Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Material Girls

One obstacle I face while writing Flo in the City, my novel about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era based on the letters of, is that I know nothing about sewing. Or fashion. I am not a material girl.

And the Nicholson women did know a lot and they wrote about it in their letters. They were material girls.

But, luckily, the Eaton's catalogue, now online, is a wonderful resource: I have started with the 1904 Spring and Summer catalogue.

Did you know?
"That the fashions for 1904 will be characterized by many pretty fabrics and handsome novelties in several weaves. A noticeable change in style leans toward the quieter tones and shadings,and yet possessing to a marked degree an improvement in elegance and richness of effect. The leading fabrics for receptions and evening gowns are silk and wool, plain and fancy eoliennes and crepes de chine, wool voiles and etamines. In medium weight materials for dresses and shirtwaist suits, Brilliantines, cord de Chine and fancy mohairs are some of the most popular and durable weaves. For tailored gowns and costumes, the preference is given to broadclothes, coverts, fancy tweed novelties, and canvas suitings in many new and stylish weaves. In the silk department are many new French, Swiss and American novelties. Some of the leading plain weaves are Mousseline, taffetas, Messaline, Louisenne, Peau de soie, Merve and Japanese wash silks. The wash goods section is complete in a variety of latest productions from foreign and domestic markets also containing organdies, muslins, ginghams, zephyrs, etc."

The various materials are also defined for the newbie (and for me!). Nice copywriting, too. (I wonder if the writer was a woman.)Eaton's started out the century with a bang and went out with a whimper.

Eaton's was just too classy to compete in the 1980's. Eaton's was all about good quality service and they had a terrific return policy. Honesty, integrity, and such. No major company cares about this nowadays. It's all about the bottom line. "Whatever is good for business is 'good' and that means endless telephone menus, and minions with first names only staffing customer dis-service and no one in charge accountable. It's all about cheating (within carefully established legal limits) and confusing the customer and putting the onus on the customer to make sure he or she isn't being cheated.

My son realized he was being overcharged each month on his bank account, by about 10 dollars for about 6 months. He went to the counter to ask for a refund and was told that they could only be refunded 3 months overcharge as that's how long the bank keeps records. (Yea, tell that to Revenue Canada). He complained and a teller adjacent walked over and said "It's up to you to watch your statements." He replied, "I pay you to take care of my money." Anyway, a senior clerk was called in and he just initialed something and all went well. But it is just typical. My son is only a student, so not an important customer. These days it's up to you to fight for what is right.. and that takes energy...and the corporations know it. (Enough ranting.)

(Eaton's, by the way, famously got smeared in Quebec, by the separatists, who claimed their salespeople spoke in English. They became a symbol for prior English domination.) (One of the classic Canadian stories is called The Hockey Sweater and is about a small town French Canadian Mom ordering the wrong hockey sweater from the Eaton's catalogue.)

And yet they had the first catalogue and were well placed to enter the Internet Age. But they were not nimble enough or the timing was wrong.

Coco Chanel, in 1910, was the right person in the right place at the right time. Eaton's in the 1990's was the wrong company in the wrong place in the right time, or something.

So materials in 1910 in Canada came from all around the world, too.

Anyway, I can use the info in the catalogue to 'flesh out' Flo in the City... and details are everything.

Perusing this catalogue, on my Kindle, as I waited in Charles de Gaulle Airport, I found another section extremely interesting. The book section. It was an education just to read the volumes listed. And I would dearly love to get hold of some of the books sold in that catalogue, especially one about sexuality and young women. I think it was called the Physical Health of Young Women. Amazon won't have it but Abebooks might... and then there's always