Cat­a­logue girls: buy­ing from The Club

Sandy Gent re­mem­bers the world of mail or­der shop­ping and how spe­cial it was the day the cat­a­logue ar­rived…

YOURS (UK) - - Contents -

When I hear young­sters talk­ing about in­ter­net shop­ping, I have to smile. In many ways the idea of or­der­ing un­seen goods was so rem­i­nis­cent of that dear old friend, the mail or­der cat­a­logue!

Grow­ing up in the Six­ties and Seven­ties, those huge books from Free­mans, Kays and Great Uni­ver­sal Stores were the main­stay of many a work­ing-class home. They of­fered so much and the weekly pay­ments meant they were ac­ces­si­ble to all!

Our ‘agent’ was Nan’s neigh­bour, Mar­jorie. She took the or­ders and col­lected the money each week. For this, she earned a small com­mis­sion, which she was en­cour­aged to spend back with the ‘club’. I’m sure it barely com­pen­sated for all the stress of col­lect­ing the money, keep­ing up with the ad­min and re­as­sur­ing many a young wife whose ‘club money’ had been spent by a hus­band on beer! The ar­rival of the new sea­son’s copy was quite an event. I was al­lowed to stay up a bit later than usual while we turned the pages, curled up along­side our mum be­fore bed­time. We had to wash our hands and treat the pages re­spect­fully, as one cat­a­logue went around all the cus­tomers.

Of course, my brother and I would fo­cus on the dolls, train sets, Mec­cano and Lego, but I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber get­ting much in the way of toys from the cat­a­logues! I’m sure my mum only bought ‘bor­ing’ things such as sheets and tow­els. I do re­mem­ber her say­ing it was a good way of buy­ing qual­ity items that she nor­mally wouldn’t have been able to af­ford, but be­cause she paid weekly it meant that she could in­vest in the more pres­ti­gious names in linens and house­hold ma­te­ri­als. “Don’t buy clothes or shoes,” she’d say, “un­less you’re re­ally con­fi­dent of the siz­ing and fit.” By the time I was a teenager, I knew the sys­tem well and I was ex­cited when one of my pals at school brought in her mum’s cat­a­logue. It had a fab­u­lous bou­tique sec­tion with an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign headed by the glam­orous Lulu. With my friend’s en­cour­age­ment, I or­dered about six items, in­clud­ing three biki­nis. They were all wrong: too big, too small, or

‘I was ex­cited when one of my school­pals brought in her mum’s cat­a­logue with a fab­u­lous bou­tique sec­tion’

un­suit­able. I hadn’t heeded my mum’s ad­vice and each had to be sent back. My friend was not im­pressed.

I still liked cat­a­logues, though, and I was thrilled to land a sum­mer job in the glam­orous of­fices of GUS in Manch­ester in the mid-Seven­ties. I had to type up the words of three young copy­writ­ers and we had a lot of fun as they de­scribed and la­belled the prod­ucts on the page. I was even of­fered a per­ma­nent job but, at the end of the sum­mer, I left for univer­sity and my cat­a­logue days could have been over.

But not quite. A few years later when I was in my first home, I knew as I was on a bud­get that I needed to find a lo­cal ver­sion of ‘Mar­jorie’ and, of course, my first pur­chase would be tow­els and bed linen – the finest qual­ity, nat­u­rally. My mum would be proud of me!

Lulu brought glam­our to the Free­mans cat­a­logue

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