Learning to Buy

Learning to Buy

The Culture of Consumption

Indifference curves are easily understood when they describe two items that can be substituted for each other; in the examples, corn and beans are both vegetables in the general category of food, theater and bridge both offer recreation. Expenditure data show that consumers do shift choices within such general categories. The shape of the curve traces the extent to which the consumer finds the two products substitutable; since this is a separate decision for each individual, indifference curves may vary in shape from person to person. They depend on the consumer’s individual tastes and preferences.

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Evolution of the Department Store

The controlled type of center, especially the larger ones, holds for its tenants a number of advantages. Some of these are obvious from the foregoing description of characteristics and reasons for growth. One is the convenience of adequate free parking. A second consists of the balanced shopping attraction which affords the consumer an opportunity for a one-stop buying expedition. Third, the uniform architectural treatment is generally attractive. Fourth, all stores located in such centers are, at this early stage of development, newer and more modern than those located in competitive types of locations. Fifth, individual stores benefit from aggressive promotion of the center as a whole, at least in contrast with more limited community efforts typically associated with unplanned business districts.

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1900’s Women: Fashionable Playhouses

The small, luxuriously appointed theatres where reserved seats ranged in price from one to three dollars had become the home of a relatively exclusive amusement. Every city had its fashionable playhouses. Writing of New York, Henry Collins Brown speaks of the friendly social atmosphere of Wallack’s, Daly’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, the Madison Square (“most exquisite theatre in all the world”), and the Union Square. In Chicago there were McVicker’s and Hooley’s; Boston offered the Museum and the old Boston Theatre.

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Luxury and Severity: Underwear and Outwear

Roller-skating had been introduced by James L. Plimpton in 1863, and New York’s social leaders, hoping it could be restricted to “the educated and refined classes,” quickly made it fashionable. Their Roller Skating Association leased the Atlantic House in Newport and made over its dining-hall and piazza into a skatingrink. It held weekly assemblies where such distinguished guests as General Sherman and Chief Justice Bigelow watched “tastefully dressed young men and girls, sailing, swimming, floating through the mazes of the march, as if impelled by magic power.”

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Poirot and Avant-Garde Fashion

Paul Poiret was the leading Paris designer from 1908 to World War 1. Possibly influenced by the ideas of the German dress reform movement, he designed loose, straight coats cut !ike kimonos and straight, often high-waisted dresses which hung from the shoulders.

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Poiret and Avant-Garde Fashion

Poiret and Avant-Garde Fashion

Paul Poiret was the leading Paris designer from 1908 to World War 1. Possibly influenced by the ideas of the German dress reform movement, he designed loose, straight coats cut !ike kimonos and straight, often high-waisted dresses which hung from the shoulders.

He claimed to have made women· throw away their corsets, but Vionnet and other designers have alsa taken credit for the ending of the tight-laced silhouette. (In fact, women continued to wear boned corsets until well after World War II.)

Poiret was influenced by the fashion for oriental colors and styles, and also by the Ballets Russes, Diaghilev’s dance company, which took Paris by storm with their exotic productions. These included vibrant backcloth and costume designs by Leon Bakst and Jose Maria Sert, and unfamiliar “modem” music and choreography.

Poiret himself minimized the significance of Bakst’ s influence on his work, but few believed this daim. He achieved his greatest fame with his “hobble skirts” of 1911, which brought public outcry and even Papal denundation. He used striking, even violent color combinations and his reds, violets, orange, rose and turquoise moved radically away from the pastel prettiness of more conventional Belle Epoque tints and equal1y from the half tones and “off” colors of the Liberty style. Poiret’s designs were beautifully illustrated by Paul Iribe and Georges Lepape. He was a great publicist for his designs, and established a training school for young women in which they could leam the art of dressmaking.

