Dress Down Sunday: Clothes-Pegs by Susan Scarlett/Noel Streatfeild


published 1939


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



Clothes Pegs


[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.)

Brassiere, backless
---(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 clothes
Clothes panics
Misfit children – see every book
Audition dresses
The finances of clothes



She is probably the ideal Clothes in Books author.

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.

Pure joy.

Picture is from the NYPL, 1939 or 1940, at the New York World’s Fair.







Comments

  1. So pleased you included this one! She really does excel in those lists of clothes, doesn't she? As you say, the joy of this book definitely isn't about the plot! (Hope you forgive the plug, but I wrote about this book and how it linked to modelling in the 1930s here: http://lastyeargirl.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/1930s-models-in-clothes-pegs-by-noel-streatfeild.html)

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    1. I really enjoyed your blogpost, Frances, and hope other readers will go and take a look - you and I very much enjoyed the same things in this book.

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  2. The atmosphere of this one does sound terrific, Moira! And that trick of using lists really does add to the story. I like the wit, too ('We are robbers when we are short of a pair.') And sometimes, that context - the depiction of life in a certain place and time - more than makes up for not having the most compelling of plots.

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    1. I love lists in books, they really intrigue me. And yes, this a book to read for the setting rather than the plot.

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  3. This one sounded so interesting, went looking for the book and the cheapest copy I could find was over $100, ouch.

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    1. Oh dear! I hope one might turn up for less than that...

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  4. Does sound fascinating! I have never read anything by her. Come to think of it, I didn't read many children's books as a child.

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    1. NO! No Noel Streatfeild? Deprived childhood plainly, though I'm glad you at least had Biggles at the other end of the spectrum. Ballet Shoes would be one of my top 10 favourite children's books of all time.

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  5. I do love that list. It does entice one to read the book.

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    1. There's something about it that pulls you in, isn't there?

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  6. I am truly shocked that Chrissie Poulson has read nothing by NS - not even Ballet Shoes! I'll buy it you for your birthday, Chrissie.

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    1. Sue, I am grateful to you for saving the day where Chrissie is concerned. It is never too late! Have just been involved in excellent Twitter conversation on Ballet Shoes, with several of us claiming to practically know it off by heart.

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    2. Thanks, Sue. Living in a small village in North Yorkshire there wasn't much access to libraries and I read whatever I could get my hands on, which was often books for adults. I was reading The Count of Monte Christo at eight or nine and books about the Norse legends.

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    3. That's all very well Christine, but Ballet Shoes has as much to offer as those books, in terms of myths, life lessons, iconic moments etc.
      (I think if Sue and I are both ganging up on you, you haven't got a hope.)

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    4. I like your turn of phrase, Moira - "That's all very well Christine." I'll sort Chrissie out. Norse legends indeed.

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    5. Only someone who HASN'T read Ballet Shoes thinks she can trump it with the Count of Monte Christo. (sorry, Chrissie, but this is for your own good.)

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    6. I am sure I would have read Ballet Shoes, had it been available. I read everything I could get my hands on.

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    7. Well - we might let you off then. But you must read it when Sue gives it to you!

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  7. Replies
    1. No, you really do get a pass on this one...

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