The question based on the rise of the department stores, and the reasons as to why fashion is seen to be of interest of women was choosen because it interested me the most, and I am intrigued to find out the answers through research.
Shopping and fashion have been considered mainly an interest to women, because of the different status that men and women have. Men went out to work, to earn the money and the women portrayed the wealth of the family by keeping up to date on the latest fashions trends. Not having many responsibilities outside of the home, women had a lot of time on their hands and when the department stores were introduced into the big cities, these took up a large chunk of the women's time, and this started off the idea of fashion being mainly of interest to women, purely because men didn't have the time to shop and work at the same time. Unlike today, department stores didn't just sell products, they contained entertainment to occupy the consumers. The department stores contained things such as, women waiting rooms, ice rinks, and amazing architecture that took the resemblance of a church or somewhere of a religious status.
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By using quotes and analysing them, I will be able to answer the question, and learn about the subject.
"As a major benefactor and distributor of the fruits of prosperity, it became the nation's leading retailer in the late 19th century, supplying in-expensively the basic material needs of a growing country" (Whitaker, 2006:1)
This quote gives me a direct insight into the rise of the department store and the reasoning for it. As the populations of countries increased dramatically, due to immigration, these people needed to be supported, with housing and home and fashion supplies. With the influx of immigrants moving to the cities they needed jobs and houses. Many of the Department stores housed the workers, making the department stores a perfect place to work. The new department stores that were being built created more jobs to people in the cities, and this meant that there was more disposable income in families, as more people were able to work as there were more jobs available. This meant that more could be more money spent on fashion and other items, resulting in increasing the profits of the department stores. With the increase of jobs in the department stores, this caused people from the countries to migrate to the cities this resulted in more department stores needing to be built to accommodate for the fast-growing populations of the cities. The department store was an innovative idea to support the ever-growing population of the cities by selling a range of products and clothing. The ability to bring new and exciting products at lower cost to what was usually expected meant that the Department store became very popular. The department stores would sell various products from different parts of the world. Customers wouldn't just come to the stores to buy products and spend money; many people would visit to get cultural experience that they could only ever dream of having. The Department stores bought all their products in bulk this meant that they could sell their products at a much cheaper price and therefore it widened the target market, and this resulted in shopping no longer being something for people with a higher economic status. The Department store was a place for the lower classes to escape from reality, and for the day dream of being someone of higher class. With no obligation to buy and the price tags on products, there was no embarrassment if someone could not afford a product, because the price was displayed, and therefore this attracted more customers. The department stores lured customers in with sales and special offers that small stores could not do themselves. The smaller independent stores couldn't keep up with the department stores resulting in them closing down or being bought out by the department stores, resulting in the rise of the Department store clientele.
Another reason from department stores being so popular with the females was that it was one of the few places that they could go and be free from men. Here they were able to socialise and spend the whole day with fellow females, without having to be chaperoned by a male. The only other place where this was authorised was a church or a place with religious status.
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"And there in this chapel built for the worship of women's beauty and the grace were clothes" (Zola.1995:6)
Fig 1: The atrium of the Wertheim store on Leipziger Platz, c. 1900.This is quote from a 'lady's paradise' compares the Department store to something of a religious status. Shopping became almost like a new religion, people didn't feel guilt about not going to church, and going to the department stores instead, because of the church like atmosphere that the department stores created. As you can see from figure 1, this department store has the characteristics of a church, with the high ceilings and the god like statue in the centre of the floor, it is understandable why people would go to the department stores to gaze on the exquisite detail and beautiful architecture. This makes me wonder that maybe comparison to a religious place was in fact deliberate, and instead of going to a church to worship, the new worship would be that of clothes and beautiful new products.
