Driving through Normandy, France, on our frequent shopping trips, I always called on a small roadside brocante where a charming Spanish sort of gypsy lady was in charge. There was no order to the place and I always felt like giving up one day of my holiday to help her sort it out - I found there was very little of merit downstairs but when I was allowed upstairs (very rickety) there was treasure to be found in the tottering mountains of old trunks and mildewed cardboard boxes. I was allowed to sort through them on my own and most of the stuff there was old household linen , ancient haberdashery and clothing from pre-war years. I then gathered from her that when the auctioneers cleared a house or cottage, they took away all the saleable furniture and left the rest of the chattels for her to clear at a knockdown price. So it was all very battered but cheap. There were lots of grubby shirts, worn but useful working aprons, sun bonnets, old felt hats, etc and a mass of shabby fabric flowers and feathers in dusty tissue paper. I resisted most but came across some very interesting large old shirts with immense collars. I took them downstairs and asked the provenance and as usual was told they came from the attics of a local chateau. I was told they were very expensive because the linen was so fine! but their usage unknown, maybe overalls worn by the nuns in hospital theatres over their habits?About 50 francs each (£5)! I bought the lot, of course.
A few weeks later one of my good film wardrobe clients called, looking worried - could I tell her what work-wear painters and decorators wore at the turn of the century, costumes needed urgently for a film shoot for Phantom of the Opera to be worn by the stage hands pictured decorating the opera sets. I brought out the said shirts as a solution and it turned out - oh what joy !- that these were indeed artists overalls, each one with exquisite different initials and they were probably used for an early drawing and watercolour painting group entertained at the seaside chateau. I got a few big hugs for this sensational 'treasure' find - I do know how hard these wardrobe ladies work to winkle out the required authentic stuff, so it's always a big pleasure to help. I asked if I might have one back after filming as a momento - but no! they are all held in His Lordship's private collection!