This section is from "Every Woman's Encyclopaedia". Also available from Amazon: Every Woman's Encyclopaedia.
Certain rules should be rigidly observed. Soiled finery must be passed by on the other side. This includes such things as lace and tulle neckties, ruffles, artificial flowers, and smart, cheap hats and parasols. What is known, too, as a " shop-soiled " gown may be stained or faded exactly where it will show most at the time of wearing. Anything in silver or silvered should be shunned by a resident in London; for instance, that lovely stuff called silver tissue, also silver lace, braid, and embroideries. Gold tissue also is by no means a useful purchase, unless it can be made up and worn at the time. Anything bizarre or startling is not a good bargain at sale-time, as the fancy for such is usually short and evanescent.
The first and best quality in a clever shopper is imagination. When a handsome piece of silk is unrolled before you, you want to see it, not as it lies on the counter, but as it will appear when made into a blouse or a gown, and when worn by a woman of your own height, style, and colouring.
The same may be said of hats, coats, neck-wraps, parasols, and all sorts of accessories. Will they suit, not only your appearance, but your way of life, your social position, and, last but not least, your plans for the near future? Your choice at summer sales should depend on the trip you have planned for the holidays, and on whether an outfit will be wanted for yachting, for the country or Scotland, or for the Continent. And - perhaps more than all - what you buy at a sale must be chosen with extreme care to match your present possessions. Unless a possible purchase fulfils these conditions, put it down, have nothing to do with it, and, however cheap, turn away from temptation.
Another gift of the born shopper is an eye for colour. She can pick out the right shade without a moment's hesitation. But a woman who lacks this talent is apt to choose the very blue that will not go with the dress she wants it to match, or to find herself saddled with a collection of pinks and greens that entirely refuse to match with her present possessions.
Another golden rule is never to buy anything because it "may" be useful. Before you decide, make up your mind as to what you mean to do with it. Nothing is cheap merely because it is cheap; it must have a definite place in the scheme of things, or it is in no way a bargain. The woman who goes to a sale and buys haphazard anything that strikes her fancy is not a shopper - she is nothing but a waster of money. To be even fairly successful, a buyer must exercise restraint, and try to realise the value of coinage. She must not be led on from one bargain to another, only to find at the end of the day that she has spent much more than she intended. And she must keep before her one or two stern facts - namely, that nineteen-and-sixpence means a pound, and that elevenpence-three-farthings stands for one shilling.
In a clever woman's hands the summer sale means business, and is a useful institution. Now we will see how it can be turned to the best advantage. The secret of success is to have a keen eye to the future. A clever buyer looks well ahead; she is previous, and looks onwards, not only a couple of months, but well on into the autumn and winter. For immediate use much can be got that will either make a new outfit, or else furbish up old hats and costumes. At July sales there are literally miles of lace and ribbon, and thousands of gowns in cotton, linen, muslin, serge, and other materials, any of which can be bought cheaply, and come in well for one's holiday in August or early September. There are also an equal number of dainty blouses in lace, soft silk, and muslin that will not only serve one's turn now, but that would be of use in the winter for home wear at tea and for afternoon bridge-parties. There are countless hats, coats, feather boas, parasols- indeed, all the adjuncts to a well-thought-out costume. Lengths of lace and ribbon have endless uses, and good remnants of dress material make most desirable purchases. A word shall be said on the pros and cons of ready-made gowns both for day and evening. A few years ago to wear "reach-me-downs" - as they were called - was to pose as a frump of the dullest and dowdiest description. These ready-made garments were sold in one or two sizes only, and their cut and finish left much to be desired. Their material was poor, and their shape and make common and ungraceful. But things are now done with a difference. Our best shops keep several sizes, and the ready-made gown of to-day is well cut and sewn, and often copied from a first-rate Paris model. Hence a ready-made gown picked up at a summer sale may prove a useful investment.
On the other hand, some of us would rather buy our stuff and have the gown made up according to our own ideas. Smart women get their frocks at the best dressmakers, and very poor women probably make up their own purchases. But the everyday woman is confronted with the puzzle of getting her newly bought treasures made up in a clever, tasteful fashion. A first-rate dressmaker is apt to disdain what she does not herself supply; and the so-called " little " dressmaker, by her lack of taste and talent, often ruins the materials with which she has been entrusted. But there are signs that some of our best faiseurs have contrived to compromise matters with their dignity to the extent of making up stuffs which they themselves have not provided.
July is- a golden moment for laying in a stock of furs for the coming winter. The price of fur falls in February, and rises again in the early days of September, therefore the clever buyer will pick up some furry goods before the first frost sends their prices upwards.
Sable, sealskin, and chinchilla have reached a prohibitive price, and silver fox has become most costly. Skunk will be again to the fore, and musquash and mole-skin are likely to be once more in favour. Each of these can be bought at a great reduction, and in most cases the shop will store them for a customer until autumn.
From fur to lace sounds a far cry, but many valuable bits of lace can be picked up at sale-time. Hand-made lace, both English and Irish, is now sold at many shops, and pieces of precious lace can often be secured. Nothing softens and enriches a frock so well as a touch of good lace - of course, mounted over tulle or folds of soft chiffon.
July brings many other opportunities. Smart tailors and dressmakers pay high wages to their cutters and fitters, and retain these much-valued "hands" throughout the entire twelve months. As a result, some business must be done even in the dull months when London is deserted. So the tradesman of to-day sends a notice to his customers saying that he is prepared to make coats and gowns at about half the ordinary rate, but " of the same quality as usual." Hence a serge or tweed suit that often costs £14 can be secured for £9 or even less; and a cloth frock that in October would be £16, may now be annexed for £10. Similar concessions are made by smart dressmakers. In fact, there is no doubt that in late summer reduced prices are the rule at most, if not all, of our smart establishments.