Fig 2: 1933, Museum of the city, New York.The department stores gave the illusion that everything that they were selling was something of importance, just by the way that the products were set out. Clothes on mannequins were set up behind glass cabinets. This created a false sense of the products behind the glass cabinets locked away were something of greater importance than the items exhibited on the shop floor. This made the desire, or need for the products even stronger. By locking the products up and only viewing them through glass- similar to that of museum articles, as evidenced in figure 2- tricked the consumer into believing that by buying the products that were being sold, they too would take on the important status that the department stores had falsely created. Department stores could also in a way be compared to Museums, purely because of the products that were being sold at the stores, and the set up and layout of the products. Visiting museums was once a thing to do, but with the exciting department stores selling products that only the upper class citizen can afford, these department stores became the new museums and days out for the lower class. img005.jpg
People didn't want to go to church every Sunday when they have the opportunity to browse clothes, and objects of new culture. Department stores would house fabrics and items from all over the world that only someone of higher wealth would ordinarily have the opportunity to view. This gave the occasion for people with lower wealth and social status to indulge in the wonders of the world at no cost, or obligation to purchase.
Churches were thought of these safe and important places to attend, and the architecture of the department stored started to pursue an air of importance. . The department stores became almost like sanctuaries for women of all classes. Apart from the church they were the one place deemed to be expectable for a woman to go out without an escort, and, and here they could spend all day with other females and not worry about men. The department stores then started to become a regular meeting point and day out for women.
"Whilst servants continued to carry, out most of the households everyday 'marketing', all of the myriad items required for the running of the home, and an equal number of unnecessary trifles, were increasingly chosen by the lady of the house. As a result, she was more likely to find that more and more of her time was taken up with shopping" (Calloway.1996:1)
This quote gives me an insight into the reasons as to why shopping is seen as a women's interest. The status of a family was also shown through the aesthetics of the home, which of course was funded by the husband who went out to work the running of the household. This resulted in looking after the children and the home being left to the woman of the household; this included the aesthetics of the home. Now that almost everything can be bought in one place; the department stores, the women would use the opportunity to buy for the home as a day out in the department store. The roles within the household were shifting dramatically because the lady of the house hold was choosing of her own accord to hold more responsibilities when the appearance of the house came to consideration. Even though servants were still employed to clean and preserve the up keep of the house, they weren't as significant as before because the lady of the household was choosing to take more responsibilities; beginning to assert her independence. Families originally attended church on a weekly basis, but as the department store took over the trend, and the household responsibilities were being occupied by the lady of the house, attending the department stores became more of a hobby for the women, and the department store visits quite rapidly replaced the weekly church visits. Not only was the aesthetics of the home distinguish the social status of the family, the women were expected to oblige to a certain social standing famed by her appearance. This resulted in the lady of the house attending regular visits to the department stores to obtain the latest fashions and keep her look up-to date. Women became almost like 'trophy wives' showing off the social status, wealth and the family name. This became more of a hobby for women as it became fashionable to be a 'kept' woman.
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Through my findings, I believe that in the early 1900s, the position of the sex's were very different. The men went out to work to earn the money, while the women stayed at home to look after the children and the house. Because it was the men's job to earn the money, the women were expected to look a certain way. This was to distinguish the status of the family, and the income of the family name, women then became almost like 'trophy wives'
The main way to create the desired look of class was through clothing. This became more of a hobby for the women to look good as it became fashionable to be a 'kept woman'.
This could be the reason as to why to this day shopping and grooming is seen to be a more feminine thing to do.
I believe that this statement is no longer true, as men and women are more equal in their status, and earnings, therefore men need to distinguish their own status, and I believe they do this through clothing, also more things are acceptable in today's society.
The reason for the rise of the department stores was due to the ability to entice customers with the cheaper products, and the entertainment value. By enticing customers into buying in the department stores, they could then afford to expand their range of products, which then further enticed new costumers, causing and uphill spiral of consumption.
Now days the internet and cheap clothing shops play a massive part in the development of the fashion industry- everybody can now afford to participate in fashion, due to the price ranges.