Send In The Gowns



My mum stopped going to Marks & Spencer. ‘Their blouses have dropped off,’ she complained. ‘There was a time when strong corsetry and a good gusset was all you needed under a pleated skirt.’ She loved Blustons Gowns though. ‘It’s so refreshing to find a trapeze dress with some give in the armpits.’

Blustons is in Kentish Town High Street, and for 25 years I lived just behind it, so I could nip in and pick her up a shapeless fawn cardie with bobbles on, the kind she favoured. It had old-fashioned signs in the window like ‘Pac-a-macs for the larger lady’ and ‘Full Figure Frocks for Easter Brides’. Before Blustons I never knew what a trapeze dress was. I’m still not entirely sure I know now.

Blustons was opened in 1932 by Jane and Samuel Bluston, a Jewish couple who had both been sent as teenagers from Russia to the UK in the 1890s to escape the persecution of the White Russian period. They met in an East End sweat shop owned by a mutual relative, and got married in 1902. The shop was up and running and the war came, bringing austerity and rationing that saw the shop allowed to sell only “utility clothing”. German shrapnel shattered one of the display windows during the war. Albert, the couple’s son, was born in 1945 and remembers commandeering the number of women coming into the shop in the early 1950s, as they queued to buy new clothes on the day that rationing ended.

Stepping inside was like going back in time. Once most high streets had a shop like this with a double front and half a dozen assistants. The fact that the store’s closure has made the national papers is indicative of how rare such places are now. Internet shopping has killed Blustons’ trade. ‘These days we cater for older West Indian ladies and drag queens,’ said one of the owners. I hope the new owners feel it would be nice to keep the fascia when they open the inevitable ironic coffee shop in its place.


12 comments on “Send In The Gowns”

  1. Jo W says:

    Oh no,not another coffee shop. How far will we have to travel in future to find a shop that sells classic cut seperates and a decent frock?

  2. Jo W says:

    P.S. A trapeze dress was what Miss Pugh was going to buy, in Hancock’s Half Hour. Tony- “I hope you fall off it!”

  3. Vivienne says:

    I bet they used to have that yellow tinted sort of cellophane sheeting in the windows in summer to stop those dresses fading in the sun.

  4. Alan says:

    What happened to plastic scarves, that’s what I want to know?!

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    Aw you’d have hoped that the internet would have helped, catering to the lovable retros.

  6. snowy says:

    They were common, but their customers were mostly the pre-Biba generation and unless they have a sideline in schoolwear they are fading out with their customers. [I was regularly dragged into one as a child*] It srmelt of wax polish from the seemingly vast acres of the stripped pine floorboards, everything was behind yard upon yard of counter in individual boxes.

    No body would have dreamt of hanging all the stock on rack, where it could be ‘fingered’ by all and sundry; especially ‘un-mentionables’.

    And for those that just have to know things:
    A Trapeze dress, comes from a 1958 YSL collection, An ‘A-line’ that tapers out from the top of the shoulder, rather than the bust or waist. The style ran on for years, some of the most iconic images, Twiggy, Shrimpton etc. are in Trapeze dresses.

    [* It was the sole source of wool and if it came on skeins**, I knew my plans for the afternoon playing out in the garden had been well and truly scuppered. In favour of serving as a skein dolly, holding out the wool until they had all been rewound into balls. Protestations that “My arms are falling off” would be dismissed as sillyness. Even the reward for this of a free choice of a biscuit; tasted like bitter, bitter ashes.

    **My cunning plan childish attempts to suggest that wools ready wound into balls were much nicer colours, were ‘sussed’ before I could even draw breath at the end of that particular sentence.]

  7. Vivienne says:

    I second Snowy with the wool winding. And those boxes that the shops had, leading to the intricacies of ordering the right pair of stockings for one’s mother which was.a major challenge as you had to remember the correct combination of size, denier, seam, shade and fastening.

  8. Alan Morgan says:

    I’d forgotten all about wool winding! My nan made me do that. I swear it actually came in balls by then. Top memory jog Snowy.

  9. Jo W says:

    In those days,wool that came in skeins was cheaper to buy than the balls, due I think to the do-it-yourself element. A neighbour of ours had a wool winder. An ingenious wooden contraption with four spokes,especially made for knitters who didn’t have a friend or willing grandchild. 😉

  10. Helen Martin says:

    For the serious knitter wool still comes in both balls and skeins. I have discovered a way of draping the skein over my knees and still wind fairly efficiently. The husband doesn’t realise how kind I am.
    I was just wondering whether that shop had on-line service when you said it was closing. The full figured female does not have a hope in the shops of today, believe me, and stores don’t worry about consistency of sizing any more. I had a shop keeper rush out from the back as I lifted down a perfectly styled dress to tell me that “We don’t carry your size, madam.” Huh! just because I’m not a petite Asian girl wearing a size 2.

  11. admin says:

    Okay, enough knitting now!

  12. snowy says:

    What a swizz. And I’d only just finished hammering four nails into a cotton reel.

    [The doctor says the bandages can come off in two weeks.]

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