LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[Annabel has just been promoted, and will become a model in a dress-shop]
She had got it. She was engaged. She was to start work on the Monday after Christmas. She was to earn three pounds a week. It was like a fairy tale. In her bag was Bernadette’s list of what she must buy. It was written in her large definite hand-writing. Annabel opened it and considered.
One pair beige satin shoes
---(very good ones. Cheap ones mean corns.)
Very long fine stockings
---(Not too sun-burn, TP [owner of shop] doesn’t like them. Have all your stockings marked. We are robbers when we are short of a pair.)
A small satin suspender belt.
---(TP hates garters. She says they ruin good legs.)
Step-ins. As sheer as you can buy.
---(Two pairs will do as a start. Lux is always with us.)
---(I like net myself but some prefer crepe de chine. For number required see directions above)
A dressing-gown to live at Bertna’s
---(This garment should be chosen for comfort and wearability. If, however, a wish to out-do others should predominate vast sums can be expended. If on the other hand sense is used something of manlike cut in viyella or what-not is an intelligent buy.)
commentary: Here is a list of things Noel Streatfeild does better than anyone else:
Lists of clothesShe is probably the ideal Clothes in Books author.
Misfit children – see every book
The finances of clothes
As well as her famous child theatrical books, she wrote a handful of romances for an older audience – recently I read Babbacombes, the book I said made Ballet Shoes look like social realism, and had to immediately get hold of another one. This is a very slightly different plot from Babbacombe’s, but not by much, and the family in it is almost identical with Beth’s in that book. It was written a year or two earlier. Annabel was a seamstress in the workroom of an upmarket dress-shop, now elevated to mannequin, and has a lot to learn. She catches the eye of a Lord, the handsome David, and has to wonder if he has honourable or dishonourable attentions. The family is cheery and happy and short of money but highly respectable.
Being a model isn’t what it would be now, but the pressures on the girls and the tricks of the trade have a family resemblance: it’s easy to draw parallels. There’s a lot about bromo-seltzer, a fizzy pickmeup with some doubtful ingredients – including, apparently, ‘a class of tranquilizers that were withdrawn from the U.S. market in 1975 due to their toxicity.’ The models have to be careful not to rely on the bromo-seltzer too much. They also have to beware of gossip, and try to find a husband in time to settle down – implicitly, before their looks go. They are well-paid, but only compared to a back-room seamstress.
The plot really isn’t important: what I loved was the descriptions of life in the shop, particularly in their own little sitting-room, and the clothes everyone wears.
Picture is from the NYPL, 1939 or 1940, at the New York World’s Fair.