My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Perfectly suited

The very first post on this blog - A wreath of orange blossoms - raised an interesting question. I was asked if the pink and blue two-piece worn by mum (Rene Flitney) was an all over floral pattern, or a blue suit with a pink blouse. I’m not sure I can properly answer that as there are no photographs (as far as I know), but I thought it would be fun to try. 

Mum and dad were married in 1938 when, according to the University of Brighton, the desirable look for women was still slim, but more womanly and sophisticated than in the previous decade. This body shape was created through longer skirts cut on the bias and by an indented waistline and rounded bosom. This increased exposure of the body was due to sportswear’s influence on new styles, including the ‘halter-neck’ credited to the French couturier Madeleine Vionnet, which exposed arms and back.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum;  Following the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, new, more down-to-earth attitudes forced on the world offered great scope for a new simplicity. In Britain, fashion became more eclectic but also more feminine and graceful and, by 1930, the 'boyish' look had disappeared.  

Typical day wear for women consisted of a two-piece suit with sleek, fitted jacket and matching skirt or dress.  Floral designs dominated, but geometric forms were also much in evidence.

Rene Flitney aged 18
This is the only photograph I have of mum as a young woman. I'm guessing it was taken in 1935, around the time of her eighteenth birthday.

Rene Flitney 1938
This photo shows a more mature woman and the bashful look of a few years before has gone. I'm guessing it was taken around the time of the wedding in 1938.  

Considering the two photographs above, I think it fair to say a sleek fitted jacket with a matching skirt or dress in a printed fabric would have suited her very well.  

I rather like the dress and matching bolero on the right and according to one fashion critic speaking in May 1938 - boleros are being worn to refurbish or dress up last year’s ensemble. Mum, on the other hand, may well have preferred the smarter option on the left.

While looking around the Internet for inspiration I also came across this image that matches the pink and blue theme perfectly but would mum have worn it?  I'm pretty sure she would have hated the hat and bag, but the dress and jacket are quite pretty.

So what else might have influenced the bride to be in 1938?

Source Family life in Britain 1900-1950. ISBN 0316730343

When King George V died in January 1936, the romance between his eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VIII, and the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, whom he had first met in June 1931, was well-known in Royal circles. When he succeeded to the throne, the young and popular King had to choose between his lover and the crown. The major political parties and the Church of England made it clear that marrying a divorcee was out of the question. The cabinet presented the young King with an ultimatum: give up Mrs. Simpson or renounce the crown. He would choose the latter.

For the 36-year-old Duchess of York, it was an earth-shattering event which propelled her from relative obscurity to become Queen Empress, reigning, with her husband, over 600 million subjects. The new King, George VI and his Queen were crowned at Westminster Abbey on 12 May 1937. Wallis and Edward married on the 3rd June 1937. Source BBC News

Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) in 1938                    Wallis and Edward in 1937

Looking at the photographs of Queen Elizabeth and Wallis Simpson, I can’t help but wonder if mum would have chosen something far plainer than the floral affairs so far considered. Would any of these have suited?

Or this?

I don't think any of the above is quite right - but this, on the other hand, is! It’s a pink and blue, slim but womanly two-piece in the longer style, which would have looked good on Queen Elizabeth, Wallis Simpson and Rene Flitney.  Perfect…

If anyone happens to have a photograph of the actual going-away outfit, please share. I would love to compare my idea of the perfect suit to the one chosen by mum.  Comments are always welcome, so go on what do you think?  


  1. Cannot find a photo of the going away outfit, but do have a photo of mum in the knitted swimsuit just after she got out of the canal, where she used to swim every day before she got married.

    1. Hi Sue, is it the same swim suit she is wearing in the picture above? I'm sure I remember her telling me she won medals/cups for swimming, but the memory is so hazy I may well have dreamt it. Do you think the dress, and coat would be something she might have worn?

    2. Yes the same swimsuit - baggy when wet! The coat is similar to the one she wore to your godmothers wedding, so certainly a style that looked good on her. I do not remember any cups/medals, but knowing mum she would have disposed of them after a few years ( especially if they got tarnished)

    3. Hi Sue, you've just reminded me of the knitted swimming costume I used to wear. It was really heavy in the water and embarrassing when wet! I remember dad wearing knitted swimming trunks – hilarious. There might be a photo somewhere I must have a look.
      I've got a photo of my godmother's wedding, but it’s just of the bride and groom. I don’t suppose mum was wearing her going away outfit to their wedding by any chance? She did keep her things for a long time.

  2. You have done a simply marvellous job on expanding that first blue and pink statement. Any of the styles you have found would have suited your mother's slim figure. I think the styles of that era were very elegant, and very much Duchess of Windsor in their design. But it's fascinating that you found blue and pink examples in both allover designs and used separately in an outfit, quite different from the colours which are in fashion at the moment. Well done.

    1. Your comment made my day, thank you! Half way through preparing the post, I decided it was all a bit daft and almost gave up so I'm delighted to know you enjoyed it. Your original comment really made sense to me, and I’ve now decided I want to research more about the family side of things than the genealogy side, although I’m sure both will have to play a part.

  3. Your mum is wearing the exact same dress as the Queen! She certainly had style!

    1. So she is! The similarity hadn’t occurred to me. Thanks so much for coming to visit me in my new (second) blogging home! Barbara


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

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