IT is certainly true of the majority of women that they are happiest when they feel the work they are doing is a service to their fellowbeings. They may not put this feeling into words. It may scarcely even be a conscious idea in their heads. But there is a natural instinct in the ordinary woman to look after others–her children, her husband, her friends and neighbours who fall sick; and this instinct naturally broadens out to embrace humanity in a quite general way. Without any doubt, therefore, the happiest kinds of work for women are those which involve some kind of service towards other people.
Corsetry, in this age of mass production of merchandise, is a career involving more and more of personal service. It stands out among the many varieties of retail occupations as a job which may well be a woman's vocation as well as her means of livelihood. Because of this quality in the work, not every woman is suited to it, any more than all women could be happy or successful as nurses. Heads of retail corset departments are, for this reason, particularly careful in their choice of young assistants, and will in most cases wait before confirming an appointment until the recruit has had ample time to appreciate the nature of the work and her own degree of aptitude for it. The relation between the corset saleswoman and her customer is peculiarly intimate. The corset fitting room may sometimes take on the character of a confessional, in which the customer not only involuntarily reveals the secrets of her physical person, but also voluntarily, and sometimes with deep need of understanding and sympathy, may confide some of the anxieties and problems of her general life. Often, and quite surprisingly so to the uninitiated mind, those problems link up, through some matter of health or appearance, with corsetry!
It is on this account a first essential that the girl choosing corsetry as her career should have a great love of people and the gift of sympathy. She also needs a vast amount of tact, and endless patience. Further she must develop the kind of personality which quickly wins confidence, and must have the character to deserve it. There are other qualities also which she will need if she is to be a successful corsetière–quick intelligence to enable her to grasp a customer's requirements at a glance, a power of decision in selecting the right garments without hesitation from stock, an orderly mind capable of remembering instantly all that the stockrooms can provide, and a keen sense of fashion, so that she may help her customers to look elegant as well as feel comfortable.
If she has all these gifts, and a capacity for business organization into the bargain, a girl may look forward confidently to a post at the top of the tree, as buyer, manager of a corset department, or head of her own business. Such posts carry with them not only the kind of fulfilment which makes work–in spite of those daily irritations and fatigue experienced in every kind of employment–a constant happiness, but ensure material rewards also, in the shape of high salaries, opportunities for meeting people on all sides of the industry, manufacturing as well as selling, visits to factories, mills and warehouses, plenty of social activity, and the possibility of interesting buying trips to other countries.
Since the rewards are great in a successful corsetry career, it is fair to suggest them in a book of this kind, for every student works more zestfully if there is a good prize to be won. It is just as important, however, for the student to know that a career in corsetry also involves duties and responsibilities which are all the bigger because they may involve human well-being.
The girl who fits a customer for a foundation garment may have the making or marring of a woman's health in her hands. The right corset or brassiere can immeasurably improve health by correcting faults of posture which, if left to develop, would gradually undermine health; can immeasurably increase mental as well as physical well-being by relieving discomfort and strain. Just as easily, the wrong foundation garment may quickly and irreparably cause harm.
The conscientious fitter will never be content, therefore, to sell a corset simply because it looks all right and the customer is satisfied with it. She will realize very early in her experience that in nine cases out of ten the customer does not know exactly what is right for her, and the fitter will herself shoulder the responsibility of choosing the garment and persuading the customer to trust her judgment. She will equip herself for this responsibility by learning enough about anatomy to know when a customer is radically out of form, and what is the probable cause; to appreciate, too, if a customer is showing any tendency towards faulty posture, and whether it is due to a weakness or disability which correct corsetry could rectify. She must learn to recognize, further, when corseting is an inadequate aid and she should suggest to the customer that a doctor should be consulted. There must be few experienced corsetières who have not at some time, and probably many times over, had customers with figure problems which their experienced eyes at once appreciated were due to serious problems of health. But of course the ordinary work of the corset fitter is to deal with women whose figures are normal or with figures which, because muscles or tissue have gone flabby through overstrain, illness, or frequent childbearing, show some slight deviation from the normal that careful corsetry can correct and, in many cases, cure.
