Tag Archives: Queen Cotton

Queen Cotton – and a question about armpits


Seeing as how we Brits are poised to celebrate the fact that Betty Windsor has now served 60 years in the same job, I tried ever so hard to come up with an appropriate topic for today’s epistle so I could bill it as a Jubilee Special.  But alas, the only connection I could make between “Jubilee” and “vintage Singers” was Singer’s own Jubilee in 1951, and a post about that would still have been deadly boring however much I funked it up.  So we’ll just have to make do with this, which, if nothing else, does at least have the word “Queen” in common with this weekend’s festivities.  It’s the best I could do.

OK, it might be a bit late now to be making yourself a retro frock to wear to Sunday’s street party, but if you fancy knocking one up later, there’s plenty of inspiration to be had in the fashion show with which this fascinating film finishes.  Somewhat surprisingly for 1941, the whole thing’s in Glorious Technicolor, so not only do we see proof that people in wartime Britain didn’t really live in a black and white world, but also for once we get to see what colour those fabrics were.  Well, more or less.

There’s so much to love about this film right from the very start, with the band apparently playing bits of two or three different tunes in no particular order during the credits.  Check out the bloke with the fag cigarrette at 2.07, and consider how bizarre that must now seem to those too young to have grown up when smoking in the office was practically compulsory.  Warm to the sweetie with the wonderful smile at 3.02, and ask yourself what that’s about.  Note the high-fashion clogs at 5.20, and just imagine the amount of teasing that poor girl would have got from her workmates for wearing stockings in t’mill.  Unless of course it was a very posh mill.

Talking of posh, for once the narrator of this film is not the ubiquitous Alvar Lidell, but whoever he is, isn’t it marvellous how he pronounces necessary “nyecessary” and chemist “chyemist”?  I bet he lived in a nice hice.  And isn’t the woman to whom he hands over at 10.10 well spoken too?  She sounds like just the kind of girl every middle-class mother must have been hoping her son would one day bring home for a nice pot of Earl Grey and a slice of Battenberg with herself and Father.

Come to think of it, that’s a Jubilee connection of a kind – Battenberg cake!  I never did understand why, when Prince Louis (Phil the Greek’s grandaddy) changed the family name from Battenberg to Mountbatten during World War One so as not to upset the locals, the cake didn’t change to Mountbatten cake.  But I digress.  (I do wish he wouldn’t call Her Majesty’s dear husband Phil the Greek, but he always has – E)

When we get to the fashion show there’s many a treat in store, but the lilac creation at 11.57’s a show-stopper for sure.  Can anybody lip-read at 12.07 and tell us what her on the left’s saying to her mate about it?

Finally, when we get to 12.57 and the floor show finishes, note how no sooner has her with the green basket swanned off the floor than the punters are all on their feet and heading for the exit, no doubt keen to get to the pub and start the bitching.

Elsie and I thoroughly enjoyed it – and we enjoyed a lot of the others on that British Council Film site too.  Well worth watching if you ask me, just for the social history – even if the background music to many of them does set your teeth on edge.

Finally, a question about period frocks.  When I grew up in the 1950’s, my grandmother was still wearing many of her 1940’s clothes.  Many of her ideas were still unchanged from when she was a young woman in Edwardian times, so to this day I don’t know if one thing about her summer frocks was Edwardian 0r 1940’s or somewhen in between.  In fact, for all I know it might just have been one of grandmother’s peculiarities.  She had a lot of those.

The mystery concerns the very soft D-shaped cotton pads measuring 3″ or so along the straight edge, which where filled with some sort of soft wadding such that they were perhaps 3/8″ thick.  These were attached by means of two press studs to each underarm of the dress, so that when it was worn, the pads hung down against grandmother’s sides, close up under her armpits.

They were of course worn to absorb perspiration, and they were simply washed after each wearing and dried for re-use.   So, if that rings any bells … what were they called, were they manufactured or home-made, and was anybody else still wearing them in the 1950’s apart from my grandmother?