Earning our stripes

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The lonely hearts ad on the reverse side of my dad’s column
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A typical hand-drawn full page advertisement from 1979
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A handsome, rather angular, gentlemen, sporting his stripy Viyella House shirt, stares moodily across the Binns Christmas advert

When I read my dad’s columns from 40 years ago, I often look at the reverse side of the cutting, which can have a variety of fascinating items to peruse. There may be adverts, letters to the editor, local notices, news stories and announcements, all accompanied by photographs or illustrations that evoke the 1970s and bring back memories of living through that memorable decade.

The content often reflects the time of year, so on the back of a February 1979 column is a letter to the editor discussing the harsh winter they were experiencing, while in March there are adverts for footwear and camping equipment to suggest Spring is on its way. Move on to July and August and there are notices for agricultural shows, gymkhanas and barbecues, whereas in December we see a huge advert from Binns department store trying to tempt us through its doors for our Christmas shopping.

And who could resist a Sanyo music centre with ‘3 wave band radio PLUS belt driven turntable, magnetic cartridge and diamond stylus’, not to mention the ‘front-loading Cassette deck’? Clearly, the ‘Cassette’ is a very important aspect of the music centre to warrant its own capital letter. What strikes me about these large newspaper adverts is that all the images that accompany them are hand-drawn, rather than photographs of the products. I presume this is because they were unable to reproduce quality photos of the product via black and white newsprint.

I wonder what became of all those genuinely talented advertisement artists? In the Binns advert, gazing across the page towards the Sanyo music centre is a rather moody and distinctly angular gentleman looking very dashing in his stripy ‘Viyella House’ shirt and fat kipper tie, also stripy. Gosh, how we loved stripes in the 1970s.

I discovered that Binns, a familiar name to many of us northerners, had mostly disappeared by the mid-1980s after being absorbed into the House of Fraser brand. However I was surprised to find that Viyella is still going, and despite a chequered history of buyouts and near bankruptcy, it still has many branches all over the country, as well as an online shop.

The name Viyella originally referred to a fabric made up of 55% merino wool and 45% cotton that was trademarked in 1894 by William Hollins and Co., becoming the first ever ‘branded’ fabric. However, Hollins and Co soon began to make clothes too, and so Viyella became a fashion brand in itself. In the 1970s it was synonymous with the stripy shirt, but a quick check on their website today, and out of the 120 shirt designs available, a mere four are stripy, while 12 are plain.

So what pattens are on the remaining 104 shirts? Can you guess?

Before you discover if you are right, I want to mention one advert that caught my eye on the back of Dad’s column from 15th December 1979. You can tell it’s winter, as there are many adverts placed by farm labourers looking for work, presumably having been laid off during the lean winter months. But below them is a single entry under the ‘Personal’ section that reads: ‘LONELY- UNATTACHED? Don’t be this Xmas. Contact Kate’s Intro Bureau for details of special offer and sample list of friendship-marriage partners. Thousands of members.’

How discreet this little ad is, although I do wonder if the grand claim of ‘thousands of members’ is a bit exaggerated, as back in those days, approaching a dating agency for help was seen as quite desperate and shameful. You’d never have admitted you had gone to one, even if you had.

How times have changed! The internet has revolutionised the dating scene, with countless apps and websites making it so much easier for singles to find partners. It has shed its somewhat seedy image, and couples are willing to talk about having met online. In fact, only this morning I heard that it is predicted that within the next decade, 40% of couples will have met via apps and websites, and that 2037 will be the ‘tipping point’ year, when more babies will be born to couples who met online than through a face to face date.

Did you get the shirt pattern right? I bet you’re not surprised to learn that the men of today prefer the ubiquitous checked shirt above any other. Will stripes ever come back?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 13th and the Gazette & Herald on 11th December 2019

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