Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society  |  October 27, 2016

It’s Not All About Couture: The Hodson Shop Discovery

During the interwar period Edith Hodson, with the aid of her sister Flora, opened an independent clothing shop in the working class town of Willenhall. During the 1920s, the area was predominantly home to industrial workers specialising in lock-making. The shop sold large quantities of ready-to-wear clothing that had transformed the British textile industry.

Popular styles of garments imitated couture fashions with jumper ensembles emulating fashionable sportswear styles designed by Patou as seen in figure 1. Other pastel coloured dresses, blouses and stockings made from rayon were sold, replacing expensive silk materials. Cotton day dresses with dropped waists, as pictured in figure 2, were sold in assorted floral prints. There were many pullovers embroidered with floral motifs, knitted cardigans adorned with plastic buttons and various aprons and overalls available in Hodson’s store. Chemises were on offer, as well as other garments created according to Utility regulations, including brassieres, handkerchiefs, socks and shoes. Drawers and underbodices were retailed in numerous rayon and cotton colours, such as black, grey, pink and blue. These garments were largely machine-sewn, manufactured by wholesalers in Leicester and Birmingham, where the Hodson sisters ordered and purchased their stock.

The Hodson Shop is a treasure-trove for any fashion historian and student. After the shop closed in 1956 and the last sister Flora died in 1983, the stock lay untouched, hidden and preserved behind its doors. Over 3000 garments, accessories, children’s clothes, sale tickets, and other archival documents were left unspoilt, producing opportunities for research for those interested in investigating the everyday clothing of the working class during this period.

The collection was discovered in 1983 and became part of Walsall Museum during the 1990s. Curator and historian Sheila Shreeve (with the aid of student Emma Bryan), conducted extensive research into the collection, discovering through oral history that much of the Hodson stock was too expensive for local residents to purchase. Many considered the clothing ‘too posh’ – as Lou Taylor writes within The Study of Dress History, The Hodson Shop garments ‘were priced well above their financial possibilities and were also outside accepted peer group taste circles.’

Many museums in the past have often fallen guilty of neglecting to display or collect the garments that have formed wardrobes of working class individuals. As a student myself, I have to admit that more often than not, I tend to focus my academic attention on the names of prestigious couturiers.

As Taylor states, ‘the greatest emphasis in publications and exhibitions still concentrates on the most glamourous levels of clothing production – the garments of the top 0.5 per cent wealthy of Europe and the USA.’ With only rare exceptions, Taylor states that ‘it is a scandal that there have been no major national exhibitions in Britain which have examined in any depth ready-to-wear clothing design, manufacture and style diffusion.’ These are statements should resonate within any fashion historian, student or amateurs’ mind.
Perhaps this is why The Hodson Shop remains both integral and necessary to facilitate the study of dress history. As a student, I have often found myself explaining or justifying my decision to study a fashion history degree. Many have dismissed fashion as a frivolous field of study, lacking in academic importance. As evident in the study of The Hodson Shop, by analysing garments and undertaking extensive research we can reveal economic, political, social and personal histories. Garments have stories which need to be respected and told, whether they are couture pieces or off-the-peg outfits. Face-value does not always account for everything.

Ruby Helms, Costume Society Ambassador; 2016

(1) Amy De la Haye,  “The Dissemination of Design from Haute Couture to Fashionable Ready-to-Wear,” Textile History 24.1 (1993): 39-48
(2) Lou Taylor, The Study of Dress History (Manchester University Press: 2002), 53.
(3) Taylor, The Study of Dress History, 51.

  • HSW 036. Wool jersey two-piece jumper in blue. V-neck and diamond inserts on the hem of the jumper, matching stripes of geometric blue. c192
  • HSW 005. A red floral cotton dress decorated with printed daisies. The dress has a V-neck with a pointed collar bound in cream and red, with
  • Sheila Reeve exploring the newly-discovered contents of the Hodson Shop in 1983. c1983. Black and white photograph. Willenhall. Black Countr