File Name: Department_Stores__Mail_Order_Catalogues_and_the.pdf
File Size: 261.78 KB
File Type: Application/pdf
Uploaded: 9 months
Last Modified: 7 years
Last checked: 26 days ago!
DEPARTMENT STORES, MAIL ORDER CATALOGUES AND THE FASHION MARKET: ITALY IN THE LATE 19TH CENTURY Francesca Polese, Department of Political Analysis and Public Management Bocconi University MilanAbstractThis paper contributes to our understanding of the emergence of a “fashion system”and especially of the widening of the fashion market during the second half of thenineteenth century. It will focus in particular on the role of department stores, which –according to contemporary observers and historians alike– were at the center stage ofa transformation that eventually resulted in the emergence of the modern fashionsystem notably by selling affordable ready-made womenswear. Taking a closer lookat the merchandise distributed by early department stores, this paper argues for a needto reconsider their role in this process – and possibly the ways in which the fashionmarket was enlarged during this period. For its analysis, the article draws on animportant, albeit little used source for the spread of fashionable womenswear, mailorder catalogues. It shows that in terms of assortment, quality, and prices the femaleclothing featured in these early catalogues still shared many features of made-to-measure and was still far from being standardized and low-cost, as was more often thecase in the United States. At the same time, these catalogues –and the departmentstores– did make a major contribution to the democratization of fashion through thespread of the latest designs and the sale of low cost fabric, which –together with thewomen’s magazine emerging at the time– made ‘fashion’ accessible to wider swathesof population
1 The modern “fashion system” consolidated itself in the second half of the 19th centuryspreading from Paris to other Western cities. It is indeed in this period that the set ofinstitutions that enable clothing to become something different from a plainmanufactured product by providing it with an intangible – or symbolic – added valueinteracted in a cohesive way originating what sociologist and fashion scholar YuniyaKawamura defines a “fashion system”.1 According to Kawamura, “fashion is a systemof institutions, organizations, groups, producers, events and practices, all of whichcontribute to the making of fashion, which is different from dress or clothing” and,for a fashion system to exist and thus for a fashion style to emerge, “the minimumrequirement is a network of people that includes those who introduce or proposechanges in dress and those who adopt at least a portion of the proposed changes. Theproposers and adopters in this network must be in communication with each other,either directly […] or indirectly”. It is important to stress that, translating thisapproach into a language that is closer to the one used by business (and economic)historians, the crucial condition for clothing to become fashion is that there is a(tight/smooth) interaction between producers and consumers. Mechanisms that enablethe diffusion of creativity and new styles thus play a central role in the emergence ofmodern fashion. The article will shed light on the features of the early Italian “fashionsystem” by analyzing one of the mechanisms through which fashion was diffusedfrom producer to consumer, that is by considering how early department storescontributed to the emergence of a market for fashionable goods
1 Yuniya Kawamura, Fashion-Ology. An Introduction to Fashion Studies (Oxford-New York, 2005) p
2 Indeed, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the major cities of the mostadvanced European countries experienced the shift towards a new consumptionpattern and a new consumer culture that consisted in the ‘transformation of buyinginto shopping’ and that ‘was decisive for the definitive formation of the present-dayconsumer society’.2Most of the literature on department stores, while stressing their unquestionableimportance for the early transition towards a modern consumer society3, also suggeststhat with regard to the kind of merchandise offered by these outlets ‘drapery, togetherwith ready-made clothing from the 1880s, remained central’ [italics are ours].4Thus, what the literature suggests is that department stores both in Continental Europeand in the USA played a leading role in the emergence and the growth of the marketfor fashion and that this largely consisted in the trade of womenswear that was notindividually tailored. Indeed, ‘historians have especially been keen to emphasize thehighly theatrical nature of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century departmentstores, with their glamorous displays and interiors adding value to goods that wereoften “mass produced and aggressively priced”’.5 Yet, while there seems little doubtthat a larger number of households ‘enter the historical clothing scene in the late2 Rudi Laermans, "Learning to Consume: Early Department Stores and the Shaping of the ModernConsumer Culture (1860-1914)," Theory, culture and society 10, no. 79 (1993), p. 80
3 See for example Laermans, "Learning to Consume
4 Geoffrey Crossick and Jaumain, Serge, "The World of the Department Store: Distribution, Cultureand Social Change.", in G. Crossick a. Jaumain, Serge (eds.), Cathedrals of Consumption: TheEuropean Department Store, 1850-1939, (Aldershot, 1999), p. 11, Nancy Green, Ready-to-Wear andReady-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Paris and New York (Durham, 1997)., p. 26,Michael B. Miller, The Bon Marché. Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920.,(Princeton, 1981), pp. 34-35
5 John Benson and Laura Ugolini, eds., Cultures of Selling: Perspectives on Consumption and Societysince 1700 (Aldershot-Burlington, 2006), p 10
