Abstracts - for Retailers 16.00-17.00, 15 May 2013

Retailing, Shopping and Gender: Historical Approaches

Juliet Claxton, Queen Mary, University of London

‘His wife was the rich china-woman that the courtiers visited so often’: The role of the china-woman in early modern London

Manuscript sources indicate that specialized shops, termed china-houses were established in London in the first half the seventeenth century.  As their name suggests the china-houses sold Chinese porcelain, but their stock also included fans and lacquer objects, as well as luxury goods of European origin including Venetian glass.  In fact the London china-houses are a particular feature of the play Epicene by Ben Jonson, first performed in 1609, which introduces the character of Mrs. Otter, who is literature’s first ‘china-woman’, or dedicated retailer of oriental commodities. Seventeenth-century literary and manuscript sources suggest that women were not only the principal clients of the china-houses, but that selling luxury Asian commodities was a profession that was increasingly linked to women – a trend that continued into the eighteenth century. 

My paper will explore the role of female merchants in this expanding luxury market place, and it will focus on an un-published probate inventory dated 1682, which records the contents of both the private house and London warehouse of a wealthy female merchant.  The first part of the inventory is missing and the personal details of the merchant herself have not survived, but the remaining pages reveal that alongside high-quality material, clothing and jewels, the merchant also provided luxury oriental goods such as porcelain and lacquer to courtiers.  The long list of aristocratic debtors at the end of the inventory also evidences that the merchant’s principal clients included Sir Peter Lely and several famous court beauties, such as Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland and Louise de Kerouaille. By concentrating on the procurement and sale of Asian commodities to later Stuart courtiers, my paper will examine the gender-specific mechanisms and networks used by china-women to sell luxury commodities in pre-eighteenth century London.


Deborah Wynne, University of Chester

Hades! The Ladies!:The Male Draper in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Popular Culture

The male draper figured prominently in the popular culture of the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods, a time when the female consumer was gaining increasing power. Charles Cavers, a Bond Street draper trading from the 1880s to the 1920s, recorded in his posthumously published diary, Hades! The Ladies!: The Diary of a Draper: ‘There is a social prejudice, definite and antagonistic, against the draper and all his doings.’ Viewed as an anomaly among men, the draper was often derided for his association with a largely female world of fashion and household textiles. Indeed, Cavers records overhearing the members of his club dismissing one of his colleagues as ‘only a damned draper […] a bloody baby-linen merchant.’ Cavers seeks out a variety of cultural representations of his trade, at the theatre and in popular ‘drapery novels,’ such as those by H.G. Wells, The Wheels of Chance (1895), Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910), as well as Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale (1908), all of which depict male protagonists who start their careers as drapers’ assistants.  For Cavers, the ‘little fellows’ represented by Wells and Bennett ‘are the ones who claim my interest and from whom I cannot withhold my affection.’ Yet, as this paper will demonstrate, Wells’s drapers tend to be represented as comic and unsexed figures, while Bennett considers the man who trades in women’s clothing as a figure worthy of serious representation. Cavers’s diary offers a useful framework with which to read the diversity of fin-de-siècle representations of male shop workers, and this paper assesses the cultural significance of the fictional draper in terms of his potential to disturb conventions of masculinity. His deference towards female customers and knowledge of textiles and fashion, both associated with female consumption, did not accord with fin-de-siècle notions of masculinity, often figured through images of military men and imperial expansion. The emergence of the New Woman at this period also offered challenges to traditional ideas about the relationship between the sexes. The male draper, as this paper will show, was represented in popular culture as both a figure of fun and a potential threat, rarely as a man who just happened to trade in textiles.


Dr Laura Ugolini

Room MC334

Tel: 01902 321890

Email: L.Ugolini@wlv.ac.uk