A Passion for Fashion - Madame Clapham Revisited

The Clientele

Madame Clapham's heyday was from the 1890s until the outbreak of the First World War. It was Emily Clapham’s intention to attract the rich and fashionable families of the East Riding, but also customers from much further afield.


The business expanded in 1891 with the addition of No 2 Kingston Square and No 3 was added later. Each season Madame Clapham would travel to York, Harrogate, Grimsby and London and take rooms in hotels, so that local ladies could make appointments with her to view and order her latest creations. She even visited Sandringham to meet Queen Maud of Norway, who wore many Clapham creations in the 1920s and 1930s. One of her most famous local clients was Miss Muriel Wilson, from the Wilson family of shipping magnates.


When she first started her business, fabric for each order was purchased locally when it was required, yet the salon was designed to create an atmosphere of exclusivity, to impress the potential clients. Madame Clapham had a talent for selecting the right colour, cut and trimmings to suit each client. At the first fitting, exact measurements of ladies' figures were taken, in order to create a dummy, which was formed out of seven pieces of leno, a stiff cotton gauze.  


Clients attracted to the Clapham label included Lady Duff Cooper, the Duchess of Norfolk, and Baroness Beaumont. Lady Ida Sitwell and other society ladies ordered costume from Madame Clapham to wear in tableaux, a ‘living picture’, presented at a charity event at the Londesborough Theatre, Scarborough. 

The tableaux was a representation of Tennyson’s poem 'Elaine', with 'a pure white robe of crepe-de-chine to be worn by the Countess of Londesborough'. Lady Ida Sitwell was to wear 'a truly regal crown of gold scintillating with jewels, and a quaint flat girdle, stiff with coloured stones'.*

Unlike other local dressmakers, Madame Clapham was able to compete with the top London fashion houses. Gowns created in Kingston Square were worn by leading society ladies in London and Madame Clapham received many orders for dresses suitable for visitors to the royal court. From 1901 she advertised herself as ‘Court Dressmaker’, which added to her prestige. 


*Quoted from Tyler, Jayne; Parsons, Clare; 1999 Madame Clapham; Hull’s Celebrated Dressmaker. Kingston upon Hull City Museums and Art Gallery.

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