Abstracts - for Consumption and Commodities, 14.00-15.30, 15 May 2013

Retailing, Shopping and Gender: Historical Approaches

Elin Jones, Queen Mary, University of London

I..shall compleat myself with everything I want’: Naval men and masculine consumerism, 1758 – 1815

In the opening months of 1810, the man who would become Admiral Henry Jenkinson wrote to his mother, informing her that whilst his ship the Clyde was in port he intended to ‘compleat’ himself with everything which he deemed to befit an aspiring officer of the Royal Navy. Indeed, Jenkinson’s letters home during the period 1808 – 1814 demonstrate an acute sense of the material objects he felt he needed, as well as an evident knowledge of the value of objects; his comment that ‘My new Worsted stockings are not worth two pence’ sits alongside many of the same ilk.

Through my current research in to masculinity and material culture in the Royal Navy during the period 1758 – 1815, I have discovered that Jenkinson was not alone in his mastering the realm of consumer goods. Receipts and inventories of many naval officers depict almost frantic bursts of shopping and consumer behaviour in their attempt to ‘fit out’ for a voyage. These episodes of shopping involved the consumption of a smorgasbord of products, including silk scarves, personalized navigational instruments, as well as vast quantities of silver, china, and furniture. Furthermore, I believe that the way in which advertising aimed at naval officers was constructed implied that they could shop for products which would bolster their maritime knowledge and sea-faring acumen, whereas in previous centuries this prized knowledge was accepted to be the preserve only of the seasoned mariner.

Naval officers then, were not passive recipients of the booming eighteenth century consumer revolution, but rather active participants; participants who were well versed in the practices of ‘shopping around’ and for whom advertisements were increasingly and carefully designed. Although work done by Margot Finn and Amanda Vickery has already confirmed that men did act as consumers, my research pushes to the forefront a group of men who were often married, yet operating as rampant consumers outside the familial home, and engaged in the task of filling their ship-board homes with material goods. Not only were men actively shopping, but they were shopping to ‘compleat’ a transient home which was theirs alone, and which would be juxtaposed with the realities of naval warfare. How these men shopped was thus very different from not only women, but also other groups of men. However, my argument is that understanding their shopping patterns and motives enlarges our understanding of the implications of the consumer revolution for men generally, as well as of how naval officers could construct their masculine identities through the world of goods.


Cheryl Roberts, University of Brighton and Middlesex University

A Price for Fashion?A Young Working Class Woman's Wardrobe in 1930s London

This interdisciplinary material culture analysis, ‘A Price for Fashion: A Young Working Class Woman’s Wardrobe in 1930s London’ will investigate the design, manufacture, retailing and consumption of fashion for a working class woman in the 1930s. This paper will explore a young working class woman’s fashion interests and purchasing power probing the influences of issues such as modernity, peer group cohesion, leisure and related dress, along with the reactions of their parents and peers. As Todd notes, ‘as rising numbers of young women worked in larger factories, shops and offices, so workplaces increasingly became a venue for friendship and for disseminating information on fashion and appearance.’ In the context of work, income, family and gender expectations, this study will thus explore the life, work and aspirations of a young working class woman in the 1930s through the contents of her wardrobe.

Three key themes will be acceptability, accessibility and affordability. Accessibility will discover the influences on a young working-class woman in her purchasing choices with reflection on magazines; cinema; mass manufacture and ready-to-wear; peers and parents. Affordability of fashion will research where the young working-class woman of London in the 1930s would have been purchasing her clothing by investigating high street retail; mail order catalogues; the tallyman; the pawn shop; markets; home-dressmaking and the power of window shopping. The final key theme, acceptability, unravels where a young working-class woman in London would have worn the clothing in her wardrobe, be it to work in the office, the factory or in the retail sector; for leisure activities, such as dance halls or sport; and to church.

Research methodology and interdisciplinary approaches will include investigation of department store archives along with emerging period mail-order catalogues from Littlewoods and expanding cheap ready-to-wear retailers such as Marks and Spencer for prices and quality of cheap ready-to-wear fashion. Written testimony at The Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex, which records British social history in public surveys from the 1930s onwards, will be explored along with editorials and advertisements from period magazines such as Mabs, Home Chat, Picture Post and the Picturegoer. Documentary photography from pioneers Humphrey Spender and Edith Tudor Hart along with amateur photographs will be closely assessed. Film analysis will explore both the influence of the cinema visit and amateur film footage will be applied as a tool into researching material culture. Object-based study closely assess surviving dress in collections at Worthing Museum, Walsall Museum and the University of Brighton Teaching collection.


Thomas Turner, Birkbeck, University of London

Lawn tennis shoes for men and for women, c.1870–c.1900

The invention and popular success of lawn tennis in the late Victorian period created a need for a new type of footwear. The rubber-soled lawn tennis shoe was designed and advocated as a means to prevent damage to grass playing surfaces and to enable players to move with graceful ease. The game itself was intimately woven into the social conventions of middle class life; by enabling men and women to play together, its success owed much to its role in Victorian rituals of courtship. This social and cultural function exerted a powerful influence on the tennis shoe. Although the practical requirements of male and female players were ostensibly the same, shoes designed for men and women differed hugely, both stylistically and in the way they were presented to a buying public.

Using a range of archival sources, trade advertising, and the popular press, this paper will explore the gendered nature of lawn tennis shoe design and retailing in late Victorian Britain. I argue that manufacturers and sellers of tennis shoes differentiated their products to appeal to middle class male and female buyers, and that in so doing they reflected and reinforced popular gender stereotypes and also enabled consumers to generate newer notions of gender themselves. For men, lawn tennis shoes became part of a modern wardrobe that stressed youthful virility and physical activity, while for women they helped support notions of genteel femininity and inactivity. For both, the lawn tennis shoe was part of a growing world of fashionable consumer goods. I argue that shoe design, retail environments, advertising, and the discussion of tennis shoes in the press contributed to gendered visions of consumption and that these allowed men and women to participate in the pleasures of shopping in different ways.

In doing this, my paper will draw on recent scholarship by Erika Rappaport, Christopher Breward, Brent Shannon and others that has stressed the gender implications of Victorian shopping. By investigating an item of sports clothing seldom considered by historians, it will build on the existing work to make hitherto unexplored connections between product design, retailing, fashion, sport, and ideas of gender.


Dr Laura Ugolini

Room MC334

Tel: 01902 321890

Email: L.Ugolini@wlv.ac.uk