It’s a special time for some of us at Climb it Range, This weekend Adam, Ruth and Richard head for London to celebrate Adam’s Mum’s eightieth birthday. Here Ann recalls her own days in the rag trade as a fashion buyer for a busy West End department store in the late 1950s.
“I heard about becoming a trainee buyer via the careers service at university. It sounded different and a change from the secretary jobs or teaching which were the only real options open to women in the 1950s.
“So, in 1958 I joined Bourne and Hollingsworth, a large department store on Oxford Street, as a trainee buyer. I was there for four years.
“After spending a short time in different departments of the store I became a deputy fashion buyer and then a buyer, first in what was called the overalls department, and then in the model gowns, evening dresses and wedding departments.
“It sounds very formal. I suppose it was. People had to dress up a lot more than they do nowadays. You could not go out to dinner, to the theatre…to anywhere really without a proper dress. No trousers, mind you!
“In my department we sold gowns and frocks for up to 12 guineas…that really dates me, doesn’t it!
“The big difference then was that buyers spent a lot of time on the shop floor. We managed our section of the store ourselves. Sales were our responsibility, as well as buying.
“Of course, there was no online shopping then. But don’t think there was no competition. We scouted and spied on the opposition regularly. I remember a trip to High Street Kensington to check out what other department stores were selling.
“There were two main seasons. Summer, which we bought for in November, and Winter which was purchased in early summer, May time. Once we’d bought the stock it would take months to arrive. There were no last minute changes. We had to stick to our original purchases….and had to sell what we bought.
“There are similarities to today. Buyers had to second guess what people wanted. We tried to follow and anticipate trends. There was always a particular colour that was ‘in’ for that season, just like there is today…I notice the stores are full of purple at the moment.
“Sometimes it was difficult though. One year the fashion was ‘the sack’ influenced by Mary Quant … it was very difficult to wear, and even more difficult to sell.
“There was also the A line dress, which I notice is coming back into fashion.
“It was hard work. You had to sell what you bought, as you wouldn’t be given any new money until you cleared your stock … it’s probably similar today. There was a lot of choice and people shopped around.
“I left the fashion world in 1962 to get married. Looking back, it seems such a long time ago. So much has changed in the fashion world, but getting it right was as difficult then as it is now. I remember dressing the shop window with just black and white dresses that I’d bought. The same day, we sold one. That was a great feeling.”