelsea in World War One so if you’ve got a fascinating family tale about the Great War or interesting photographs please log on and add your memories. We hope to make this a permanent showcase of life in the Borough during this unique period of history.

Zeppelins over Barbados

Lucy Yates, World War One Project Officer, writes:

The Broughshane scrapbooks have been sitting quietly in a dusty corner of the Local Studies archive for 100 years. These are a wonderful resource, collected by the Mayor of Kensington during World War One. They include samples of khaki for troops’ uniforms from Harrods and poignant personal letters from the commander of the local 22nd Battalion. They have been taken out a few times over the years but part of our project remit is to get the community to engage with them. To this end, we’ve been running workshops and last Monday we were delighted to host the Pepper Pot Club from Ladbroke Grove.

Pepper Pot Day Centre
Pepper Pot Day Centre

The scrapbooks were pored over with great interest and their content prompted memories including Zeppelins being seen over Barbados and one veteran’s more recent service in Aden.

Pepper Pot Day Centre
Pepper Pot Day Centre

We were also keen to hear the group’s thoughts on the direction of our forthcoming World War One exhibition and there was a unanimous feeling among participants that they would like the youth of many of the soldiers to be remembered and to avoid the glorification of war. We will make this one of our community-focused aims and hope this is reflected in the tone of the blog post we’ve already done, on Randle Barnett Barker, 11/12/2014 .

Our project website will be going live in the next fortnight and we would love members of the public in Kensington and Chelsea to contribute their World War One family memories and photographs. You can find us at:

http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk

ww1website2

 

 

Coventry Library & women in the Great War

Zvezdana Popovic, our Senior Customer Services Assistant, writes:

For those who read my previous blog about women in the Great War, I just wanted to update you on two events I had mentioned –
my What did you do in the Great War, Grandma? Exhibition and talk, one in the British Library, the other in Coventry Central Library: both very successful!

This was my first visit to Coventry so I decided to do a bit of research about the place (like I usually do before going somewhere on holiday) and about the Peace Festival. Coventry is the centre for peace and reconciliation in Britain and this year there were more than sixty events between the 1st and the 14th of November which culminated with the anniversary of the Coventry Blitz, in the Cathedral Ruins, and The Coventry International Prize for Peace and Reconciliation Award, in Coventry Cathedral. (I was not aware that Basil Spence, who designed the cathedral, also designed our own Kensington Town Hall and Swiss Cottage Library amongst many other buildings.)

Nevertheless, nothing could have prepared me for the surprise I received when Lady Godiva and my host, Mrs Slavica Stojsavljevic, came to pick me from the railway station.

image_1
Lady Godiva and my host, Mrs Slavica Stojsavljevic (left)

Ms Pru Porretta has been Lady Godiva for more than 30 years; ambassador for Coventry and a real jewel; an absolute source on any possible information about the town, its history and its people. I learned that Coventry “invented twinning” and it is a twin with another 27 cities around the globe, including Belgrade and Sarajevo (from the Yugoslav era).  Belgrade donated wood to Coventry for a new theatre, so the Belgrade Theatre at the Belgrade Plaza still displays its beautiful wooden ceiling proudly. No need to mention that I felt at home – definitely even more so after Joanna Reid, executive director, gave us a tour around the theatre followed by a lunch reception for special guests at the Belgrade Theatre Restaurant. (I had to fight the urge to photograph all the delicious dishes!)

Firstly, we went to Coventry Central Library to set the What did you do in the Great War Grandma? exhibition up and prepare everything. Wow! I was really impressed with the library –  large, modern, open-plan, and because of the people who work there: so many colleagues came and offered help. I have to thank particularly James and Adele for showing me around and successfully managing the event together with all the other public duties they had. A few colleagues even stayed for the talk.

Coventry Library
Coventry Library

In the spirit of camaraderie, I recommended their library to everyone I spoke to and urged the audience to make full use of their brilliant resources, especially if they wanted to borrow books on the WWI topics discussed.

Coventry Library's splendid history collection
Coventry Library’s splendid history collection

Because the event was part of the Coventry Peace festival, some very important guests came – Deputy Lord Mayor Michael Hammon, Rev John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick, Councillor Ram Lakha, Father Nenad Popovic from Birmingham (who has monthly Serbian Orthodox service in St. John the Baptist church in Coventry), Mr Pribicevic, Serbian Ambassador, and his delegation, members of Coventry Association of International Friendship (who invited me to be their speaker at the annual conference in May), Lady Godiva’s “sisters” and other guests.

Standing room only: audience members at What did you do in the Great War Grandma?
Standing room only: audience members at What did you do in the Great War Grandma?

And during my talk, I found out that one of the women I talked about – Lady Dorothie Feilding – was a local girl, as Reverend Stroyan informed us. He was very happy that I included her.

Commemorating the life and deeds of these brave women, doctors, nurses, drivers, orderlies, administrators on Western and other fronts, we were all pleased when Lady Godiva suggested that both priests say a prayer for them and bless us all.

What a splendid way to end the presentation and exhibition What did you do in the Great War, Grandma?

If you are interested in further reading and research  about women in the Great War, take a look at the Further reading list I have compiled. Please take a look on our catalogue too.

 

 

 

The Great War and your ancestors

2014 marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. This centenary anniversary has made remembrance even more poignant.  The 11th November and Remembrance Sunday help mark the event which brought an end to this conflict.

There is more we can do to remember though; we can look at how the war affected the lives of our families back then, which is what I and several others did using our Ancestry Online database in Kensington Central Library on Thursday 6 November.

World War One records
World War One records

The pictures we built were often very interesting, viewing as well as military records, Census records, which allowed us small insights into their lives. But it was often also very sad – families left without sons (in one instance losing several within a very short space of time) and fathers listed and remembered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website. It made us think of how sad it must have been for them- and their friends as well.

Luckily these online resources make it easier to look back and see what our family did during the war (and before). Whether it is from the medals they won, who they served with, or information from the CWGC website, which lists 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars.

Ancestry online  is available in and Kensington and Chelsea library plus in Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham. As well as family history records for the British Isles there are other records from around the world at the time such as Canada, the USA, Germany, and France.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can be accessed from anywhere and can provide a lot of information – more than you’d expect. And there are many instructional books available which can help you search through records and find out more about the Great War.

You may find newspaper resources interesting and useful in building a picture of the time and possibly a picture of your ancestors too. The Times Digital Archive is the most popular of these but there are other newspapers available in Westminster. The Gazette (official public record) also allows you to search for medals awarded.

Another online family history resource which is available in Westminster Libraries is Find My Past: this contains some different records to Ancestry.

 

 

Memories of the past: WWI in Kensington & Chelsea

On 23rd October, Local Studies hosted a WWI Reminiscence Event. This was a thrilling way to engage with local people’s stories of Kensington and Chelsea during World War 1, and we were treated to a variety of brought-in artefacts, from original medals to black and white photographs and even a Princess Mary Christmas 1914 tin, which was originally sent out to troops filled with tobacco.

WWI medals
WWI medals

We heard about grandfathers who had fought in the trenches and never spoke about it afterwards to aunts who had much better job opportunities, while the troops were away fighting, than they otherwise would have done.

Discussing our family memories
Discussing our family memories

Participants also greatly enjoyed their chance to have an exclusive preview of the scrapbooks and recruiting posters we’ll be using in our forthcoming exhibition, Kensington and Chelsea’s Great War. Do look out for this at various library and community venues in Spring 2015: keep an eye on our Twitter feed and Facebook page too for updates.