The people who have lately been reviewing their criticisms of the London office girls’ dress and suggesting that it would be well if employers here copied the sumptuary regulations now imposed by certain American firms do not seem to have met with much sympathy. Judging by some of the regulations quoted – that mysterious order, for instance, that stockings must cover the knees – some of the American business girls seem to have frisky ideas about dress that would startle the liveliest of Whitehall flappers.
There is no doubt that the war years, which brought so many luxuriously-clad girls into public and other offices, did work a revolution in the dress of many ordinary girl clerks who had hitherto been content with very staid, not to say dreary garments for working hours. It was not only the well-to-do girl clerks but some of the older and more responsible women who set the fashion of turning up at the office in the morning dressed suitably for luncheon at a fashionable hotel. If the older woman wore fine laces when she was dictating to her clerk, the clerk naturally felt that georgette and taffetas were not out of place for her, and gradually the competition in finery grew until it became a financial embarrassment and a scandal.
Girls in Banks.
Some evil effects of the influence still remain, but women who are in the best position to judge say that on the whole the women clerks of to-day are dressing sensibly and that there is no reason to expect any organised attempt to institute uniform styles of dress in London offices. Some few of the banks issue overalls to their girl clerks. The girls in Barclay’s Bank wear navy blue overalls with white collars, and those in Lloyds Bank wear navy blue without any relief. In another bank the clerks wear overalls, but choose any colours they like. In most cases where they have been adopted it has been at the desire of the girls themselves, who take this method of keeping their out-of-door frocks clean. The firm buys the overalls at a cheaper rate than the girls themselves could manage.
I had the curiosity to-day to ride past several of the biggest London banks on top of a ‘bus, from which I had a good view into counting-houses where numbers of girls were employed. Most of them were wearing coloured or white blouses with reasonably long sleeves and narrow openings at the neck, but one felt that a word of advice from some authority would not have been out of place in one or two cases.
People who criticise the business girls’ dress are probably unconsciously comparing it with the style of, say, ten years ago, when shirt blouses with stiff collars and ties were worn. These did look smart and trim, but nobody who has spent a day wearing a stiff linen collar and bending over a desk for hours can regret the passing of this severe fashion. The no-collar fashion is infinitely to be preferred, and if women are sensible it will remain. Half the frocks worn in the daytime nowadays are cut on lines that would once have been thought only suitable for an evening party.
The Baker’s Girl.
The girl in the baker’s shop from whom I buy my bread at nine o’clock in the morning wears a festive-looking dress of soft black material, with elbow sleeves and the neck cut quite low. Nowadays, when nearly every woman under fifty is wearing loosely and comfortably cut frocks, pleasing herself with a wide range of colours and fine materials, it would be quite absurd to expect girls to invent for their office hours some stodgy sort of garment that would mark them out from their fellows and only satisfy the eye of the managing director’s mother-in-law.
The girls of to-day are to a certain extent experimenting in materials, and pretty soon they will work out a rational system of dress which will probably shock the older people but justify its invention.