Sunday, April 16, 2006


If you want to see how women have changed during the Queen’s reign, visit Marks & Spencer.

Step through the doors of their flagship Marble Arch store and you are greeted by the fabulous current fashions from its premier Autograph, Limited Collection and Per Una ranges. Clothes for women who want and have, if not all, most of it — women who cope with jobs, children, husbands and partners in shifting relationships and intend to look young and good forever.

But take an escalator or lift to the first floor and you can walk right back into the way the world was for women when the Queen came to the throne in 1952.

Deep among its Petite and Maternity ranges, you will find M&S’s rock of ages — its Classic Collection, which has hardly changed in sixty years and keeps its core customers coming back.

Round necked sweaters (jumpers), cardigans which button to the throat, and straight line trousers (slacks) in muted beige and lilac shades and chintzy summer separates are straight from the days when clothes were meant to cover a woman decently and help her blend into the background, if not entirely disappear.

Days when a woman needed to look ‘respectable’ as much as she needs to appear ‘sexy’ today. When people knew their place and stayed in it and a woman’s was to be at home and dutifully raise a family in one long marriage, no matter how abusive and unhappy it was. When a divorcee was a pariah and spinster, especially if a woman was over thirty, a term of derision whilst a single man, who might be secretly gay if he didn’t want to go to prison, was ‘an eligible bachelor.’ When no one talked about their real problems and women were expected to ‘never complain.’

Apart from her annus horribilis speech in 1992 when the House of Windsor seemed to be crashing around her, the Queen has never complained and, like millions of women of her generation, has stayed in one long marriage which by all accounts has had as many ups and downs as any other.
But she has kept up with and adapted to changing times and taken the divorces of two of her sons and her daughter in her stride. Born in the age of the typewriter, today she is compute literate, can send text messages and in the past year, since Princes Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles, has at times almost looked glamorous with a fur trim on at least one coat and jaunty hats.

M&S has had more than one annus horribilis recently but now it’s back, reporting rising profits of £750 million in the tough trading conditions in High Street and stunning the critics who prematurely anticipated its demise.
Like the Queen, M&S is well loved by the British public. Coupled with the ability and stamina to endure and survive hard times, both have held on to their core values whilst adapting to cataclysmic changes during her long reign.
As she as she approaches eighty, it somehow seems fitting that those changes are reflected at M&S.

Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2006. All Rights Reserved