Shopgirls - the true story of life behind the counter by Pamela Cox and Annabel Hobley
Published by Hutchinson
24th June 2014
From the Victorian age through to the present day, an unsung army of shopgirls has been at the hart of Britain's retail revolution.
For the first time, Shopgirls tells the story of the women who have served behind our counters, playing a vital and often ground-breaking part in our shared social history. We meet Selfridges' 'businesswomen', fighting for their good name, and arsonist suffragette Gladys Evans, jailed for standing up for her beliefs; join Margaret Bondfield as she goes undercover, fiercely championing the rights of early shopgirls; and stand alongside the impoverished interwar chain store assistants who stole stockings to supplement their meagre wages. We encounter young apprentices, the first generation of female graduate trainees and 1940s working mums. We follow Chilli Bouchier's journey from the small ladies' department at Harrods to star of the silver screen; uncover the raw courage of John Lewis's Miss Austin during the Blitz in the West End; and celebrate the art school entrepreneurs who kick-started the boutique movement of the swinging '60s.
As this lively book reveals, the story of British shopgirls is one woven deep into the fabric of our history, and changes the way we understand our society. You will never shop in the same way again.
There isn't much I can add to the blurb of this book, without telling every story that is contained within it's 300 pages, except to say, that it is a fascinating history of shops, shopping, and of the rise of the shopgirl from backstage lackey to front of house champion. I worked in retail for a number of years, starting as a Saturday girl in BHS, right through to management at Accessorize, working in River Island, Miss Selfridge, Wallis, and Monsoon in between. I've been there, and done it, but my stories are nothing like those that are contained within this book. The determination of women to leave domestic service and work in retail is astounding, and the challenges they faced were second to none.
I don't think it mattes whether you saw the television series that accompanies the book or not, because the telling is rich in detail, and there are photographs aplenty to be found within it's cover. As a history buff, I adored it, and couldn't believe the stories of the girls that are contained in here, we certainly don't have struggles that equate to some of these anymore. If you are interested in history, retail, shopping, or the changing role of women, then this is the perfect addition to any bookshelf.