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Meet Canberra’s Ladies in Black

Ashleigh Went

Department stores have always been synonymous with glamour, sophistication and luxury.

For many of the ladies of Canberra, David Jones has been such a destination. It’s the backdrop for many of our first memories of fashion, and for a time, one of the only sources of luxury fashion labels.

My own mother once declared that she would one day like her ashes thrown in a David Jones shopping bag with a small hole in the bottom, to be circulated on the escalators between homewares and ladies fashion—such is the allure of the Australian fashion institution.

The ever-present David Jones ladies in their classic black were (and still are) elegance personified—standing behind the sparkling countertops of the cosmetic departments or alongside racks after rack of new season fashion as gatekeepers to a world of luxury.

Perhaps inspired by such women, Madeleine St John penned the 1993 Australian classic The Women in Black, which tells the story of the summer of 1959 in the lives of the ladies of F.G. Goode’s, a prominent Sydney department store. The women work behind the counters of the Ladies’ Cocktail Frocks, where the fine ladies of Sydney would purchase the Latest London Modes.

“Up here, all was luxe, calme et volupte, with nice pink lights and pink-tinted mirrors which made you look just lovely, and the thick grey silence underfoot of finest Axminster.”

 If you long for the days of such glamour you’ll want to make sure you see Ladies in Black when it comes to Canberra Theatre Centre from 27 March.

The production is adapted from St John’s novel by Carolyn Burns, directed by Simon Phillips, with the addition of tunes by Tim Finn and costumes by Gabriela Tylesova.

Having recently read the book and living in anticipation for the musical adaptation, I had to wonder – what are the stories behind Canberra’s Ladies in Black?

With over 140 year’s collective experience across David Jones Canberra Centre and David Jones Woden, we are honoured to introduce Canberra’s very own Ladies in Black.



David Jones employee for 19 years

“It’s a good place to work. What do I like the most about it? When I first started it was like a big family. You really feel very proud to get up in the morning and go to work for David Jones”

“When I was working for Shiseido for eight years, I loved it, because the customers were very thoughtful, they were very kind. I thoroughly enjoyed serving them.”



David Jones employee for 41 years

“I’ve met some lovely people as staff, and I’ve met some lovely people as customers.”

“I actually met my best friend there in 1974 and we’re still best friends today. The nice people that I worked with,—the ambience—it was just what I needed at that time. It became a way of life”

“I hadn’t worked for 12 years, but I had a baby in 1973 and she passed away after two days. It was a really difficult situation. I found myself the next year needing to do something, to get out of the house. David Jones was somewhere that I’d never shopped because we lived in Yass originally. I just loved it, right from the beginning.



David Jones Employee for 25 years

“I was at the Civic store with another Estee Lauder girl to do makeovers for a fashion function in the evening. A customer came up, glass of champagne in hand, and said to all the customers crowding around, ‘these are the girls from the Woden store, that’s the best store—they’re always so lovely and helpful over there’, and we both beamed with pride. That was nearly 25 years ago, and she was in store yesterday and said hello to me.”

“I’ve formed a really lovely friendship with one customer. She was probably 40 years older than me. We became good friend and she left her 60th wedding anniversary present ring to me in her will. It was a beautiful moment.”



David Jones employee for 28 years

“As a child, it was always a big deal to go into David Jones. It was just a special place, and I knew I was always going to end up working there because I thought it was so beautiful, a sophisticated and stylish store. I still find it special. I still like walking into the store.”

“I work in cosmetics and when I look around at all the girls I work with, half of them look like models. They’re so effortlessly beautiful. They know beauty. They know what makes you look good. I don’t think we’ve lost our glamorous side, especially not in cosmetics.”



David Jones employee for 14 years

“There’s been so many memorable moments! As a worker there, going back years ago—maybe 2004 to 2008—it was a time when retail was really booming. Our counters were really manned. You would never have less than say, three people on Lancome, Estee Lauder and Clinique and such. You had quite a huge mix of full-time women and girls. Some of them had been there for 25 years and oh my word they were absolute screams!”

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David Jones employee for 14 years

“All my managers have been fabulous. The staff are good, I have a great clientele, because I’ve been there for so long and been a bra fitter, they always want to come back to you. I just really enjoy my work, even though I’m getting old”

“My most memorable moment was receiving my merit pin. You get that after meeting criteria with David Jones with constant sales for the year and that kind of thing. They give one pin to one employee per year in the store, and I was lucky enough that particular year to get one.”

For your chance to win one of five double passes to Ladies in Black, visit the Canberra Theatre Centre website and tell us in 25 words or less about your most memorable experience in a department store.

Get frocked up for the most alluring number of the season – Ladies in Black is showing at the Canberra Theatre Centre from 27 March to 2 April. 

the essentials

What: Ladies in BlackWhere: Canberra Theatre Centre
When: Monday 27 March to Sunday 2 April 2017
Tickets: $69 to $99*, purchase them here
Web: canberratheatrecentre.com.au/show/ladies-in-black

*$4.95 transaction fee applies per transaction

All photography by Martin Ollman

This is a sponsored editorial. For more information about sponsored editorials, click here


Ashleigh Went

HerCanberra ACTIVE Editor Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. As someone who loves champagne and cheese almost as she loves a sweaty workout, she's all about living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. She can usually be found with her nose in a book, planning her next adventure, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue. More about the Author

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