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The ‘despised trade’ in textiles: H. G. Wells, William Paine, Charles Cavers and the male draper’s life, 1870–1914This essay examines the situation of the male draper in terms of his relationships to textiles and female customers between the 1870s and the outbreak of the First World War. Drawing on accounts of shop work produced by men employed as drapers and drapers’ assistants, the essay highlights the ridicule levelled against men who sold textiles, their work with fabrics and clothing, as well as the service they provided for an almost exclusively female clientele, being widely derided as unsuitable labour for a man. One draper recorded that his was ‘a despised trade’. Through an analysis of three first-hand accounts of the draper’s lot the essay raises questions about social constructions of masculinity in relation to representations of shop work and the handling of fabrics. The essay focuses on H. G. Wells’s descriptions of his teenage years as a draper’s apprentice recorded in his Experiment in Autobiography (1934); William Paine’s political treatise, Shop Slavery and Emancipation (1912), based on the injustices he experienced as a draper’s assistant; and the diary of a Bond Street draper, Charles Cavers, posthumously published as Hades! The Ladies! Being Extracts from the Diary of a Draper (1933).