Next Page: The Press and the City Life

1900’s Women: Fashionable Playhouses

1900's Women: Fashionable Playhouses

The small, luxuriously appointed theatres where reserved seats ranged in price from one to three dollars had become the home of a relatively exclusive amusement. Every city had its fashionable playhouses. Writing of New York, Henry Collins Brown speaks of the friendly social atmosphere of Wallack’s, Daly’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, the Madison Square (“most exquisite theatre in all the world”), and the Union Square. In Chicago there were McVicker’s and Hooley’s; Boston offered the Museum and the old Boston Theatre.

These houses appealed to the carriage trade. Here, in a new elegance of surroundings-the pit had become the parquet with sloping floor; upholstered plush seats were furnished throughout; steam heat (the Lyceum also had “medicated air, charged with ozone”) had replaced the foyer stove; and the new electric lights were being installed -the world of fashion could enjoy the play in a quiet and comfortable atmosphere far removed from the democratic hurlyburly of mid-century.

The productions at these theatres generally centered about some starred actor or actress, although a few able stock companies still survived, and they often achieved long-sustained runs comparable to those of today’s popular plays. With the great expansion of popular entertainment for the masses, it had become not only possible but also necessary for managers of the better theatres to pay more attention to the cultural standards of their comparatively limited and sophisticated audience. There were revivals of Shakespeare and other classic writers; wellstaged productions of serious contemporary drama, both American and foreign; and comedies and light operas which bore little resemblance to the blood-and-thunder melodrama and questionable burlesque that ruled at the people’s theatres.

Contemporary critics often failed to realize that the divorcing of popular entertainment from the legitimate stage rivaled development of the star system as the outstanding feature of theatrical history in the second half of the century. Forgetting the slapstick and circus stunts with which it had been so heavily cluttered, they looked back nostalgically to the theatre of an earlier day and remembered only Shakespeare. They could not understand how a public which had once seemed to enjoy the drama so much had shifted its allegiance to vaudeville and burlesque.

Deciding it had degenerated into “vulgarians,” they damned the producers for their “practical, shopkeeping cultivation of this popular appetite.” They often seemed totally unaware that vaudeville’s assumption of the task of entertaining the million, which the theatre itself had once borne, was actually affording the legitimate stage far greater opportunity for the development of the drama than it had ever had before in the democratic society of America.

In time they looked back upon this period, as dramatic critics are so wont to do, with entirely different eyes. In retrospect the actors and actresses who supported the legitimate stage, even the plays produced at the more fashionable playhouses, took on Olympian stature. The years between 1870 and 1890 were said in many critical memoirs to stand out as the theatre’s golden age. The last decade of the century fell under something of a cloud. The rise of a theatrical trust, dominated by a group of managers who appeared to be deserting the ways of Wallack and Daly, threatened to impose a monopolistic control which considered only the box-office. But even in those days there could be no real question that dramatic standards were far higher than in mid-century.

The “flapper” of the 1920s has long been considered the symbol for women’s emancipation in the 20th century. In feet the freedom of manners and morals that she represented had begun to erode the old, stiff codes and conventions well before World War 1. By the Iate 19th century middle-class and respectable working-class women were to be seen unchaperoned in city streets.

One reason was that many more young women were now employed in offices, shops and department stores, while these department stores themselves – temples of 19th-century commercewere places in which leisured women might wander alone or with their friends. Their refreshment rooms and eloakrooms, and sometimes even reading rooms and libraries, were social havens that even unaccompanied women could frequent without damaging their reputations.

One result of the growth of cities was the advance of fashion as a popular pursuit. Anonymity in the crowd was one new result of urbanization, and fashionable elothes provided an opportunity for people to express themselves in their daily business. The enormously increased demand for smart apparel at a reasonable cost found a solution in the mass production of fashionable garments.

The mass production of elothes had begun with the making of uniforms in the early 19th century, but this had been extended well before 1900 as the independence and consumerism of city life fostered the growing appetite for fashionability. The faetory process was first extended, in the 1830s and 1840s, to urban daywear for men – young elerks and shop assistants in London and other large cities whose pretensions to style were made possible by readymade outfits.

