Disappeared Department Stores

J&RAllans cropped

In the hiatus before the publication date of ‘Assured Attention’ I’ve been researching some of the old department stores of Edinburgh. What a lost world! I’ve looked at the long lists of departments that used to be considered necessary. Looking at the image above of the disappeared J& R Allan store on South Bridge, for example,  its clear that mourning was a major consideration for businesses back then. The appropriate dresses , hats and gloves vital purchases for the serious mourner in those days.

When was the last time you bought a ‘mantle’? I don’t think I ever have! Moving on into the 20th century I was surprised to see ‘Smoking paraphernalia’ included as a specific department in one large store. O tempora. O mores!

I’ll be presenting my findings at The University of the Third Age meeting on 19th July and once again, perhaps in an extended form (as I keep discovering more!), at ‘Previously- Scottish History Festival’ in November.

Illustration from the collection of Malcolm Cant.

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Ladies Modes

fashionable lady 2

Fashion was always a priority for ladies at Murrays of Edinburgh, department store of distinction. Various departments catered for different aspects of this from Lingerie and Corsetry to that holy of holies -Model Gowns with all varieties in between from Swimwear to Outdoor Clothing and even, for an unfortunate time, Furs.

In my best selling book , ‘Our Best Attention’, Mr Da Costa, the straight talking star of Model Gowns, dresses down Edinburgh ladies before dressing them up again in outfits that do them more justice than those they might have chosen for themselves. In the end the ladies actually revel in his rudeness and vie to be most insulted by him.

Of course this is just a story but reality can be surprising too. In the course of my author events I’ve enjoyed hearing ladies’ experiences of their time working or as customers in the old department stores. One lady told us all about how her grandmother was a model. This meant something different in those days: ladies didn’t try on clothes themselves, they would sit and watch as models paraded the clothes for them and those they chose would be made up for them in their sizes. No changing rooms for the ladies of old!   In that particular store, the sewing rooms were located as far as possible  from the kitchens to prevent contamination of the precious garments by cooking smells even those from the chocolate kitchen (yes there was one!) Those were the days!