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Joyce Brooks Lingeries

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I can’t really remember a time when Joyce Brooks Lingerie wasn’t there in the High Street, on the right just past Tesco and Wilkinson. I should remember as it was a tobacconist owned by the Billingsley family from 1961 to 1975. Joyce herself set up the lingerie business, having worked in the department store Shires & Lances until it closed in 1975.

Joyce owned the shop until she retired in 2001 at the age of 89. She is still going strong, now 98 years old and I am sure she will enjoy reading this as she loves to hear about the shop and how it’s doing. So much so that when she came to sell, she was very keen to meet the potential new owner and make sure she continued the business. So when Pam Thomas put in her offer and assured Joyce she was the right person to take over, she was ‘approved’.

Pam (then Hughes) was born in Cheltenham and went to Christchurch Secondary Modern for Girls. She then went on to the North Glos College of Technology (now Gloscat) to take her O levels before working at GCHQ. But she soon left to get married as her husband Peter was in the army and they were posted to Singapore.

‘In those days army wives came back with a camphorwood chest and a baby’, she laughs, but in her case it was the chest and a dog! They went to live in Catterick but the poor dog, an Alsatian, had to go into quarantine for nine months because of a rabies scare and when her husband was posted to Penang, the dog stayed with her father, who ended up keeping him!

This time she did come back with a baby, Robert, and they all moved to Blandford in Dorset. When Peter left the army in 1974 they settled in Cheltenham and they’ve been here ever since. Pam worked in Principles, at the Co-op in the banking hall and at Burtons before having her second son, Christopher. When he was old enough she went to work at the Chelsea Building Society for 10 years on the front counter.

But even though she enjoyed it, she didn’t want to progress her career there. So when the shop came up for sale she bought it and the rest, as they say, is history!

Pam didn’t have a background in corsetry like Joyce, just an eye for business and a friendly way with the customers and a career that had been mainly in retail. The rest had to be learned from experience. That was OK because Pam retained Heather Harding and Kate Preece who had worked for Joyce for many years and helped in the shop. Heather is now retired but Kate is still there along with Wendy who has been there for seven years.

‘The corsetry companies run training courses,’ says Pam, ‘but you can’t beat on the job experience. The “girls” and I have attended courses and we are lucky to have had in store advice and support from e.g. Kate Wood of Eveden, which is invaluable’.

Proper fitting is crucial for every make as they all vary and a fitting takes about 15 – 20 minutes. It includes questions such as why the bra is wanted, what style is preferred (underwire or soft), is it to go with a particular outfit etc. ‘Underwear should enhance your top clothes rather than be a statement in their own right,’ says Pam.

Customers often buy more than one style of bra such as a ‘pretty’ one and a smooth T-shirt bra. Chantelle bras are very popular under t-shirts, Pam tells me, with skin tone, black and white still being the most popular, but customers are venturing more into pretty colours and prints these days.

Post-mastectomy fitting for all ages is also available as women need a good fitting bra with support after the operation.

Pam is very keen to support charities so she always keeps a ‘bra box’ where customers put their old (or new) unwanted bras. The contents are weighed and taken away by BCR Global, who weigh them and give so much to Research into Cancer.

On October 28 the shop will be taking part in a Charity Fashion Show to support the Mayor’s Charities. Pam and Maggie Levings will be producing the show to be held in the Princess Hall with the kind permission of Cheltenham Ladies College. Stores participating will include CC, Elvi, Tia Tia, Me Me Me, Cousins and Beatrice Von Tresckow. Hopefully, it will also include designs drawn from a schools ‘young designer day’. The schools will be invited to take part by designing, making and modelling an outfit in the theme of diamonds and jubilee. One winner from each school will take part in grand final at the show.

Pam and Wendy also give talks to WI groups which she says is ‘lots of fun’. It’s a PR exercise which takes them all round the county.

They are also in the process of getting involved with a calendar to benefit the Welfare Association of the Royal Marines.

The calendar will be sold all over the country and the WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends) will model. Pam will be supplying the lingerie for two of the girls.

The lingerie ranges from traditional to modern and even includes some ‘vintage’. As well as a wide range of bras and briefs, the shop also stocks nightwear in silk, cotton and cotton jersey, Pyrenean dressing gowns in wool and alpaca, swimwear by Naturana, Fashy and Fantasie, swimwear for women who have had a mastectomy by Anita and Nicola Jane, swim caps and girdles. Yes that’s right - girdles. There is apparently still a market for them!

They are also one of the only shops in the area to sell Miss Elaine floaty, glamorous, fifties styled nighties and probably the only shop in the UK to stock black directoire knickers, which sell mainly online to customers all over the world.

I ask Pam if it’s true that many women are wearing the wrong bra size. After fitting (not measuring with a tape) yes, we might for example, advise them to go down a back size and up a cup or even two, but we always make comfort our first priority when fitting. We also do our best to make the experience enjoyable so as to avoid any embarrassment, says Pam.

Last but not least, Pam collects dolls and has a few for sale in the shop.

Joyce Brooks Lingerie is located at:

293 High Street
Cheltenham
GL50 3HL.

Telephone : 01242 524706.
Email: info@joycebrookslingerie.com.

The website can be found at: www.joycebrookslingerie.com.

Opening Times: Monday to Friday - 9.30am to 5.00pm and Saturday - 10.00am to 4.00pm.