Past Life: Lorraine Child struts her stuff!
Men rarely love shopping. Their survival instincts drag them into the first cave on the right; see it, catch it, eat it. Women are better at browsing simply because – long before the epoch of Wallace Waite and Arthur Rose – they spent ages gathering roots and berries, whilst complaining about the state of the forest floor. Today’s hunters trail after women, stifling yawns and casting limp opinions to avoid a meltdown of female insecurity. When shopping for themselves, men prefer to lie in wait; a few clicks and the prey comes to them. Adrenalin may pump a little if they have to fight with the packaging, and their flight impulse probably won’t take them as far as the recycling bin, but the heavy club will remain unbloodied.
My husband was an exception to this glib assumption and enjoyed all shopping: food, things for our home; and clothes, as long as they were for me. I remember a delicatessen-cum-clothes shop in Shaftesbury, the sort of place you visit for lavender oil and come out with a copy of Sprouting Life, horny goat weed, and a moon cup. The only place to try on a little tie-dye number was behind a stack of chickpea flour, but having changed in less savoury environs for fashion shows, I simply disrobed, enveloped in little more than the tempting aromas of sun-ripened tomatoes and olive oil. Quite what detained the bearded gentleman, I can’t imagine, though his scrutiny of gluten-free cornflakes seemed rather thorough. Besides, my husband didn’t even like cereal.
A favourite place to engage in retail healing is Stratford-uponavon. Yes, it has drawbacks, but tourists have to go somewhere. The street plan of the town has changed little over its history and is centred on three compact streets at right angles to the river, three parallel to it. Many are its attractions, and anywhere that combines riverine delights with history, culture, good shopping and fine dining is never going to see the back of my tote. Hostelries in and around Stratford range from the grand to the modest, and having stayed in the former, I now prefer a privately owned establishment where the proprietors have become warm friends. The personal touch is worth more than any amount of courtesy parking.
Of the 87 pages between the covers of Cotswold Life in September 1978, 35 referenced clothes. Conspicuous by their absence were lingerie advertisements, deemed too risqué in the days of neck-to-toe drapery. ‘Find us just beyond the caryatids’ was the raciest thing I could find. Clothing featured high quality from Jaeger and Pringle, in warming fabrics: cashmere, tweed, wool and corduroy. Reading about capes, coats and suits on the hottest summer solstice on record, I wanted to plunge naked into the cooling embrace of the Avon. Fashion in the 1970s was smothering; a neckline was an extension of a wardrobe, every inch of sternum covered in cowls, polo necks, ties, scarves and sweaters. Women couldn’t be too upholstered.
Obviously, there is more to Stratford than just clothes shopping. The Stratford Food Festival from September 22-24 is a three-day celebration of all things gustatory. Its world-famous theatre needs no introduction, and there are villages and historic houses of quiet beauty, all within a short drive, providing an antidote to the bustle of the town. Charlecote, a National Trust glory, with ancient lineage to the Lucy family, is just over five miles away, documented as the first place in England to have a flock of Jacob sheep, introduced there by George Lucy in 1755. In the 1980s, my husband interviewed the effervescent Lucinda Lambton at Charlecote, her voice as rich and rounded as a vintage port. It was one of the highlights of his journalistic career.
Clothes have come off in leaps and bounds since the suffocating excesses of the Seventies, their role as status symbols lost in the ample folds of the past. Unthinkable now are the social mores – governed by men – that considered it unacceptable for women to wear trousers. It is unusual now to see women wearing anything else. My husband loved to see beautiful clothes, on and off the catwalk, and in the early 1960s he drew some designs for the then unknown fashion designer Caroline Charles. Never knowingly restrained by red tape, he gained entry to London Fashion Week by waving his VIP pass. It was actually his library card, but chutzpah can get a determined man anywhere.
‘Never knowingly restrained by red tape, my husband gained entry to London Fashion Week by waving his VIP pass. It was actually his library card, but chutzpah can get a determined man anywhere’
Above: Our own Lorraine Child escapes the generally “smothering” nature of 1970s fashion on the catwalk