Ellie: I never thought I’d be saying this in a professional capacity, but I’m here today to interview my Mum, Val Cook, for the Retail Assist blog! With Mother’s Day coming up, I was intrigued to learn more about what the retail environment was like in the 1970s, when my Mum was in her 20s, like I am now. Mum, what would you say are the main differences between shopping now and shopping when you were my age?
Val: The main difference is the huge choice available now, and clothes being much more affordable. Innovative fashion for our age group was mostly available in London and was out of our price range. I was fortunate in having friends who were fashion and textiles student at Nottingham Art College. So we created our own styles customising retro clothes and accessories available locally both in specialist shops like Pennyfeathers selling 1930s and 40s clothes, and also hunting down bargains in jumble sales for interesting buttons or pieces of old lace. For work though we had to wear more formal clothes – for example women were not allowed to wear trousers to the office; and men had to wear ties and smart trousers / jackets or suits. So there was a huge difference to how we looked out of work!
Ellie: Obviously there was no such thing as online shopping back in the 1970s, do you think developments such as this have made life easier for working people, or have they simply resulted in new problems such as failed deliveries?
Val: The nearest I had to online was buying clothes from my mum’s catalogues, but then the styles were more suited to the 1950s than the 1970s! So I think the development of online shopping has made life easier, both for working people and for people who live in more rural areas, who do not have regular access to a large city like Nottingham. I agree that deliveries can be a problem, particularly if you are out all day and miss the delivery and then have to go to the postal depot to collect your parcel! Nowadays to save me time spending hours in town, I sometimes like to browse my favourite shops on the internet if I am thinking of buying a particular item in a specific colour and size, and then order online to collect at my local branch.
Ellie: Do you think that standards of customer service have improved or deteriorated over the years, or have they remained about the same?
Val: I think that standards of customer service have definitely improved over the years. Probably this is because there is more competition as customers have so much more choice, but also I think that in the larger outlets, customer service training for retail staff has improved. Also it is now much easier to return goods both in-store and online.
Ellie: You read a lot these days about multiples meaning that the UK High Streets are less diverse than they were in the 1970s and independent retailers suffering as a result. Would you agree that High Streets are more standardised and dull now than they were when you were in your 20s?
Val: Yes I would agree that high streets are possibly more boring nowadays – but maybe they deliver exactly what the majority of customers want. Styles for younger people seem to be more standardised – wearing sportswear for example and I think that wearing recognisable labels has become more attractive to all age groups. Maybe the difference is that when I was young we didn’t want to look like our parents, but now parents want to wear the same clothes as young people. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were a couple of larger stores – Chelsea Girl and Miss Selfridge that opened in Nottingham, as well as several small boutiques selling specialist designs. Some of these smaller boutique owners and designers went on to become big names – like Paul Smith, and other boutiques such as G-Force were set up by design graduates from the art college.
Ellie: Unfortunately, there have been many retail casualties and administrations since the 1970s. If you could bring one shop or brand that is no longer around back to life, what would it be?
Val: Well it would have to be Biba! Although I understand that the brand has been re-launched, I’ll never forget visiting the Biba store in London, it wasn’t just the clothes that were the attraction, but also the atmosphere, it was like walking into an Eastern Bazaar with unusual masks, and furniture, drapes, all so different to any shop I had ever seen. There was a catalogue which I brought home, (I wish I still had it as the illustrations were incredible) and ordered a wonderful dusky pink trouser suit and some make-up. Soon after a boutique called Bus Stop opened on the Poultry in Nottingham, and it was heavily Biba influenced – so I was happy.
Ellie: Great, thank you for answering my questions Mum. Your answers have given me an interesting insight into how your experience of retail in the 1970s was different to my experiences today. On behalf of everybody here at Retail Assist, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of the readers of the blog who are Mothers themselves, or who are blessed with a lovely Mum, a Happy Mother’s Day on Sunday.