#CSFashionhour, Costume Society  |  July 31, 2015

#CSFashionHour: Working Class Dress - part 1

In this months #CSFashionHour we will be looking at the discourses concerning working class women’s interaction with fashion, their alleged transgressing of class boundaries and the ways in which working class women experienced fashion during the early-mid twentieth century. Our hosts, Jen Evans and Jennifer Roberts, are both PhD candidates with an interest in working class clothing – an area of dress history that is often overlooked in favour of the spectacle of elite, high fashion. During #CSFashionHour on August 7th, they plan to discuss the following themes:

  • Attitudes towards working class women and fashion
  • The realities of working class women’s experiences of fashion
  • The development and distribution of mass produced clothing, 1900-1950
  • Shopping for clothing

The Hodson Shop and Non-Elite Dress – Jen Evans

“The best suit, the best Sunday hat however are rather things of the past. You have only to go on any of the roads a little way out Birmingham to see that. Your realize that the amount spent on clothes these days need only be very small and what is more, the weight and bulk can be very small too!” Mr W. G. Riddell, Wilkinson and Riddell (Birmingham Clothing Wholesalers) speaking at the company’s AGM, 1937

Edith Hodson opened her fancy drapers shop in 1920. We’ll never know her exact motivations for starting her own business but there is a chance that her experience of work during World War One influenced her decision. Her family also had links to the shop keeping trade – there are indications that Edith’s father had a cousin who ran a dress shop in northern England, called Parisian Fashion. Edith’s shop was located in the front room of the Hodson family home, at 54 New Road, Willenhall.  She acquired stock for her shop through regular visits to Birmingham wholesalers and direct dealings with Leicester-based manufacturers such as Wolsey and St. Margaret. Her younger sister, Flora, joined the business in 1927 and the sisters traded together until Edith’s death in 1966. Flora died in 1983, at which point the collection was discovered by local history enthusiasts seeking a location for a museum celebrating Willenhall’s lock making industry. The collection and archive of well over 3,000 items and 4,500 documents was officially acquired by Walsall Museum in 1993

The shop was stocked with a range of affordable, ready-to-wear garments, ranging from highly practical tub frocks and aprons to flower trimmed art-silk dance dresses. It also sold haberdashery items for home dressmaking, toiletries, children’s clothing and household items. Identifying the Hodson shop’s clientele is tricky. The location of the shop within an industrial town renowned for its lock making industry would indicate that it catered to local working class women, yet the shop’s archive and research conducted by Emma Bryan in 1997-98 suggests that customers also came from further afield and more affluent locations (1). It is most likely that the shop provided different goods to different social groups (2). The range of prices of goods and evidence of credit/clothing clubs also support this mixed, though distinctly non-elite client base.

Walsall Museum’s Hodson Shop Collection and archive provides an insight to what non-elite women wore and how they shopped during the early-mid twentieth century. Trade catalogues and correspondence from the archive offer numerous glimpses at the development and structure of mass-produced fashion and wholesale clothing industries, which were instrumental in transforming the relationship between working class women and fashion.

Jen will be hosting this months #CSFashionHour along with Jennifer Roberts, also a specialist in working class fashion, on Friday August 7th at 1-2pm GMT. Jen will be tweeting live from Walsall Museum’s store, (@JenElizaEvans) sharing items from the collection with you and promoting a lively discussion about what we mean when we talk about working class dress.

The Costume Society #CSFashionHour is a monthly Twitter discussion that takes place on the first Friday of every month, covering different subjects from the world of costume. We invite all to join in and ask questions, just follow us on Twitter and use our hashtag – #CSFashionHour – to join in!

(1) Emma Bryan, From Haute Couture to Ready to Wear? An examination of the process of style diffusion within the British ready-to-wear industry, 1925-1930, with specific reference to the Hodson Shop Collection, Walsall Museum, (BA Design History Dissertation, University of Brighton, 1998). (2) Lou Taylor, The Study of Dress History, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 53-54.

(1) Amy de la Haye, ‘The Dissemination of Design from Haute Couture to Fashionable Ready-to-Wear During the 1920s’, Textile History, vol. 24, no. 1 (1993), pp. 39-48. (2) Sheila Shreeve, ‘The Hodson Shop’, Costume, vol. 48, no. 1 (2014), pp. 82-97. (3) Elizabeth Wilson and Lou Taylor, Through the Looking Glass, (London: BBC Books, 1989).

Jen Evans, Guest contributor / #CSFashionHour host

  • A selection of 1930s catalogues for the Birmingham-based clothing wholesalers, Wilkinson and Riddell. From the Hodson Shop Archive, Walsall
  • HSW 011 - Striped cotton tub frock, c.1920 © Walsall Museum Service, www.blackcountryhistory.org
  • HSW 008 – Mauve art.silk dress, c.1929 © Walsall Museum Service, www.blackcountryhistory.org