Someone recently said to me, ” I’m sure you can see now that men’s and women’s tailoring will never sit side by side.” Granted, this was not one of the most forward-thinking of the Savile Row fraternity. (I am not sure that Armani would agree with him either!) It seems ironic that these days, when the talk is of ‘breaking glass ceilings’, there should be such a lack of joined-up thinking. I have to confess that this thought was in part stimulated by a book I was given by a friend recently; The Spitfire Women of World War II (Giles Whittell)
The women of the Air Transport Auxiliary may not have taken part in the Battle of Britain but, without their flying skills and courage in delivering the aircraft to the RAF bases for their male counterparts, the battle would never have got off the ground; they flew Lancasters and Wellingtons too. There are believed to be about 15 of the women pilots left, all in their eighties and nineties.
To fulfil their posts, they needed to be in uniform and as you might imagine, all the tailors were men.
The book relates a charming account from one of the women pilots about a trip to a local tailor in order to be measured up, and the consternation caused amongst the erstwhile cutters when a group of them first walked into the shop. “Whoever heard of such a thing!”.
Apparently the basic measures were accomplished without incident, but when it came to the bust measurement the approach of the tailor seemed somewhat unusual. “He would take a few quick steps, throw the tape measure round the back, catch it in mid-air and, turning his head away as if he couldn’t bear to look, wait until the two ends met before giving a fleeting glance to the number of inches it recorded.” The process was completed by the cutter whispering “the awful secret” in the “hairy ear” of his amanuensis. What a performance!
The end result was that their long awaited uniforms arrived with trouser seats four inches lower than they should have been.
Thank goodness times have changed…or have they!?
Photo: thanks to HarperPerennial, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail