Carol Alayne

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Spitfire tailors

Spitfire pilotSomeone 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 Spitfire womendelivering 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 Spitfire Womenmeasurement 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

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2 Responses

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  2. John Pierce April 14th, 2013

    Interesting to read that your estimate of living ATA pilots was down to 15 surviving in 2009.
    My Mother Phyllis Olive Pierce (Nee Bethune)a former WAAF and Civilian Pilot joined ATA as a Flight Engineer, one of only four women Flight Engineers in the ATA. She was born 06-06-1918. Was the final civilian to obtain a Pilots licence 3rd Sept 1939
    and signed up 4th Sept 1939. She flew with the ATA in Wellingtons, Stirlings, Halifax and Mosquito bombers. She passed away 29-03-2013. (94.9yrs) Her funeral will be held on 26th April 2013. I am her son, so far she has been ignored by society in regard to her 5 years service in RAF WAAF and ATA. John Pierce.

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Recognised as a pioneer of bespoke tailoring for women, Carol Alayne has over 25 years experience of creating striking garments for arts, sports and media personalities and business wear for professionals and executives.



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