When ready-to-wear was really becoming

Never underestimate the role of technology in the emancipation of women. Washing machines, birth control pills, countless inventions that have reduced the need for brutal energy — all have accelerated the integration of gender roles in business and life. Even bicycles have played a role; Susan B. Anthony said in 1896 that it had “done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world. I rejoice whenever I see a woman riding a bike.”

The technological and managerial evolution of the “rag trade” was no less important, paving the way (albeit difficult) for women’s freedom and equality in developing countries, including Britain and the United States, for the better part of two centuries. 19th and early 20th century. Virginia Postrail, who has sewn a great history of textiles in her book The fabric of civilizationIt reminds us that Athena was the goddess of weaving, among other things, and that “the Greeks called her domain ‘Techni’, a term that shares a core with both technology and textiles.”

The basis of this interweaving of fabric and innovation High wages, Dorothy Whipple’s irresistibly clever novel of business and love. First published in Britain in 1930, it is about a restless young woman who succeeds in the clothing business, expecting a huge change in the washing up industry, partly due to mass production. As the retailer is overwhelmed by the online revolution today, it is like revisiting the human drama of earlier times but no less important transformation.

The year is 1912. Seventeen-year-old Jane Carter, a Lancashire orphan who had to leave school to earn a living, ran a job at a dropper shop called Chadwicks, one of the best shops in the fictional town of Tidsley. In those days a “dropper” would sell clothes and knitwear, most of which women would use for custom clothing made by local seamstresses if not by themselves. Clothes were expensive and required a lot of hard work; A nice pair of gloves gave Jane about half a week’s wages back.

Regular readers of this place will recognize its vague echoes The story of old wivesArnold Bennett’s great novel about business, about the Baines sisters and the dropper they grew up in. High wages, Jane’s colleague is not a shop assistant, Maggie, a friend and sister, but they also live in the dropper’s shop. And like the Baines sisters, of whom only one seems to have been born for business majesty, Jane quickly distinguishes herself by her intelligence and ambition. “He was full of plans nowadays,” Whipple wrote, “full of powerful plans to hold the whole world in his two arms.”

Jane soon became invaluable to her persuasive employer, the alternatively stylish and stylish Mr. Chadwick. In his spare time, he wanders around the countryside with Maggie, whose reluctant lover, Wilfrid Thompson, provides the third side of an emerging love triangle. An aspiring poet who works in the city library, develops a love for Wilfried Jane’s book – and at one point we see that he is reading no one else The story of old wives. Innocent from his own attraction, unaware of the flame that ignited Jane Wilfried. He likes the handsome young Noel Yarde, who will eventually marry Mr. Chadwick’s biggest customer, the lazy and stupid daughter of the unbearable Grandi Mrs. Greenwood.

Mass production of textiles and clothing, as difficult as it was in its workforce, has created paid employment for women, opened up opportunities for their advancement in retail, and democratized clothing.

Chadwick, it must be said, is a terrible manager, if not unusual. Out of resentment and status quo, he resisted change and even chose his church based on how much money the Parisians had. He is an unfortunately short-sighted employer. He keeps Jane and Maggie on the smallest possible rations, shamelessly cheats for their hard-earned sales commissions and refuses to pay them a meager wage if they are too ill to work. Instead of rejoicing in hiring someone who is smarter than him, Chadwick shows himself more foolish by showing a trivial display of dominance and knowing everything. But even she has to admit that it’s too good to let Jane go.

Tidsley could hardly contain him. On her afternoon trip south of Manchester, Jane praises the ugliness of the place, soaking up business insights and even as a sign of her dynamism, because “it was not a weak, fickle ugliness, but a strong, noticeable ugliness that was almost exciting.” In the big cities, he discovered that some of the best shops decorated their windows in a single color for maximum effect. Chadwick, surprisingly, is not fascinated. “The windows work very well, Miss Carter,” he said respectfully. “I’ve decorated them myself for twenty years, and I don’t think you can teach me anything about window dressing.”

Windows proved to be the least of Mr. Chadwick’s problems, as Jane realized that soon everyone’s clothes would be made in a factory. “You know, Mr. Chadwick, those readymade quotes from Fenwick scare me. If you do not find what you are looking for then just ask. Because it’s coming. I’m sure. The days of private dressmakers are over. “

He predicts that the ready-to-wear revolution will require changing rooms for fitting in stores and will give retailers a bigger role in shaping fashion by keeping ready-made garments instead of fabrics in their stores. And lower prices will keep more clothing within the reach of more women. When he manages to persuade Chadwick to make some uncomfortable changes in this direction, his wages are reduced but his profits increase.

Employees everywhere, take note: Jane’s work is so lucrative that it prevents her from being fired. When he accidentally creates a fancy ball scene to resist a man trying to force himself on her, Mrs. Greenwood claims to have shot him, presumably Jane having to spend her livelihood and the roof over her head. But Jane defends herself firmly to Chadwick, insisting that she is more valuable to the store than the disgusting Mrs. Greenwood. “I’ve increased your sales, haven’t I?” And I made trim and dress materials, didn’t I? ‘ He would not answer. ‘A lot of customers now ask for my advice,’ follows Jane, ‘because, you see, you can’t advise on their clothing.’

When a kind old woman, grateful for Jane’s artificial advice, offered to lend her money to open a shop of her own, she jumped at the chance. Jane’s experience will be familiar to anyone who has started a business — especially women. Whiple describes all the motivations and labor and anxious care of any startup, but also describes cases of unwanted sexual advances from men who shop in London who see Jane as more or perhaps less than a customer or business associate. In Edna Ferber’s story, Jane’s Emma McChesney, a fictional contemporary, encounters a similar hurdle while covering the Midwest as a travel saleswoman for the TA Buck Featherlum Petticoat Company.

High wages An excellent book but, like all other novels, incomplete. The tragic final chapters involved in Jane’s hopeless love for Noel tickle vertically at the edge of the melodrama, but so does every destructive romance. For the most part, Whipple writes with great authority and restraint, revolving his story with impeccable speed and thrilling mental skills.

It is fitting that her independent-minded heroine has succeeded in a store that sells ready-to-wear clothing. Mass production of textiles and clothing, as difficult as it was in its workforce, has created paid employment for countless women, opened up opportunities for their advancement in retail, and democratized clothing. Soon, everyone will have a dress, even if it one day contains most sweat pants and ripped jeans.

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