LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[Rose Fairweather takes Margot Phelps shopping. It’s a makeover…]
[Shop assistant] Miss Spragge took them into a small fitting-room with a looking-glass in a dark corner, went away and reappeared with an armful of belts, or slightly boned corsets, or whatever one pleases to call them. Into a selection of these belts Miss Phelps was then pulled and pushed and coaxed by Miss Spragge’s masterful hands…
‘And now a nice brassiere, Miss Spragge,’ Rose said. ‘Not uplift.’
‘It’s nice to hear a lady say that, madam,’ said Miss Spragge. ‘A customer of mine – but I do not name names – who lives not a hundred yards from here, asked me for an uplift… and I said quite pointedly, “Uplifts are in the Juveniles, madam”, and I can assure you that she went quite a beetroot red.’
‘How like her,’ said Rose, who appeared to have a clue to the customer, though Miss Phelps hadn’t. ‘Uplift at the Palace, how too pretentious,’ upon which Miss Spragge smiled a kind of shocked approval, went away, and returned with an armful of what in the earlier years of our life were called bust-bodices.
commentary: Jutland Cottage was a recommendation from blogfriend Elizabeth Tierney, who mentioned
‘foundation belts’, brassieres, and a great discussion of the merits of brown thread stockings versus nylons.And as she also says, the best part is that ‘pretty much the whole book is about the makeover of a character who has devoted herself to taking care of her parents’.
So it’s classic Thirkell – although now she is post-war, and the whole thing is a bit less careful and tight. I enjoyed the book hugely, but it was quite repetitive, she kept making the same points about her various characters. She also seemed set on revisiting every single character from the Barsetshire series of books, bringing many of them in for a page or a sentence to tell us what became of them – well, no harm in that really.
Excitingly, this particular edition has a map of Barsetshire, showing all the small towns and villages – I could never tell one setting from another, and didn’t really try, but am glad to have the map, and particularly the living proof that she did give a village the splendidly risqué, yet very convincing, name of Winter Underclose:
Poor Miss Phelps is over 40 and has a hard life. Luckily, Thirkell is going to present her with a wonderful new friend (Rose Fairweather, who has changed character quite a lot since her appearance in Summer Half, but much to the good: she is still entertaining but more nuanced now.) Rose will organize help and improvement for the whole Phelps family, and it is a fairytale but very charming. Over the course of the book three potential suitors will turn up, and in fact it is by no means clear which one will end up with Margot: they are all very jolly chaps in their own ways. Though I didn’t have much sympathy for the one who truly only saw her charms when she looked more beautiful – Thirkell found this bittersweet, but I didn’t.
And of course the book is full of splendid clothes. Margot wears a horrible artificial silk blouse with her tweed suit, and realizes with wistful envy that the other women all have lovely twinsets. But she shall have one! Here you go:
There is a lot of fascinating discussion of women in trousers – always a subject we love on the blog – and there is a pair of Lesbians who are as much the subject of fun as any other characters, but no more - Thirkell does seem to be trying with them.
When Rose mentions the Palace, she means the Bishop’s Palace in the Cathedral town, not, say, Buckingham Palace.
I think the belt is a girdle, and the top picture is from 1953: A high waisted girdle with a v-shaped control panels and suspenders, from Kendal Milne, a very upmarket department store in Manchester.
Twinset and tweeds picture from the Clover Vintage Tumbler.