A Cut Above.

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The fashion houses of Knightsbridge came hand in hand with Royal Ascot, Henley and summer wedding territory, and so I became accustomed to the prim and proper of London’s social elite: the ladies who vied for matching two pieces to be topped off with flamboyant fascinators or a theatrical hat.

I couldn’t help but find fondness for one particularly affluent woman who would visit us each season to ready her wardrobe for the social obligations of the coming months. Like many others, she would plump for traditional cocktail dresses and matching suits and jackets, but each time she dented her bank balance, she would ask to see the in house tailor.

I soon ascertained that this wasn’t the usual alterations request where the customary motions of nipping a hem in here or tucking a dart in there were followed. This lady required something I imagine many of these socialites yearned for amidst their restrictive pencil skirts and their wiggle room only seams. She wanted each and every hem hacked at within an inch of her derriere.

As was deemed appropriate by the vast majority of our customers, the length of our dresses was accustomed to falling just below the knee. Nevertheless, this particular shopper, whom, might I add was some 70 years old, was not satisfied with anything that didn’t brazenly skim her knicker-line.

During their first encounter, the seamstress was understandably weary of cutting into several hundreds of pounds worth of fabric to create something she wouldn’t let her own teenage daughter wear past her front door, but nevertheless, after just one season we knew the drill: if all and sundry was not being flaunted, then this eccentric pensioner would not be satisfied.

In the decade where Ascot’s rules of dress were being published in every newspaper to avoid the faux par of a heaving bosom or an unashamed pair of bare shoulders, I only wish I could have witnessed one of her entrances into her world of cocktail parties and canapés.

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Out of all Proportion.

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The Soho factor seemed to influence many a customer of this decidedly girly boutique. Whether it was the nature of the clothes, or the nature of the area, we seemed to attract a certain amount of unwanted attention of the male variety.

My first insight into this world came courtesy of a man in his fifties, who was looking to buy a gift for his so called girlfriend. I hoped she was more of a trophy sweetheart than his age equivalent, seeing that our clothes would have embarked on their voyage to mutton parading as lamb on any woman a day past twenty five.

As he thumbed our threads, indiscreetly perusing mine at the same time, I asked him what size his girlfriend was.

Nonchalantly he replied, his answer followed by an impolite demand that I try on the get up he had selected. Towards me he thrust the most miniscule skirt we stocked, and a barely there bikini top.

Horrified at the prospect of having to parade around in what barely constituted clothing, giving this tactless visitor grounds to be gawking, I informed him that my size was really rather far removed from that of his girlfriend. He grimaced and urged the clothes into my arms regardless.

“Try.” He commanded, whilst waving towards the fitting room and stunning my painstakingly composed manner with a tiny tap to my derriere.

As a vivid vision of me thwacking him across the cheek invaded my head, I grappled for a moment with what would have been my inherent response had this not been my place of work.

Eyeballing his unaffected stare it was through gritted teeth that I asked him where his girlfriend was. Awkwardly, his gaze averted to his feet, disappointed at my reaction.

“You’re not going to try them.” It was more a realisation than a question as he sheepishly hung his head, sidestepping my gaze.

“No.” I replied. “Definitely not.”

With that he let out a small, high pitched groan and wandered hastily out of the door.

Bright Lights Brighter Characters.

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Once I had traded my cosy countryside existence for a city life in London to attend university, I knew that my encounters would only get all the more peculiar…

It was promptly after my first footsteps into The London College of Fashion that I realised the floorboards of this university were very much their own catwalk and consequently my wardrobe was a very sad sight indeed. A part time job was most definitely required in order to fund this newfound student lifestyle and to at least attempt at keeping up with the fashion forward Joneses.

My first job in the big city saw me looking after a unique boutique just on the outskirts of Soho, a place that is home to many of the more colourful among us.

Much of my time was whiled away perusing the pages of the glossies, gushing over the latest enviable wares from fashion houses such as Chanel and McQueen, which, on my part time wage and a student loan, I could only endeavor to replicate by stretching to the Topshop copycat.

If I was graced with the delight of human interaction it was typically with a pink adorned girly girl, due to the saccharine infused, fairytale nature of the clothing we had on offer. It was for this very reason that anyone with a desire for something other than a glitter, ribbon, or pom pom festooned item of clothing soon stood out, from the moment their scheming hand settled on the door handle.

I was to become privy to all sorts of alien requests, one most notably from a notorious male celebrity who asked me if I could outfit him with a balaclava. It was rather a perplexing question when you took into account our windows decked with butterflies, soft pink chiffons and mannequins with blonde 1930’s curls. Seemingly quite surprised when I informed him that we didn’t sell such an item, he asked if I could recommend a shop that did. Needless to say the only advice I could offer consisted of a visit to the PVC and rubber bondage specialists in the heart of Soho. I wondered if I had smacked the proverbial nail on the head when he sheepishly laughed and retreated from my shop, heading in that very direction.

