Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Brief history of a skirt

My regular readers will know that I succumbed to the charms of a 1940s woolen skirt from Tottie (who I subsequently met) a few weeks ago. It's a wonderful piece and looks and feels brand new - it could have been a brand new skirt, were it not for the CC41 label.
The most wonderful thing about it, though, is that it still had the sales tickets on it, and these got me wondering about where it came from, and what sort of woman would have bought it.
There was one CC41 ticket (Civilian Clothing 41 - wartime rationing lable), detailing fabric used, and another with the price - a whole 56/- (that's 56 shillings, or 2 pounds, 16 shillings). I used this website to tell me what that would equate to today. Assuming it was made in around 1945 (the CC41 mark dates it between 1942 and 1949), an equivilent skirt would be around £90 today. When it's compared to wages though, ie. the equivalent available cash a woman would have had to spend on it, it would be about £284 - a real luxury item! I think I got a bargain!
This skirt was made for Bourne and Hollingsworth, which was a prestigious London department store on Oxford Street in the West End. The store was built in 1984 and remodelled in art deco style in 1928.
During the night of 17th September 1940, at the hight of the Blitz, the shop was hit by high explosive bombs which gouged a huge hole in the store's interior and severely damaged several shop floors.
Despite the damage, the next day, in a powerful example of the 'Blitz spirit', the staff were back at work, unfurling large Union Flags to cover bomb damage to the store front. A week later, part of the eastern wing of the store was reopened for business.
Although the site is occupied by the modern Plaza shopping centre and adorned by a bronze ballerina statue, much of the art deco department store's upper stories survive, the letters 'BH' in 1920s' script still proclaiming the building's heritage proudly.

It makes me wonder if my skirt was in the building when the bomb dropped, did its previous owner crunch over glass covered pavements to browse the rails of clothes? I think I'll have to take extra care of this one!


  1. What an amazing story, You have prompted me to do a similar blog about a dinner jacket I have.....

  2. Wow! The skirt is gorgeous by itself, but the story behind it makes it really special. How wonderful that it still has the price tag.

  3. I found your post a really interesting read and its great to find out the social history about your lovely vintage skirt.

  4. I imagine a plucky society lady (the ones who always help Miss Marple or are pluckily defiant in Foyle's War) went out to get this skirt in spite of mama's warnings to do otherwise! ;)
    Mind you, before reading my first thought was 'wow, that looks a lovely warm skirt'. I've been back to wearing uniqlo leggings as tights under every skirt and dress, I'm such a lizard when it comes to winter! Cannot bear the cold!

  5. What a fabulous skirt! And lovely to know the history behind it, what an interesting post! xxx

  6. wonderful story - I very much liked to read it. Tottie always have such nice 40'ies stuff...I once bought a short sleeve jumper from her, and it's now one of my wardrobe staples :)

  7. Blogger ate my comment :(

    I love this post, what a great idea and I'm amazed at how much history one skirt has seen! And what a fab skirt it is too! I used to go to the Plaza at lunchtimes when I worked in London, I had no idea what that building had gone through!

  8. I am holding a dress with a Bourne and Hollingsworth label, and thought I'd look it up on the net and this is how I found your blog. I think this is why old clothes are so appealing to me, I am always wondering about their story.