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Can I Help You, Madam?

263 pages4 hours


The working life of a women in retail in the 1930s was tough, but not beyond the no-nonsense Ethyle Campbell. Quite unlike any other book about the rag trade in the ʼ30s, this semi-autobiographical account of Campbell’s time as a fashion buyer for a London department store rings with her slangy informative banter as she plies her trade, often hilariously, between the shop floor, the couture houses of Paris and factories of New York.

The realities of the retail trade are interspersed with extraordinary vignettes, including a shoplifter with capacious bloomers stuffed with pilfered undies, and wealthy but unwashed society elite sporting filthy corsets and smelling so much that staff refused to serve them. Fed up with customers returning worn frocks as unsuitable and never forgetting that the customer is always the enemy, a determined Campbell splashes water over the dress of one notorious culprit in the wash room at the Savoy.

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