It was between 1890 and 1910, however, that the mass production of fashionable clothing really took off. Blouses or shirtwaists and petticoats began to be made in bulk. Department stores sold ready-made women’s suits, dresses and coats, which could be altered slightly for each customer, echoing the moves towards standardization and produet variation pioneered in other areas of mass-market manufacture, such as furniture.

The great cities of the industrial world gradually took on a different air. Although the gu1f between rich and poor remained, and although a whole underelass of the very poor stili barely had elothes enough to keep them warm, women and men from the lower and upper middle elasses now dominated city pavements, and among the vast urban masses elothes became as much an index of persona1ity and of purpose as of simple social status.

Dress in the city street was a performance, a subtle indicator of calling or leisure activities, hinting at sexual proclivities as much as at rank, and symboIizing countless allegiances. For men as well as women, to dress in fasruon was to make a statement about yourseli and your aspirations.

At the beginning of the 20th century women’s clothing was changing more rapidly than men’s. The growth in popularity of women’ s sports partieularly tennis and bicycling – meant that women were no longer quite so rigidly confined within the tight, voluminous garments that they had been wearing since the 1820s. Initially women laced themselves tightly even when running about the sportsfield; the bicyele at last made bloomers, or breeches, acceptable for women – if still rather “fast”, or daring. A fashion for exercise, dance and calisthenics indicated the evolution of a new attitude toward the body.

Women’s exploits at hockey and cricket, on the bicycle and at the wheel of that most glamorous of fasruon accessories, the motor car, inaugurated a new ideal of beauty that was soan to become dominant: the youthful, hssom, boyish woman. By the second decade of the 20th century her hair might well be bobbed (cut short), while long, loose elathes had replaced the hourglass figure.

Next Page: Luxury and Severity – Underwear and Outwear

Evolution of the Department Store

Evolution of the Department Store

The controlled type of center, especially the larger ones, holds for its tenants a number of advantages. Some of these are obvious from the foregoing description of characteristics and reasons for growth. One is the convenience of adequate free parking. A second consists of the balanced shopping attraction which affords the consumer an opportunity for a one-stop buying expedition. Third, the uniform architectural treatment is generally attractive. Fourth, all stores located in such centers are, at this early stage of development, newer and more modern than those located in competitive types of locations. Fifth, individual stores benefit from aggressive promotion of the center as a whole, at least in contrast with more limited community efforts typically associated with unplanned business districts.

Sixth, most planned shopping centers provide a greater number of night openings, which has been especially attractive from the standpoint of family shopping. The department stores estabIished in the second half of the 19th century – Bon Marche in Paris, Macy’s in New York, and Derry and Toms, Whiteleys, and Harvey Nichols in London – were joined, at about the tum of the century, by multi-branch retailing firrns appealing to the lower end of the market, such as John Jacobs’ furniture stores in England. American department stores appealed to as wide a market as possible through dramatic visual means. Interior spaces expanded and large shop windows were introduced to show off the new products to their best advantage. Electric lighting increased their visual appeal.

The idea was pioneered in 1877 by John Wanamaker who persuaded Thomas Edison to instali electricity in his store. The techniques of window dressing were also refined. In the United States, where there were large distances between urban centers, the mail-order catalog became a vital means whereby the rural population could acquire goods that they would not otherwise have been abIe to buy. Montgomery Ward pioneered the concept, producing a single-sheet catalog in 1872. Three years later the catalog had nearly four thousand items listed in it. Sears foliowed suit, producing his first catalog in 1891 and moving on to become, with Roebuck, the largest mail-order company in the 20th century. They offered goods as diverse as agricultural machinery, applied art products, dothing and other utility goods. By 1900 electrical appliances had joined these earlier items.

Promotional gimmicks and giveaways, when properly merchandised, attract customers and achieve permanent sales increases. The success of such gimmicks is measured in terms of the permanent weekly sales increase resulting from the project.

