How clever an idea is this? In The Button Box: Lifting the Lid on Women’s Lives Lynn Knight, beginning with her Grandma’s button box, describes the clothes worn by members of her own family and all the sewing, altering and mending that went on. From this family story she develops a history of women’s clothes, fashions (not at all the same thing), domestic lives and working conditions. For instance, a linen button, taken from the box, leads to an account of what they were used for, how they were made and what life was like for the women who made them. This is social history anyone can enjoy; it’s as easy to read as a novel. I very much like the way quotations from novels are used to illustrate a point.
For people of a certain age (me), there’s a lot of nostalgia in the sections dealing with the fifties onwards. Cuticura! I can’t even remember what it was (something for nails, I imagine), yet the name leapt off the page at me. Paper nylon petticoats! Coty L’Aimant! I even wore that myself in the sixties. Lynn Knight is very good at describing women’s longing for clothes they can’t have/afford, especially in wartime. She is in no doubt that clothes *matter*.
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