The excitement for me as an artist lies not in exploring the unknown but in how I can effectively organise a visual arrangement that reflects the atmosphere and intensity of an environment, evoking a precise moment of the day under specific light and conditions. I hope you enjoy the work

Feature of the week  07/10/2018

Sheldon's Dress Shop

Back in 1975, before the advent of internet shopping and edgelands retail outlets, small businesses such as Sheldon’s, a hairdressers and ‘fashion outlet’, were able to make a modest living, even in small communities such as Knutton, a Midlands former mining village not far from Newcastle-under-Lyme and comprising mainly of hard-to-let council houses.

 

During the summer of that year I was visiting my parents and as when I was a child, on the Sunday afternoon we all went out for a walk. No longer a child, when I would be handed a quarter off Quality Street,  these days my walking companions were a manual Zeiss Ikon camera and a modest sketchbook.

 

Small  shops like Sheldon's sold goods on a weekly payment basis called the 'never-never' until the total amount had been reached. Every village had a haberdashery and wool shop where you could pay so much regularly until you had bought enough balls of wool to knit the pullover of your dream. A sample pullover would be placed on display in the window beautifully constructed by the expert knitter you aspired to become. It was the same with fashion shops. They were usually run by well-corseted and upholstered ladies of a certain age, wearing generous amounts of brightly coloured lipstick, who convincingly encouraged rather timid women that this was indeed the garment that would transform their lives. It was not difficult to fuel dreams even then, the problem lies in their fulfilment!

 

Once the client was suitably convinced, the transaction commenced but quite often the purse was empty or not containing enough to purchase the desired item outright. There were two ways of buying goods; pay a 25% deposit first and then the item was put to one side with attached label detailing would-be owner’s name, then a card would be given to the customer recording the amount to be paid each week and on full receipt of payment the goods were handed over, by which time the season had often changed and the project would be mothballed until Spring or Autumn came round again. This was the method favoured by my mum and other like-minded, ‘sensible’ housewives.

 

The second means of payment was much riskier ‘Have now, pay later’. The customer was allowed to take away the garment immediately, paying for it ‘on tick’. She ((it was invariably a female) recording the amount to be paid off on a weekly basis and with an inflated interest rate added. Failure to comply, which occurred frequently, meant that there was a thriving cottage industry of debt collecting agencies who then moved in, demanding even more extortionate interest rates.

 

My mother disapproved totally of this method of purchase, believing the only winners were the debt collectors. It is she who is looking with interest in the window of the hairdressers. I remember her dress was made of crimplene, cotton being considered old fashioned and difficult to wash. Notice her hair. She went once a week to the hairdressers to have it ‘set’. The colour is natural and she was quite rightly proud of having jet black hair well into her fifties. Dyed hair was something to be disapproved of as being ‘common’ and therefore undesirable. Of course, my hair then in contrast was often dyed with henna bright red!