Lydia describes her work in Jarrolds alterations department.
I was born in Switzerland in 1933 and went to school there. I come from a large family: my parents, Fritz and Marie, my sister and two brothers. I trained as a dressmaker in Switzerland. In 1975 I was living in Norwich and had been working at the local Co-op when I saw an advertisement in the local paper and applied for and got a job in the alterations department at Jarrolds. I worked from 9.30am to 5.50pm three days a week. We worked in a little back room in the store and my tasks were shortening, letting out or taking in, lifting waists and shortening sleeves. We were altering clothes that people had bought at the shop. We only did alterations for women. Not everyone is the standard size – we got all shapes and sizes! I once had to shorten a pair of trousers for a lady called Helen Fraser who was in a television serial. I had to pin them up for her. That’s my only claim to fame!
We mainly worked with the sales staff on the fashion floor. The shop assistant would ask us to go out and see the customers. We would spend quite a lot of time with them. We only really had contact with the managers when something went wrong, and sometimes things did go wrong so they would step in and speak to the customer, and then us.
We had quite a big bridal department and did a lot of fittings. It was at the time when dresses were very full, like Princess Diana’s. We had to lift a lot of them from the waist and take them to pieces. Working in the bridal department could be quite worrying. You had a valuable dress on the table and you could prick your finger and get blood on it. I remember when one girl came in for a fitting. She was very short and the dress was very full. We had to lift it from the waist and it had a valance at the bottom, and pieces of embroidery on the skirt and I had to tack it. She insisted that it wasn’t her dress because it was so long. In the end they had to reimburse her. Mr Richard came down and said ‘Well, there is nothing we can do. The customer is always right.’
We also helped to dress the models during the fashion shows. The people on the sales floor didn’t know much about dress-making so we had to make judgements and decide whether it could be done or not. The sales assistants took a great deal of time advising customers, and worked very hard.’ I wonder if it’s the same today. When the store was altered we worked from a room on the corner that looked into Bedford Street. One memorable incident was when I watched Hovells going up in flames!
Every Christmas we had a party and a meal at one venue or another.
They always had good retirement ‘do’s’ with a buffet and speeches and all the staff there.’ I retired at the same time as the buyer in the coats department and we had a really good joint ‘do’. I worked at Jarrolds for 18 years and really enjoyed it. They were a good firm to work for and they looked after you and appreciated you. I liked the people and the atmosphere, though sometimes it was hard work and boring. I definitely enjoyed my time there.
Lydia (b.1933) talking to WISEArchive on 2nd February 2006.
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