Dress Down Sunday: Nine Till Six by Aimee and Philip Stuart

first performed 1930


[The staff at a fashionable dress shop are getting changed. Stage directions:]

DAISY’S underclothes are cheap and not too fresh. One of the two Juniors wears a coloured artificial silk cami-knicker of the cheapest sort; the other wears a woven vest, a bust-bodice and a pair of knickers that don’t match…

GRACIE, by her hook, takes off her slip, trying to get into her dress while BRIDGIT’s back is turned. Her underclothes are home-made, of thick white cotton material, plain and neat…

The three MANNEQUINS (BEATRICE, JUDY and HELEN) come in, breathlessly, having run up the stairs. With the speed of habit they go to where their outdoor clothes hang, take off their slips and put on their own things. Their underclothes vary to suit their type, but they are skimp and up-to-date. They talk while they change. Their movements – also from habit – are always harmonious.

observations: I thought ‘skimp’ was a typo for skimpy, but apparently not: it could be a noun ‘a fashionably short and revealing garment’ (but you would expect it to be skimps in that case), but it is also an adjective meaning scanty. It’s hard to tell, but it doesn’t seem to have the judgemental (cheap or money-saving) overtones that skimpy might have.

Nine Till Six is very unusual in that the entire cast is female. It opened in January 1930 and ran in the West End of London for a year, and a low opinion of humankind suggests that a scene where young women walk around in their underwear probably did its prospects no harm.

Is it fanciful to imagine the discussions in many a prosperous home: does Mr want to take his wife to go and see a play entirely set in a dress shop, with no male characters?

Oh perhaps you’re right – it’s all gossip in the dressingroom, as they take their clothes off.

If you really want to go darling, we shall.

Most of the staff wear a ‘slip’ to work in, but this is probably more like an overall than what we would think of as a slip. One girl, Gwladys, sometimes goes off home in her slip, putting a coat over it but not changing back into her dress, and this is seen as quite racy.

The authors were very successful playwrights, and this one was filmed several times, and was shown on British TV in 1938, when the service was very much in its infancy and was about to be suspended for the duration of WW2. That’s an honour it shares with – happy bedfellows - TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral: see blog entry here.

This forgotten gem is so weirdly fascinating that we’ll have another entry on it this week…

Links on the blog: More Dress Down Sunday by clicking on the label. What people wear for work gets consideration in this entry.

Suitably bizarre photos: they were taken by film director Stanley Kubrick in Chicago for Look magazine, and are now held at the Library of Congress.


  1. Moira - Oh, that does sound oddly fascinating. That's one of the things I really like about your blog, though; you always focus on such interesting books, including out-of-the-ordinary ones. I'm looking forward to your next post on this one.

  2. They are very odd photos Moira. But it's interesting that fashion has come full circle with spanx that seem to do the same thing as the underwear in the photo. It looks very uncomfortable.

  3. Oh dear! I remember this play, because I was in an amateur (very amateur) drama group in London in the early 1940s and this is a play we did (did to death, in all likelihood, although from reading the excerpts it doesn't look as though it needed that much of a push). Ideal for wartime, of course, given the shortage of men. Can't remember which part I played, and the only character I can remember is Bridgit Penarth. If the audience got any pleasure from our 'performances', it can only have been incidental or the kind of pleasure you get from watching clunky amateurs trying to give it their small all.

  4. Oh Judy thank you, what terrific memories. someone should revive it for an amdram production now... I'd love to see it.

  5. Pointy bra and girdle, looks comfy!

    For vintage bullet bras and such there's a good collection of vintage images @ www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.277859352357791.1073741830.268002153343511&type=3

    Love what you're doing here with Clothes in Books, and your Pinterest board of same.

  6. Thanks Lara, and I've just been to look at those pictures you recommend - what a fabulous collection.

  7. I've only just discovered this post (through the link on the Brand post): completely fascinating. I've been doing some attitudes to shop mannequins in this period - they pop up, in various states of undress, really frequently!

    I'd love it if you could direct me towards any more mannequins you've covered in the past on this blog and I'll continue eagerly exploring your archives.

    1. You mean real people, not dummies presumably? ;) There's a lovely guest-post on an early shop model in Nicholas Nickleby http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/guest-blogger-veronica-horwell-catwalk.html
      And another entry on this play:
      and there's Angela Thirkell's High Rising, where someone writes about the dramas in a fashion salon http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/high-rising-by-angela-thirkell.html

      & in Margery Allingham's The Fashion in Shrouds the models are generally untrustworthy, open to bribery, stealing designs etc http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/the-fashion-in-shrouds-by-margery.html
      Your research sounds fascinating!

  8. Yes, real people - although it's interesting how they share a name with the dummies!

    Thank you very much for this, it's so helpful, and lots of great books to get lost in. I'm finding it fascinating, there's so many interesting side roads to investigate. And that most books that mention mannequins tend to talk about clothes too - always a pleasurable distraction!

    Thanks again, Frances

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and you're very welcome. And yes, that's part of the joys of reading.

  9. Just come across this post while searching for a script of this play as my mother was in it with E.N.S.A. during the war years. Her Company took it overseas to France Belgium and finally France following the British Liberation Army. She wrote a book about her experiences and it was never published. I am trying to arrange an evening with my Am Dram group and want to perform a scene from it. Can anyone help with the script? Have had no luck with Amazon.

    1. Hi there - there are a few copies on Amazon and on Abebooks, you should be able to get one for <£10 incl postage. Try this http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?an=Stuart&sts=t&tn=nine+till+six or http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/B002A8TZQU/ref=sr_1_2_twi_2_olp?ie=UTF8&qid=1418821870&sr=8-2&keywords=stuart+nine+till+six
      Let me know how you get on - if you get really stuck you can borrow mine. Email is clothesinbooks@hotmail.co.uk or via blog.


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