Saturday, March 9, 2013

Drawers and Victory Gardens and Canadian Cheese

Women's Undies in 1917. Today we have Victoria's Secret....The Nicholsons of Threshold Girl still made their own, "If I give you some money, you might get me some lonsdale for some nightdresses and drawers and some silk for a petticoat," writes Edith to her Mom in 1914. (Were underpants called drawers as a euphemism? I wonder.

Canadian cheese. Today Canadians pay through the nose for cheese because of some special dairy arrangement with Quebec. Apparently this is a bug in the works as we negotiate a free trade agreement with Europe. If a Canadian wants cheap cheese, they have to do some cross border shopping.

With Target coming into Canada there's another American megacorp to sell us lots of cheap clothes and cheap food, but not as cheap as in the US. So those trips to Messina New York are still on.

It seems weird, to buy food where you buy clothes. I admit, sheepishly, that I sometimes go to Walmart, usually to buy something like a roll of sticky pet hair picker upper (as the pet stores sell them for six times the price) and I end up buying some food.

But the other day they had fresh salmon on sale and I could not bring myself. The idea made me sick. I'm a Costco meat buyer.

Still, I was recently reminded that selling clothes and food a la ye olde fashioned general store, was common.

Even Eaton's did it! I seem to recall they had a fine food section downtown in the 70's that only little old ladies in pillbox hats with veils patronized.

I went through the 1917 Eaton's Catalogue to see how Canadians fared smack in the middle of WWI. I am writing a book or TV drama, Sister Salvation, using family letters belonging to the Nicholsons. The book is a follow up to Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

The Eaton's catalogue didn't reflect any kind of austerity from what I could see, even though the letters do complain of high prices and everyone is outside making a Victory Garden.

The only bit I saw was in the toiletries section. A war tax applied, the page said. Hmm. Were toiletries considered frivolous luxuries?

I have written alot about the 1910 Eaton's Catalogues as I researched Threshold Girl. I have remarked on how that catalogue grew hugely in size between 1908 and 1913, reflecting  an increase in purchases by young working women, clothing and millinery. Toilet Water was a funny term to us kids in the 1960's. Toilet water was what the dog drank. But I guess the term Toilet is a euphemism for something. What?

The Nicholson women made their own clothes being poorly paid teachers. But even in 1917 they didn't buy too much from Eaton's it seems. Margaret, the Mom was always sending them clothes and underwear mostly. The 1914-1917 letters are full of their Thanks to their Mom for this gift and that.

And when Marion's second daughter is born in 1917, she writes her mom saying she has yet to make anything for the new baby "But as you say, all they need is a bit of cloth."  What an anti-consumerist view, but so true.

The Eaton's cataloge had a few pages of baby clothes.

In 1908, the Eaton's catalogue had a few pages of women's clothing. By 1917 the catalogue had many many many pages, with women's clothing, of course, placed at at the beginning of the catalogue. The Consumer Age, driven by women's love of fashion, had begun in earnest!

Eaton's workers, Jewish workers in Toronto, went on strike in 1912. Their strike was not successful as non-Jewish workers did not support them. But their community did, boycotting the Eaton's catalogue.