Blue and Black Striped Dress Suit from Madam Clapham (1894).

Emily McVitie was born in Cheltenham in 1865. She left school at a young age and went to Scarborough to serve as an apprentice dressmaker. Although starting with unimportant jobs, she learnt quickly and soon became a skilled dressmaker.

Emily married Haigh Clapham in 1887 and moved to Hull, where the couple bought a dressmaking studio and began producing high quality dresses to order. She adopted the moniker ‘Madame Clapham’, probably to make herself seem a little grander, and ally herself with fashionable French dressmakers. She was known as an imposing woman and was always dressed immaculately in black or navy. The business flourished and by the 1890s Madame Clapham was herself employing a number of apprentice girls.

It was important for the rich and famous ladies of the time to be in fashion and follow the strict dress codes of court and other social engagements. Madame Clapham had a gift for identifying what styles would suit clients, and attracted a clientele of high society ladies from as far afield as London. She even made dresses for Queen Maud of Norway.

The First and Second World Wars had a big impact on the business. Fashions changed, and fabric became more expensive. After 1945, the demand for made-to-measure outfits declined.

Madame Clapham died on 10th January 1952. Emily Wall, Madame Clapham’s niece and employee continued her name and the business until 1967.

-Jocelyn Anderson-Wood
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.


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