Have you heard about the numbers behind the latest fashion craze? I’m aghast, entertained and concerned all at the same time! We all know that us women of all ages and classes love wearing feathers on hats and hems, but this is going beyond sanity. A single ostrich feather of good quality sells for more than £5!
I’ve just read in a rather exhortational pamphlet from the desk of the Rev Pearson of Skipton that when the Titanic sank last April, a consignment of £20,000 worth of the plumes was lost and the fashion world of London was almost more shocked by this loss than that of lives. Of course it’s not just any feather, the one coveted more than the rest – the Barbary is what every woman wants.
Well I didn’t know what the big hoo-ha was about until I saw one of them the other day when all the ladies and gentlemen were pouring to the street from the Grand after some opera. At least I think it was real Barbary. It was so sumptuous, it had to be that famous plume. Much as I consider myself a sober and decent woman, I could see the appeal immediately. It’s so rich and glossy, no wonder it’s such a sensation in London!
Well, the Rev Pearson is on a hellfire and brimstone holy crusade now, he wrote that there are feather auctions held every other week where merchants, as finely dressed as their female counterparts, peruse the goods. Just this year, ostrich feathers worth £2.2 million are estimated to be imported into Britain. They say that Harry Selfridge’s lover, the French dancer Gaby Deslys, braves the hoi polloi to eye up the goods in the shop rather than wait for a private viewing. But, as Pearson continues, “the true story of how the Barbary makes its way here is one of subterfuge, derring-do and hardship that would shock the ladies who sashay around town in their ostrich-feather finery!” Some 20,000 women and 2,000 men were employed in the feather industry, mostly in London’s East End.
While my heart did beat faster when I saw this wonderful feather, Isabella and her friends look down on refined tastes. They wear plaid dresses that look like sacks and don’t care for wearing hats. If their youthful disdain is anything to go by, those giant enterprises based on such a fickle business as lady’s fashion, might find themselves penniless some day soon! And then there’s the likes of the Reverend who make it their business to shout the sin of vanity, indulgence and wantonness at the sight of any feathers, let alone Gaby Deslis’s barbary.
Haven’t they given a thought about those thousands of poor people whose livelihood depends on this luxury? Well, no one in our street will think any better or worse of me if I don’t have a genuine Barbary feather adorning my poor hat. It’s a nice enough hat, I only call it poor because it’s got slightly misshapen in last week’s deluge and I’m not the best milliner to look after my hats. I’ll have to ask Irene to come over with her glues, powders and grips and do something about the poor thing. I know it will be right as rain (no pun intended) if she attends to it. She was the one who fixed the velvet ribbon around it in the first place. Not exactly barbary, but it will do for a humble widow from Leeds.
PS: Maybe when the craze boils over and Barbary ostriches will be bred in Bradford, I will get one for a tuppence! A girl can dream….:o)
We don’t know what happened to Lavender’s favourite hat after this, but if you want to know more about the feather industry in 1912, check Sarah Stein’s Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce.
The Reverend Chalmer is not a real person. His numbers and words are from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1170313/Forget-It-bags-Louboutin-shoes-greatest-fashion-craze-Britains-known-wait-Ostrich-feathers.html#ixzz22sFA6Ux8
And let’s not forget the fabulous Gaby! The lover of Mr Selfridge and barbary feathers was indeed a beautiful lady.