|Worth beauties. The dress on the left is from the late 1950s, when Owen Hyde Clark was head designer at Worth.|
Sometimes the most wonderful (and unexpected) things happen because of my blog and that’s how I felt when my new friend Margaret from Scotland saw a post I wrote on the House of Worth back in February of this year and sent me an email saying she had worked there from 1958 to 1968. Manna from heaven! Fashion historians agree that the work of Charles Frederick Worth (October 13, 1825—March 10, 1895) was the beginning of modern haute couture. And if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know how much I love couture seamstresses! It seems especially fitting to introduce you to Margaret in July, the month of the fall/winter haute couture shows in Paris.
Margaret so graciously sent me an essay she had written for her cousin to present at a course she took at the V&A Museum in London about Twentieth-Century Fashion. It is a fascinating peek into mid-20th century practices at a fashion house with a prestigious background. The details she relates are so wonderful I just want to share with you what she wrote. Enjoy!
|This satin and faille evening gown was cut on the bias and features a matching stole.|
WORTH as I knew it.
In 1954 Paquin made a takeover offer which was accepted by Maurice Worth.
In 1956 Paquin was also having difficulties and sold to two brothers who were jewelers with shops in London.
I became involved in the fashion industry when at the age of 13 years I attended a technical college for three years’ training in dressmaking.
In 1957 I joined the London Fashion House of Worth as an assistant for a further two years to complete my apprenticeship.
I worked under the supervision of a gown hand who was responsible for the dresses and took her orders from the fitter in charge of the workroom.
|The V&A notes the influence of Christian Dior in the design details of this Worth dress.|
In 1958 we attended the wedding of the one of the brothers. The whole house was taken by bus to the service. Afterwards we were all given a little box of sugar almonds.
We were luckier at Worth than some of the other houses whose workrooms were in the basement and could be dark and cold.
Our workroom was near the top floor with plenty of natural light. It could be very hot in the summer as we were working on the next winter’s collection and ironing wool to shrink it before cutting, it was not easy as there were no electric irons as we know them today.
One very hot day I went to work in a sleeveless, lower-necked cotton dress and was told not to wear it again as it was beach wear and inappropriate for the fashion house.
|The Worth wedding gown Margaret helped create as featured in The Tatler, Jan/Feb 1961.|
I then worked as an assistant to a junior gown hand and we were lucky to be given a model wedding dress to make. We were very excited when a photograph was put in a magazine but of course we were not mentioned, just the designer. All the lace and appliqué was sewn by hand, also neatening and hemming.
|This dress is from 1955, so just before Margaret worked there.|
In the workroom of 25-30 girls there were only two old treadle sewing machines. These were only used on the seams as everything else was by hand.
We worked from 8:30 to 5:30 with 3/4-hour for lunch and two 10-minute comfort breaks morning and afternoon.
My starting salary was £3.10, rising to £5 as a junior gown hand. When I became a gown hand I had three assistants and one apprentice working with me.
A stand would be padded to the exact size of the client and the pattern of the chosen model would be fitted to that shape. After cutting, the client would usually have 3 fittings but there could be more until the client was satisfied.
|A detail of the embroidery.|
|A 1960 dress from Worth.|
|I love the back and side of this dress as much as the front!|
Towards the end of the sixties there was less work to keep the rooms occupied. We were not surprised when we were told that the house was being closed. Worth was sold to Sidney Massin, a U.S. entrepreneur who briefly revived it with American designer Hylan Booker.
|Another 1960 dress from Worth, designed by Owen Hyde Clark.|
In the spring of 1968 we were finally made redundant. While I was looking for employment in a fashion house I saw an advert for summer work in Harrods. At the interview I was offered work as a packer. The interviewer apologized for not being able to offer more money. Little did she know that the £12.50 was exactly the same as my last salary at Worth. No, I didn’t go back to a fashion house again. I stayed at Harrods and worked in the children’s department until I married. There were many jobs afterwards, none connected to dressmaking until I came to Scotland and started tutoring dressmaking classes for adults in local community centers. I retired this year but haven’t hung up my scissors yet.
|I love the color, I love the details!|
Thank you so much to Margaret for sharing this essay with me so I could share it with all of you!
All photos of the dresses courtesy of the V&A Museum.