My father worked in the Rag-trade. That for the uninitiated is Dublin slang for the clothing business. He had agencies for several Irish, English and Continental Fabrics manufacturers. It was a world of great colour. Fabrics of all kinds were to be seen in our house because that is where my dad had his office. I was always aware of the ‘New Colours’ a year ahead of them being available. Twice yearly when the new ranges were introduced, each sample had to be numbered and recorded in his ‘little black book’. It was way before PC’s and laptops. My mother and I were always roped in to help with this work. At times it took three or four evenings to complete the task.
The samples were packed in suitcases that dad delivered to a customer, a couple of days later he collected the cases and hopefully an order. That night the cases were emptied and the samples were refolded and sorted before passing them on to the next customer.
His customers were many and varied, from top Irish Designers to more household names in the Clothing Business. When my father was out my mother or I manned the phone. I became very familiar with the names, voices and characters of designers and manufacturers. I seldom needed to ask them either their name or phone number. Occasionally my father brought me with him on his calls. I had the opportunity to meet many creative people in those years. They were pleased that I remembered them on the phone and made me very welcome.
On occasions they might want to show my father how a fabric looked when it was made up into a garment. Since I was a size 8UK/6US, the size used to make up samples, I was asked to try an outfit on and ‘walk up the floor’. I still remember trying on a brightly coloured trouser suit in a ‘Raj’ style. The trousers were lined and had the zip to the front like men’s slacks. I was more used to buying trousers with the zip at the side. I remarked on these things and was told in a lovely gentle way that a zip should never be inserted in a side seam because it would upset the balance and look of a ladies hip line. The lining was so that the fabric would not rub a lady’s tender legs. That was long before jeans became a regular fashion item.
From those early days I was particular about how clothes fitted and when I brought home a purchase, my father was the one to look it over and pass comments about it. Regularly I was told to ‘Put it on and walk up the floor’. He often teased me about how much they paid me to take an item off the shelf! Mostly he agreed that the clothes that I picked suited me.
I was always comfortable in trousers and have been known to turn out for work wearing them with a shirt and tie. Forty years ago dinner dances were all the go. The men wore ‘Black Tie’ and ladies wore long dresses. I was fond of sewing and made a new dress for each dance.
I remember one particular occasion in the months before I met Jack. The Company I worked for was having a large formal bash. I was undecided whether to go or not, when a colleague and I were asked if we would make up a party with some chaps on secondment from Scotland. A blind date, it would be a first for me, so why not. We made arrangements for all our party to gather and meet at a friend’s house. On the evening in question we girls arrived early to have a drink, a giggle, apply the paint and get dressed for the evening.
The invitations said ‘Black Tie’ and I arrived so dressed! Well I wore black trousers, with a white silk shirt and a bow tie. Over this I had a tailcoat that had belonged to my father. It fitted me well and suited me, even if I say so myself. I had a small weekend case with my dress in it. The girls were so surprised to see what I was wearing that they forgot about my case. I had them convinced that I was dressed and ready and each time the doorbell rang I went to open the door. My garb was the best ‘ice- breaker’ ever and a real talking point. When we were ready to leave I excused myself and quickly changed into my dress. It was just as well it was a crease free fabric!
The whole party were disappointed that I had changed into a dress and they told everyone at the function of my earlier outfit. I was almost sent off to change back into the tailcoat.