Rossiters of Paignton

I acquired this dress about 15 years ago from a theatre costume department in Toronto. It isn’t in perfect shape but I like the brocade pattern, and the style is classic 50s. The English dress is labelled Rossiters of Paignton, and I found a lot of history about the store.

Opened in 1858 by two seamstress sisters, Jane and Sarah Rossiter, the store in Winner Street was a “general drapery business of well-assorted goods”, according to early advertisements. The shop began to really succeed after the town got a train connection in the late 1860s. Fashionable Victorians were flocking to Paignton as a seaside resort where they believed seawater bathing could cure a variety of ailments.

In 1888 the store moved to Palace Avenue where it expanded into neighbouring shops over the years until it became a department store of men’s, women’s, and children’s fashions. Business for the company began to soften in the 1950s as nearby Plymouth and Exeter were rebuilt after the war with new shopping centres. 

According to an interview with fourth generation Nigel Rossiter in 2009, the store was believed to be an inspiration for writers David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd. They had summered in Paignton the summer of 1971 when they wrote the script for the television series Are You Being Served? which debuted in 1972.

Brands and online shopping took its toll on Rossiters. The final straw was the economic downturn of 2008. After celebrating their sesquicentennial (150th year in business), the shop closed on January 31, 2009.

A view of Rossiters from the 1950s

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to Rossiters of Paignton

  1. Daniel Milford-Cottam says:

    Almost on my doorstep! (Exeter boy here).

    I wonder whether the design of this dress represents a trickle-down from a 1953 Dior collection which had similar dot-and-scallop prints. The date would be about right to allow for the trickling down/design simplifications as the design progressed from couture to ready-to-wear.

    http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O34656/mexico-evening-dress-cocktail-dress-dior-christian/

    • Jonathan says:

      There is another dress by Dior that uses a similar pattern, in fact that is what caused me to look at this dress again. The fabrics might be from the same textile manufacturer, which would mean this dress uses French material (because Dior used only French fabrics in the 50s).

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