26 October 2006

Live To Shop.

Print and T.V. advertisements for the local high-end shooping mall end with the tag line: "It's where you thrive." Jan Whitaker brings us a history of the rise of the consumerist lifestyle, Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class.
From a Washington Monthly review:

" . . . Today, Americans shop for necessities, shop for status, shop to socialize, shop to escape, shop to people-watch, shop to educate, and shop as therapy. But it was not always a foregone conclusion that a nation of hardscrabble pioneers would become a nation of shopaholics. Jan Whitaker’s history, Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class, helps shed light on the origin of the genus mall rat. A social historian whose previous book examined the 1920s tearoom craze, Whitaker here looks at the role of the department store in creating the modern consumer. She details how department stores, which dominated American retail in the early 20th century, helped give “material expression to vague ideas of what success, femininity, citizenship, and popularity might mean,” then put the identifying accessories (briefcase, lingerie, top hat, tennis racket) within reach of most customers. The secret to the stores’ success was that they were always selling more than the thing itself.

You might ask whether, on balance, Americans have been liberated or enslaved by the endless parade of newer, cheaper stuff. Historically, department stores have helped blur class distinctions (anyone can own a fur coat), unburden housewives (clothes come off the rack, not the sewing machine), assimilate newcomers (to attract new business, New York stores once hired translators for the Ellis Island crowd), spread culture (the living-room piano is a household fixture thanks to marketing), and keep hometown newspapers afloat (ads, ads, ads). On the other hand, you might wonder, do I really need to count the days of Christmas with shopping carts, renovate my wardrobe each season, purchase appliances every nine months (they just aren’t made to last), and squeeze into the latest cut of jeans to feel sexy? . . .



Blogger JAMESEE-ST-SMILE said...

good picture

26 October, 2006 07:30  

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