This week’s garment in focus is a beautifully tailored 1980s wool swing coat, that was purchased from Keddies Department Store in Southend.
Keddies was a family run department store, that existed from 1892 to 1996. The building still stands today, at the top end of the high-street, and is recognisable by its Palladian columns. In 1934 these were the exciting new additions to the shop front and are thought to have been inspired by Selfridges own pillared façade.
Manufacture and Design
The coat was purchased in Keddies, but it was not a locally made garment. When researching any garment, labels can often provide useful clues to the manufacture. In this case the label shows it was manufactured by Mansfield Originals Ltd. before being marketed at Keddies.
Mansfield Originals branded this coat under the line ‘Cache D’Or’ lending a prestigious continental flair to the garment. This brand does not exist today but as Mansfield is a Nottinghamshire town, it is probable it was manufactured or designed in the North.
Another inserted label includes the Woolmark, this prestigious logo certifies the garments pure wool content, highlighting a high-quality garment. (The donator of the garment herself stated the coat was not worn much due to its value, but was carefully stored in the wardrobe) Interestingly the Woolmark campaign was launched in 1964, in retaliation to the explosion of synthetic fashion fibres- if you are interested in discovering more about synthetics you can read more in a previous post
The 18th century in the 20th century
Looking at the back of the garment we can see it has a loose box pleat, that would give a fluidity and ‘swing’ to the coat as the wearer moves. This form of pleating is reminiscent of early 18th century sack-back gowns, which had flowing pleats from the shoulder seam to the hem. This pleating is sometimes known as ‘Watteau’ pleats after these sumptuous gowns depicted by the French Rococo painter Antoine Watteau.
The new silhouette?
We can see the coat is tailored to flow outwards from the shoulders, whilst the main form of the coat is unstructured. This exaggeration of the shoulders seems synonymous now with 80’s fashion, but this form was nothing new. In his first collection for the famous fashion house of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent created the ‘Trapeze’ Line for Spring/Summer 1958. Where once underpinnings brought structure to garments, now the supportive framework of the dress was dictated from the shoulders, with fabric flowing outwards to create a triangular silhouette. Shown above is one such wool dress created in the ‘Trapeze’ line. This borrowing of styles from different eras is distinctive of 1980s fashion, which was an era of nostalgia, and revivals.
1980s fashion features in Southend’s Evening Echo promoted similar ‘triangular’ styles. The advertisement above from October 1986, shows a styling of layered jackets and jumpers to create ‘top-heavy’ trapeze like shapes. These woollen skirts and jumpers were available in Dorothy Perkins and ‘Next Too’ the womenswear section of Next, as it was once known. Both stores of course still continue on the high street today.
The changing High Street
Whilst Next and Dorothy Perkins have continued to thrive in Southend, Keddies unfortunately closed in 1996. Other notable family firms that have since disappeared from the high street, include R. A. Jones, the jewellers (whose famous clock is currently being conserved) and Dixons, the department store.
Before it closed Keddies had undergone many transformations from its 1930s ‘Palladian’ remodelling but also a major expansion in the 1980s, around the time this coat was purchased. 1986 advertisements in the Echo promote Keddies’ extensive renovation, with an increase in floor space, modern lighting and new specialist departments. This was following increasing competition from other shops including the newly built Royals Shopping Centre.
From the 1960s the high street and the area around Southend Victoria underwent a process of modernisation. 1960s Brutalist architecture emerged with the new Civic Centre and the high street was pedestrianized. Whilst this change was part of a process to transform Southend into a thriving Business and commercial hub, it meant that many Edwardian buildings were lost. Although Keddies remained standing, Dixons department store, was eventually demolished.
Whilst the Keddies building is still standing today, the company has since disappeared from the high street, along with many others. It is therefore reassuring to know that the Beecroft is able to preserve items that link back and re-invoke memories of the town’s past.
If you have any memories of the High Street and Keddies, make sure to add your comments to this blog piece.
By Iona Farrell
Exhibitions and Costume Volunteer
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