Written by Sophie Scott

In The News

The right darn decision

News that high street giant John Lewis has changed its plan to downgrade its haberdashery department is a huge relief to Sophie Scott.

assorted buttons
There are very few practical or emotional problems in my life that I have not solved, or at least tried to solve, via a John Lewis haberdashery department.

This is partly emotional: When I was a child it was a huge deal to visit London, go to John Lewis with my mum and have her select great bolts of cloth, which were then measured out and cut and wrapped, and from which she’d conjure up clothes.

I cannot sew with any of her skill, but I get great satisfaction from stocking up my needlework box from John Lewis, and mending/making things at home. And it’s great for practical problems as you can pretty much always get what you want there.

Sophie's son nails the Dr Holtzmann look, thanks to some John Lewis piping.

Sophie’s son nails the Dr Holtzmann look with the help of some John Lewis piping.

My son has extremely specific fancy dress requirements and I can march in looking for something to make a reasonable attempt at a Dr Jillian Holtzmann costume (specifically the piping and the Ghostbusters badge) and know I will get something there.

I love the conversations you can have in haberdashery. Where else can I have a detailed discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of different weights of iron-on canvas fabric liners?

Indeed, when my PhD student Sophie Meekings needed to solve the problem of sound leaking from the headphones people were wearing in one of her experiments, she went straight to John Lewis to source materials. Turns out, the soundproofing properties of bra pads are pretty poor, but that’s not the point.

A trip to John Lewis’s haberdashery department is a journey into the centre of a Venn diagram of properly nerdy interests and interests which are culturally associated with women.

Like many women, very little of my life resembles my mum’s life: by the time she was my age (nearly 50) she was a mother to three adults, and her career really took off round the time I left home*, whereas my son is 10, and I was made a professor just before he was born (literally, just days before).
*COINCIDENCE? I think not.

A visit to haberdashery is one of the few concrete links that I can make from my life to hers and I know it sounds stupid, but I can go there and feel like I’m carrying on a tradition that I can trace back, through her to my grandmother and beyond. My partner can put on overalls and mend something and feel like his dad, and I can grab my sewing box and make something and feel like my mum.

Haberdashery has always been a special kind of geeky lady heaven and geeky ladies are able to enjoy prosecco bars (the replacement that had been proposed) as much as any other person. Thankfully, John Lewis has rightly realised they might not have been coming to its stores at all if they’d taken away the buttons and wool.


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Written by Sophie Scott

I am a cognitive neuroscientist at UCL, and I study brains, voices, speaking and laughing. In my spare time I try to turn theory into practice with science based stand up comedy. @sophiescott