3 nineteenth century’6, the extent and features of their entrance and the exact role ofdepartment stores in this process remain to be clarified. Hence, accepting thechallenge launched quite a few years ago by Crossick and Jaumin to ‘strip away someof the mythology which surrounds the supposedly revolutionary character of thedepartment store’7 this paper attempts to investigate how early department storescontributed to the emergence of a modern “fashion system” by widening theconsumption of fashionable clothing. In other words, the aim of this article is not toquestion the importance of this new retailing format as a means to widen the marketfor consumer goods in general and womenswear in particular, but rather to elucidatethe features of this process
What this paper shows is that in late-19th century Italy – similarly to other WesternEuropean countries and the USA - department stores provided an importantcontribution to the diffusion of fashion. The analysis of the Italian case addsimportant information to this statement by showing that it was precisely the femaleaccessories as well as the textiles that exhibit the distinctive features of“standardization” that are often – and wrongly – attributed to the womenswear tradedby the grands magasins. This finding improves our knowledge of the role ofdepartment stores as mechanisms of fashion diffusion by stressing nationalspecificities. Indeed, while US department stores moved more quickly and to a largerextent than their European counterparts towards standardization of clothing while theFrench ones “provoked a veritable euphoria of clothes buying’ especially among thelower-middle classes” (Perrot),, in a follower country like Italy, department storesprovided an important contribution to the diffusion of fashion mainly by spreading a6 Nancy Green, Ready-to-Wear and Ready-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Parisand New York., (Durham, 1997) p. 24
7 Crossick and Jaumain, "The World of the Department Store: Distribution, Culture and SocialChange.", p. 9
4 sensibility and awareness for fashion, by diffusing and making accessible to anincreasing number of potential consumers the latest styles (the same as those featuredon the pages of contemporary glossy, and often expensive, fashion magazines) and,most importantly, by providing affordable fabrics and paper patterns through whichfashionable attires could be reproduced overall inexpensively. Thus, according toKawamura’s definition of fashion system, the relationships that emerge amongdifferent actors can provide a much stronger definition of the specific characteristicsof the fashion system than the single, individual actors involved
On the contrary, the trade of female clothing that was not made to measure played amuch smaller role in this story. While an earlier study demonstrated the importance ofwomen’s accessories in this process8, this paper will focus on female clothing, whichthe previous literature has made so central in claims about the widening of the fashionmarket and the emergence of a modern “fashion system” and about the success ofearly department stores
The present research demonstrates that the womenswear sold by department stores inlate 19th century Italy was still far from being standardized or readily available tolarge swathes of consumers. But at the same time during this period, these outletswere undeniably at the heart of the emergence of a modern “fashion system” thanks tothe dissemination of a fashion gospel consisting of appreciation of changing stylistictrends, provision of technical instruments to reproduce those styles (e.g. paperpatterns and affordable fabrics) and supply of inexpensive accoutrements to embellishotherwise ordinary attires
8 Elisabetta Merlo and Francesca Polese, "Accessorizing Italian Style: Creating a Market for Milan’sFashion Merchandise," in Producing Fashion: Commerce, Culture, and Consumers, ed. Regina LeeBlaszczyk (Philadelphia, 2007)
5 The lack of analytical studies on the prices and qualities of the stock traded byEuropean department stores in this period does not enable to draw a fully comparativepicture at this stage. Our investigation will thus focus primarily on Italy in the latenineteenth century, which however we believe is a good case for three main reasons:First of all, especially in the North of the country, the process of industrializationstarting from the middle of the century and accelerating during its last two decadesled to a revolution in consumption in a short period of time chiefly in the major citiesof that region. Here, it also saw the emergence of the country’s first department store,Alle Città d’Italia (originally called Aux Villes d’Italie), in Milan in 1877, whichopened additional stores in other large Italian cities over the subsequent decade
Second, and related to the first point in that it confirms the significance of Italy as afast growing fashion market, the country also became an important outlet for theFrench grand magasins, which had pioneered the new format in the mid-nineteenthcentury. Thus, the Paris-based Au Printemps made a wide selection of its goodsavailable through mail order eventually producing Italian versions of the cataloguesand opening a shipping office in Turin in 1878. Last, but not least, this paper alsocontributes to the history of the Italian fashion industry, which – as is well known –only came to international prominence in the post-WWII period. However, as thisarticle will show, some core elements of the Italian fashion system, namely adomestic distribution network as well as a dynamic fashion market and a diffusedfashion culture already started emerging in the late nineteenth century. For sure,further research on these topics will lead to a fuller appraisal of the similarities andparallels between the Italian experience and those of other European countries (and,eventually, the US)
6 As a main source, this article draws on the mail order catalogues from both the Milan-based Alle Città d’Italia and the Parisian Au Printemps. They not only reflect thechoice of products, and especially of women’s garments, available in both outlets;they also, and probably more importantly, as this paper will argue, constitute a way tospread the fashion culture and make novel designs as well as relatively cheap fabricaccessible to a larger part of the population (both in terms of income and geography),thus contributing to diffusion of fashion innovations in a more comprehensive waythan the brick and mortar store. Mail order catalogues for Alle Città d’Italia areavailable twice per year from the 1880s until World War I; the Italian version of theAu Printemps catalogue can be found starting from the 1870s. The detailedexamination that follows looks firstly at the types of merchandise sold by departmentstores (in their catalogues – and presumably the brick and mortar outlets) in the lastdecades of the nineteenth century on the Italian market, and assesses in particular theimportance of draperies and fashionable goods – especially female clothing
