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Department Stores

By Juliet Gardiner | Posted 21st October 2010, 12:00
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Department Stores
Claire Masset
* * * * *
Shire Library
64pp £5.99 I
SBN 978 0747807728

Customers use the newly installed escalator - a simple flat revolving belt - at Harrods, 1901.

‘The threadbare Thirties were also the fashionable Thirties,’ writes Robert Pearce in his short, highly illustrated history of the period, one of the volumes in the excellent new series of Shire Publications (1930s Britain, Shire Living Histories, £8.99). It is a theme that Claire Masset takes up in Department Stores, designating such shops as glittering ‘palaces of consumption’ by the first half of the 20th century with their ever-growing variety of goods displayed in equally dazzling displays: the pioneer aviatrix Amy Johnson’s airplane in the window of Selfridges; a circus – including a lion kept overnight in the lift – imported by Bentalls of Kingston; flamingos in the ‘garden in the sky’ at Derry & Toms, opened in 1938. The history of department stores maps changes in wider society: the growth of mass production, rising incomes, increasing home ownership, more leisure, the emancipation and economic independence of women, the role of consumption in definitions of class and of social mobility.


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