Gimmicks must be selected with the store clientele in mind or the promotion may prove ineffective. An operator in a new housing development used full-length mirrors on a tape plan giveaway. The new owners there were eager to get extra full-length mirrors. In an established area the promotion would have been of little value.

The most direct way of making goods desirable was by modifying their appearance. Britain had gone a long way toward making the products of the traditional “art” industries available to the mass market through improved production techniques and distribution methods, but it was in the United States that the first consumer machines – automobiles, sewing machines, typewriters and domestic appliances – were made generaliy available.

The relationship between mass production and mass consumption was crucial in these years. High capital investment in a product meant that it had to seli in vast numbers to justify its initial costs and as a result marketing, advertising and design became increasingIy important. However, the one product that dominated mass production and consumption in the first decades of the 20th century – the automobile – did not rely on “art” input to appeal to the mass market.

Henry Ford’s formula for mass production was based on product standardization; hence his famous statement that his cars were available in any color – providing it was black. The appeal of the Model T Ford lay Iess in its appearance than in its low price. Ford also used advertising and other marketing techniques to increase sales. Continuity of shopping is stimulated by requiring customers to accumulate special tapes, such as green sales tapes used only during the promotion, to a specified total. A premium for the customer equaling one or two per cent of the total purchase during the promotion is usual.

Next Page: 1900’s Women – Fashionable Playhouses

Buying Credit System

Buying Credit System

One of the reasons why Britain was so interested in free trade and the growth of world commerce was that she had become a creditor nation. When Alexander Hamilton sought a loan abroad for the United States, he turned to the Netherlands, the only nation at that time from which loans could be obtained. By 1815, the financial capital of the world was London, not Amsterdam. Since the days of the Commonwealth, the British had been steadily accumulating capital from trade.

Increased agricultural production, trafficking in loans with the home government, and marine insurance added to British capital. Because capital chooses to operate from a safe place, such enterprising and international financiers as Alexander Baring and Nathan Rothschild had been attracted to London during the wars. These immigrants were of considerable value in mobilizing Britain’s increasing capital resources. The Barings floated loans to pay French reparations and occupation costs at the close of the wars, and the Rothschilds financed the acquisition of the Suez Canal for Britain.

To purchase increasing amounts of equipment and larger and varied amounts of supplies of raw materials and to pay for the services of foreign experts and technicians, newly settled and developing areas needed foreign loans and ownership investments by foreign capitalists. During the century 1815 to 1914, millions of British pounds were loaned abroad to promote land settlement; to develop mining; and to build railroads, factories, public utilities, roads, canals, and docks. Sooner or later, these credit transactions were translated into movements of goods between countries, and, as the principal source of supply for manufactured goods and the world’s carrier, Britain benefited.

By the Iate 19th century manufacturers were addressing a sizable fashion-conscious mass market that included members of the working classes. The guarantee of taste ar status was still connected with the visible presence of “art” in a product. This was a period of rampant estheticization in which alýnost any and every consumer product – in particular those that fell into the category of the traditional decorative or appIied arts – could be seen to have an “artistic” content.

This led to an extensive use of surface ornamentation that seemed to guarantee allegiance to the world of style for a market that was unfamiliar with fine art. The great vogue for “art furniture” and “art pottery” in the 1880s and 1890s produced not only a spate of expensive, exclusive items designed for a middle-class market by such craftsmen as William de Morgan and E.W. Godwin, but also countless ranges of cheaper, mass-produced “art goods”. The dissemination of goods to a mass market depended on mare than the efforts of manufacturers and designers to inject style into products.

lt also required a whole network of activities and institutions. These included changes in production methods so that more goods could be manufadýned; the development of new kinds of retailing outlets; and the expansion of advertising and activities to promote sales.

The introduction of a credit system of buying which was initiated by the Singer Sewing Machine Company in the United States in the 1860s, and adopted some decades later by the manufacturers of furniture and electrical appliances in Europe and the United States, also went a long way toward making more goods available to more people.

Next Page: Evolution of the Department Store