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.