My best friend Pam and I worked as seamstresses in Spitalfields in 1954. We were paid by garment, 9 pence for a frock and would work until 9pm some nights.
I made most of my own clothes on a treadle sewing machine at home. I knew what suited me so I never read magazines, we didn’t copy things. I would make clothes without a dress pattern, just cut into the cloth.
These 2 photos of me were taken by Pam in 1957, when I was 19, at my family home in Rickman House, Globe Rd.
She would come round to my house and we would dress up and do each other’s hair and make up. We used Max Factor or Outdoor Girl, which you could only buy in Woolworths; they did the best eye make up. Then we’d take photos, posing like the film stars we’d see in studio portraits. My uncle was the caretaker at the art school in Back Hill, Clerkenwell and he would develop the photos for me.
When we were younger teenagers me and Pam were mad for Johnnie Ray, if he was in London we would go to the hotel he was staying at just to get a glimpse of him in the flesh.
We also loved the cinema, going to the Odeon at Mile End a lot. Or the pub, but only once you were 18. After closing time we would go back to someone’s house, roll up the rug and dance. Our parents were very tolerant, they didn’t mind. We would mostly go out around Bethnal Green; if you were dating an American they would take you up to the West End.
The next year Pam and I spent the summer waitressing at the Pontins holiday camp in Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex. This photo was taken on one of our days off, we are walking to the beach. I’m in the middle wearing the sunglasses and Pam is on my right. We met the boys and other girl there.
Pam and I bought identical bikini’s so we were matching they were from a shop on Nelson St in Whitechapel.
This is me at Pam’s engagement party in 1959 I made this dress myself. Later that year I turned 21 and received my first electric sewing machine as a present.
Barbara Ruben is a seamstress who lives in East London.