Nine Till Six by Aimee and Philip Stuart



play, first performed  and published 1930





[Set in a fashionable dress shop in London, with a millinery department]

MRS PEMBROKE Come, Miss Roberts, you’re an old enough hand at millinery to know what a difficult time we’ve had since the Felts. (Crossing MISS ROBERTS to L. and putting flowers on the table.) You’ve seen most of the old firms go under through no fault of their own.

MISS ROBERTS (bitterly) It’s Paris that’s responsible!

MRS PEMBROKE It’s cause and effect. The War made it necessary for women to do men’s work; men’s women made it necessary for them to cut their hair; short hair made it impossible to pin on large hats – and so we came to the felts.

MISS ROBERTS (grumbling) Paris started them.

MRS PEMBROKE Paris, as usual, took the lead it what was inevitable, that’s all. It was hard on the milliners.






observations: Should be read in conjunction with earlier entry on this play.

Of all the knock-on effects of the First World War, this is probably the least imaginable – and not one that provokes much sympathy. It is clear from the play that felt hats simply are not money-spinners – there’s not much room for flowers, feathers and other decoration, and they do not look as though they should be as expensive as the hats of yesteryear.

But perhaps the Great War connection is not as far-fetched as it sounds - one critic (the writer Constance Smedley) compared the play to Journey’s End - RC Sherriff’s all-male play about the tragedy of the First World War, set in the trenches with all the unhappiness that suggests. It’s hard to decide if ‘this is a women’s counterpart of Journey’s End; its field of battle is the business world’ is a patronizing comparison. (Journey’s End is still performed today, while Nine till Six is very much forgotten.)

The Cambridge History of British Theatre gives Nine Till Six some importance – saying it
carefully integrates women from all classes, while questioning the relationships between class, gender, work, power and the economy in a woman’s world of work.

Another writer says it was something of a lesbian cult classic.

It is rather creaking, and very much of its time, but it is also funny and clever, must have made for an entertaining evening out at the time, and now gives a fascinating picture of life then. The best bit comes when the two models who show off the clothes (top of the heap among the working women) decide they are going to leave to better themselves – they are going to be usherettes in a cinema, because they think they’ll have a better chance of meeting husbands there. (Just in case you thought it was an early proto-feminist tract.) Also, the colours of two of the expensive silk blouses are ‘cold oyster’ and ‘pale shrimp’.

Links on the blog: Earlier entry on Nine Till Six two days ago (photos well worth a look). Hats, as we said yesterday, are everywhere on the blog – click on the label below. Dress shops pop up quite a lot too – here’s one from the 1920s.

The pictures of shopping for hats were taken for the UK Ministry of Information: the Imperial War Museum now holds them and has kindly made them available.

Comments

  1. Moira - Those names for colours are just too much! It's interesting how changes in fashion have created, reviolutionised and ended all sorts of industries - including millinery.

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