Whispers in the morning

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In a tiny town such as the one where this particular baby boutique was based, the same familiar faces were often churned up in the daily grind. No one was more memorable however, than the lady who features in my next story…

 

Nestled next to the children’s shop was a quaint tea house that made its fortune though yummy mummy caffeine doses and senior specials. It was on my first working weekday that I was going about my morning routine when I heard a high-pitched sound surfacing from outside. After ignoring it for a second or two, I was coerced into caring when it grew several decibels, and it dawned on me that it was someone attempting to sing. Regrettably this voice was neither soothing nor relaxing, but once I had conquered the initial prickly pierce to the ears it was somewhat entertaining.

I wandered over to the window in an attempt to see from whom this jumbled up version of Fly Me To The Moon was coming from. I’m not entirely sure of where my expectations existed, but they certainly weren’t to be found in the image I was about to set eyes on… A white haired lady dressed in a polka dot patterned dress and soft soled shoes. Contently she sat with her mug of tea, oblivious to the stares of the other, calmer, coffee morning customers.

After watching her for a while, attempting to guess her choice of song every time a new melody hit the airwaves – a much meaner feat that it sounds – I noticed that I was the only local who had been distracted by this ruckus. This, and a few consecutive days of being presented with the same act,informed me that this was no alien presence of a weekday morning. This lady, whether one liked it or not, came hand in hand with the OAP coffee break.

I also quickly learnt that her morning routine would include an amble around my shop. She would open the door, I would greet her, she would ignore me, but she would murmur tales of a troubled past beneath her breath. Besides her piercing warbles, these whispers were the only thing I would ever hear leave her mouth. It was perhaps her only means of stopping the memories, for when she wasn’t whispering she would sing, and when she wasn’t singing she would whisper, there was never a moment of silence in between.

She would go from garment to garment, grazing fine velour with greasy fingers and often leaving traces of ketchup behind. Then she would walk away ahead of audible trails of wind, prompting me to realise why there was a can of air freshener behind the till.

Until one day she stopped. Her clockwork routine was no longer inclusive of me or my efforts of cleaning in her wake. I must say it was a relief. Nevertheless, to this day she still attends every coffee morning, eats her over 60’s special and sings. Some days fairly loudly, other days rather softly, I guess it depends on how haunting her whispers are that day.

Forget me not.

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I started my first retail job in a children’s shop at the innocent age of sixteen. Apart from having to tidy up after masses of misbehaving little ones, it became the norm of a Saturday job for a teenager funding her first summer holiday away from the eyes of a watchful parent or two. As was expected, I witnessed the odd tantrum, whether it was courtesy of a little girl not getting the party dress that she wanted, or a boisterous toddler not in appreciation of the smart outfit he had to wear for a weekend wedding in the country. Nevertheless this story comes from a new mother not quite keeping her eye on the ball, or her baby for that matter…

 

The boutique’s tumbling displays stretched around a wooden playpen. As was a mother’s prerogative to shop, so was a child’s to be entertained whilst waiting.

The playpen was filled with various second hand toys that reminded me of my childhood; the Fisher Price phone, the Playmobil house and a pack of wobbling Weebles.

After browsing for some time, the latest dithering stressed mother had decided to go for a coffee and return caffeine fuelled and decision made. I thanked her and went about tidying the chaos she’d left in her indecisiveness.

As I wandered towards the aforementioned mess I noticed the strap of a handbag snaking across the floor. Quickly seizing the bag, I ran out the door to see if I could set eyes upon its owner. She was, of course, nowhere to be seen. Ambling back into the shop I bent down to place it behind the counter in the hope that she would realise and return to collect it. As I did so, a noise emanated from behind me, in the direction of the playpen. I slowly stood up and turned around with trepidation to come face to face with a smiling toddler chewing on Mr Potato Head’s arm.

Panic washed over me as I wondered if the woman had expected a complimentary babysitting service alongside her coffee and decision time.

Nevertheless, amidst my horror and alarm, the little bright-eyed toddler was seemingly unbothered by the fact his mother had walked away without him, and more concerned that Mr Potato Head’s body wouldn’t completely fit in his dribbling mouth.

After what felt like a lifetime, but actually transpired to be just ten minutes, a panic stricken mother ran into the shop at full speed.

“My baby, my baby, I am so so sorry!”

“He’s fine” I replied, hauling his body out of the playpen as she took hold of his face, simultaneously inspecting him and giving him kisses in a bid to wipe away the guilt.

“You left your handbag too” I said, gesturing towards the bag I had found.

Embarrassed, she walked over to pick up the handbag and placed it on her toddler’s pushchair. After apologising profusely, she paid for her gift and went to open the door, checking she had all her belongings tucked up safely into the buggy. As her foot touched the pavement, she gave a knowing smile, rolled her eyes and came back to my side of the counter.

I somewhat begrudgingly passed the child into her arms as she apologised again and strapped him into his seat. As she left I couldn’t help but worry about what little adventure he may be subjected to next.