* A hobby for the housewife

This is the footnote to a discussion about the knitting boom, which I had deleted from a previous post. Basically, I made a reference to “knitting-related businesses being treated as investment opportunities rather than an amusing project to keep the wife busy.” Since the discussion was cut, the footnote was unnecessary, but this “wife” thing has now bothered me for several years. So here it is.

In the mid-90s, Ram Wools published its full-colour catalogue, but shared webspace with Gaspard & Sons, a manufacturer of academic, judicial, and religious vestments. I remember this because whenever I visited the Ram Wools website, I’d often see the splash page that announced both businesses. I figured (correctly) that the businesses were run by the same family.

When it was time for my class to order barrister’s robes, there was a tiny fair in a room at the Law Society where various tailors and manufacturers took measurements and orders. Gaspard was there, and I mentioned to the sales rep that I knew they were somehow related to Ram Wools. The fellow chuckled — a little dismissively, I thought — and said something about how the wife (not his wife, I assume he wasn’t the Gaspard) needed a hobby, and that it kept her busy. The ‘tude irked me at the time, and it bothers me still whenever I think of it.

(I didn’t buy my robes from Gaspard, but not because of that. Gaspard only sold machine washable polyester robes. I opted for the traditional wool, since I wasn’t planning to play rugby or cook three-course meals or do whatever while gowned that would necessitate frequent machine washing.)

I really do wonder which of the two businesses is turning more profit now. In your lifetime, you buy one set of robes (I suppose more than one, if they’re machine washable, but still not very many). But you never stop buying yarn.

(No, I didn’t buy robes from Gaspard, because I went with wool.)

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6 Responses to * A hobby for the housewife

  1. John Beaty says:

    It not true, unfortunately, that the business becomes profitable as a sort of inevitable end. Many of the “wife-owned” businesses (and there were MANY down here near New York City) never made a dime and when the husband decided to retire, could not sell the business because there was nothing to sell except a clientelle.

  2. j. says:

    Oops. If you posted a comment and it hasn’t shown up yet, it’s because it contained a magic word and was queued for moderation. Unfortunately I’m temporarily separated from the password I need to approve comments, so it’ll be next week before your comment shows up. Sorry!

  3. Steph says:

    Awww isn’t it nice “the wife” could make some “pin money”.


  4. susoolu says:

    Ah, the old ‘let them earn pin money’ thing. And the whole women having difficulty getting bank loans without husband, father etc. standing guarantor. I noticed, though, that Gaspard makes no mention of Rams on its website now, so she must have done something right.

    Ede & Ravenscroft has a beautiful shop, old, dusty, musty. And staff who wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you came in asking for robes for the Orion Nebula university. Being *female*, no problem.

  5. JoVE says:

    Very interesting and I suspect still a consideration for some folks when they start that sort of business. But if you are able to let your wife run a business as a recreational activity, presumably that business doesn’t suffer from the curse of many new businesses — under-capitalization. So at some point, the business becomes profitable and the perception then changes. Of course, the attitude irks me, too. But then I wrote a book with the subtitle ‘Refusing to be a Wife!’ so that’s pretty much a given.

    Wool robes are nice, though I haven’t bought any. I only ever need them for graduation processions and rented for that occasion. The main company in England for academic robes is Ede & Ravenscroft which I always thought was a good old-fashioned English name.

  6. claudia says:

    No fair. I want robes!