In any such case, the fundamental thing is to choose the correct type of garment and make sure that the customer is provided with the right size and fitting. Gone are the days when women were made to fit their corsets! Now the corset is made to fit the woman–fit her as she herself is when at her most correct and healthful in posture and in distribution of flesh. In modern corsetry, no attempt, is made to restrict normal bone development, as was done in Elizabethan times when young girls were put into hard steel corsets which prevented the normal growth of the chest bones. Nor does modern corsetry seek to reduce firm, healthy flesh. What it seeks to do is to support such flesh in its healthful place, which invariably also means keeping the lines of the figure at their most natural and beautiful. If the flesh has grown flabby, it can often be gathered together by the corset and redistributed in its proper place.
What the proper place is may not always be a matter of agreement between fitter and customer! Women who think they have too much of a bulge in one place or not enough in another, sometimes want a corset to deal with the trouble regardless of the bad effects it may cause in other ways. The fitter must use her own judgment and be firm! A very odd fact is that a pregnant woman will sometimes try to conceal her pregnancy from the fitter and insist that she wants a corset boned in the front. This offers a strong case for tact on the part of the fitter–but a strong case for implacability too. The saleswoman must never risk doing harm just to please the customer at the moment. Her pride in doing her work well will keep her firm, but she soon learns that appeasement is fruitless anyway, for the customer will find out sooner or later that she was badly served, and will consequently have no more faith in that fitter or in that store.
A careless fitter can, in fact, make many enemies for her store, just as a good fitter can make a host of friends. Many buyers who have spent years in their posts will tell of customers of second, third, and even fourth generations; of families who have always come to one particular fitter for their corsets and will continue to come, because they know she understands their individual requirements and they have learned to value the personal service she gives them. In such cases the corset fitter is as much in the family confidence as is the family doctor, and needless to say, to have won such a place in the regard of her customers is an inexhaustible source of happiness.
The first duty of the corset fitter and saleswoman is to her customer. That would be agreed by every fitter worthy of the name, and her general manager or managing director would back her up. Fortunately, this standard of service, which is primarily ethical, is also entirely to the practical benefit of the store in the long run, and the fitter is not faced by any problem of divided loyalty.
Good and honest service of the customer inevitably redounds to the benefit of the store. One satisfied customer will tell her satisfaction to her friends, and they may be fallow ground. Over the teacups, at the bridge table, in the shopping queue, on the golf links, women chat over such things as their figures and their corsets, and if one woman complains of a difficulty, another will be only too happy to offer advice. "Why don't you go to So-and-So's and ask for Miss Blank? I'm sure she would be able to do something for you. She always takes such an interest." Such unsolicited and genuine testimonials are worth thousands of pounds to any store. And the good fitter can win them.
The good fitter will work as an individual, and will treat each fresh consultation and sale as a matter of personal responsibility and satisfaction, but she will never for an instant lose sight of the fact that she is also a member of a team.
It is her duty to co-operate at every possible point with her management and with the other departments of her store. To increase sales is a natural aim and a healthy achievement, so long as the increase is soundly based on service and quality, and the saleswoman has a direct responsibility for her store's general prosperity. She can honour it in various ways, but above all by learning all there is to know about her job, and then doing it with all her intelligence and all her heart.
To be a corset fitter and saleswoman is physically hard work. It means being on the feet most of the day, constantly passing between the showroom and the fitting rooms, and between the fitting rooms and the stockrooms. In the fitting rooms there is more hard work in fitting the corset into place on one customer after another–though there is a knack in this which the fitter soon learns. Even harder work is it to keep pleasant and smiling and patient and friendly all day long!
But it is work which never fails in interest because it is all the time dealing with people, and people, even women buying corsets, are deeply interesting. It is varied work, because no two customers have exactly the same requirements or respond to selling technique in the same way. It is highly skilled work, for the same reason. And it is fundamentally important work, because health and happiness hang on it. Best of all, it is a thoroughly satisfying kind of job, because it gives service.
The field is extending rapidly. Very little, now, are corsets sold over the counter like gloves or stockings. Personal fitting is becoming universal.
This makes it easy for personality and ability in a saleswoman to lift the job of selling right out of the rut and develop it both as a science and as an art.