As the thrills of Halloween and Bonfire Night recede, and November really starts to dig its heels into the frosty ground, we tend to start thinking about warmer clothes and Christmas gifts. That’s a fact that certainly hasn’t changed over the last eighty years – as this lovely 1938 catalogue demonstrates – but the nature of those clothes and gifts definitely has. In a moment, we’ll take a look inside and find out how exactly, but first let’s have a quick look where the catalogue came from.
Well, the quick answer is that it came from the Local and Family History department of Leeds Central Library! It’s part of our selection of brochures, journals and the like, all relating to old shops and businesses from the city’s past. Which shop it originally came from is a more difficult question: the catalogue’s unusual in that its company name isn’t actually stated anywhere inside, but there are a couple of clues on the cover above. Firstly note the large letter M logo and, secondly, if you look at our yellow sticker on the top-right corner, you’ll see that part of the classmark we’ve given it is MYE – which, according to our electronic catalogue, is short for Myers & Co.
The mystery’s not quite solved yet, though… If you look through a 1938 trade directory, the only Myers & Co. clothing company you’ll find is a furriers based at 42 Lower Brunswick Street. Our catalogue offers a lot more than furs, as we’ll see, and also advertises ‘centrally located, spacious showrooms at Leeds, Hull and Grimsby’ – a description not quite satisfied by this photo of the property in question on our Leodis website.
Clearly there’s more research to do, and that’ll begin (at least for this writer) by simply asking around. We can also cross-reference our Leeds trade directory against directories from Hull and Grimsby, looking for the ‘Myers’ shops in common… or, if that turns out to be a dead end, even just the shops with names beginning with M who specialise in clothes and soft furnishings. But who wants to do that when we could be eyeballing some vintage fashions? Let’s open the blasted catalogue and find out what you might have been wearing when the weather changed in 1938!
Women’s frocks in the 1930s had moved away from the flat-fronted, ‘boyish’ shapes popular in the 1920s to a more feminine silhouette, reflected in the cinched waists of these stylish coats. Towards the end of the decade, as the Second World War loomed, a militaristic influence gave women’s jackets the boxier shoulders, wide lapels and ‘storm’ collars seen here, while small hats (worn at an angle to show off – rather than shield – the face) also grew in popularity.
Fashions for men changed at a much slower rate, and the overcoat styles featured here would have been popular for over a decade previously. The double-breasted, belted coat shown bottom-left recalls the hard-boiled image of macho detectives popular throughout 1930s fiction and film, while the ‘New Raglan Style’ of the sleeves was a fairly recent innovation and made overcoats in particular more fitted and comfortable.
Note the prevalence of Peter Pan collars among these kiddies’ coats. The trend harks all the way back to 1905, when Maude Adams became a huge star with her portrayal of ‘the boy who wouldn’t grow up’ on Broadway. This detail, added specially for her costume, became a whimsical staple of children’s fashions for decades afterwards – perhaps a sign of an era when, some would argue, children really didn’t ‘grow up’ as quickly as they do today.
Similarly, the children’s gifts advertised in the Kiddies’ Corner of this page reflect the huge popularity at the time of the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which had been released in the UK on 12 March 1938. Although widely expected to be a flop, the first full-length, English-language animated feature wowed audiences and quickly earned Walt Disney enough money to finance the building of his own film studio, which stands in Burbank, Los Angeles, to this day.
With fairytale films like Frozen, Maleficent and the upcoming Into the Woods all the rage at the moment, perhaps we’ll see a resurgence of Peter Pan collars in our winter wear this year. Pop into Local and Family History if you fancy finding more fashion inspirations from the past!