Secondly, within the broad category of female clothing, the scrutiny of the cataloguesmakes it possible to define more clearly the variety and assortment of items traded aswell as their stylistic characteristics. Thirdly, the information collected from thecatalogues allows to understand the price range of womenswear offered by the earlydepartment stores and to identify the factors determining such prices. The analysis ofthese prices also makes it possible to compare them with estimates of the prices ofsimilar garments that could be purchased through alternative channels. Finally, bycrossing the information on the prices of the items sold by department stores withavailable proxies of incomes and consumption patterns a more detailed portrait ofthose participating in the early market of women’s fashion can be obtained
7 The in-depth analysis of these mail order catalogues will be complemented byevidence from contemporary female magazines and other data sources covering themarket for female clothing in those years, thus achieving a comprehensive picture ofthe features of the commerce of womenswear in Italy. It is important to keep in mindthat for this period, archival documents from the Italian department store Alle Cittàd’Italia are not available. For a background on their business history, we thereforehad to rely on the limited available secondary literature. We did the same for AuPrintemps.9The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. First, the history of the twodepartment stores is sketched and the main characteristics of the mail-ordercatalogues are briefly documented. This is followed by an analysis of the assortment,quality, and prices of female fashionable clothing featured in the catalogues
Subsequently, this information is compared with estimates of costs of womenswearpurchased through alternative channels and crossed with proxies of incomes andconsumption patterns of Milanese households in order to define the scope of themarket for fashion at the end of the nineteenth century. Together with the otherevidence available this shows that the role of department stores in democratizing themarket for fashion in this period was achieved by other means than that of the sale ofready-made clothing. The conclusion briefly summarizes the contribution of thisarticle to the literature on the history of the fashion business,9 The most accurate account of the evolution of the Milanese firm is to be found in Franco Amatori,Proprietà e Direzione. La Rinascente 1917-1969 (Milano, 1989). See also Elena Papadia, LaRinascente (Bologna, 2005). For the history of Printemps and on its founder Jules Jaluzot, see Jean-Paul Caracalla, Le Roman Du Printemps (Paris, 1997)
8 1. Milan, Alle Città d’Italia and Au Printemps in the 1880sBetween the 1860s and WWI Italy, albeit unevenly and slowly was moving from anagricultural and backward economy to an industrial one, with a discernibleacceleration starting in the last two decades of the century. The city of Milan was oneof the frontrunners in this process, with economic indicators showing a positive trendmore or less throughout this period. Population was growing (from 242,457 in 1861 to261,985 in 1871, to 321,839 in 1881 and reaching 491,460 in 1901) eventuallybringing Milan to overcome Naples as the country’s largest city by the beginning ofthe 1900s.10 Milan was also undergoing a deep economic transformation that was tomake the city the country’s financial, commercial and – probably – industrial capital
It is thus in the context of a thriving urban economy in which activities related to theproduction and distribution of fashion goods were especially diffused – albeitunstructured – that the Milanese Alle Città d’Italia (through the brick-and-mortarstore) and the Parisian Au Printemps (only via mail orders) traded their merchandise
Alle Città d’Italia was founded by the brothers Ferdinando and Luigi Bocconi whohad started their business as street sellers of garments and fabrics. The Bocconisopened a clothing shop in the city center in 1865, whose success in 1870 urged themto move to larger premises widening the variety of merchandise to include linens,hats, shoes and furniture. In 1877 the brothers opened Aux Villes d’Italie, the firstItalian department store, that changed its name to Alle Città d’Italia in 1880.11 By theearly 20th century the firm had branches in Genoa, Rome, Palermo, Trieste and Turin
10 See Franco Della Peruta, "Lavoro e Fabbrica a Milano dall’Unità alla Prima Guerra Mondiale," inMilano e il suo Territorio (Milano, 1985)
11 The Bocconis decided to adopt a French name for their business in order to stress the resemblancewith the world famous Parisian grand magasins. However, in 1880, when Italian foreign policybecame strongly anti-French, the name was changed to its Italian version
9 The number of employees grew to 1,300 and in 1879 Aux Villes d’Italie boasted 13departments and two factories (in Milan and in Turin) employing 900 workers for theproduction of ready-made men’s and women’s clothing (while made to measure wasproduced using domestic workers) 12 and a buying office in Paris
Following a similar trajectory, Au Printemps was opened by Jules Jaluzot in 1865 inParis in today’s Boulevard Haussmann. Jaluzot had a deep knowledge of the business,acquired during his activity as head of the silk goods department of the Bon Marché,at the time the world's most famous grand magasin, soon becoming its majorcompetitor. Since the beginning of its activity, Au Printemps with its sixteendepartments (comptoirs) - silk goods, textiles, woolen goods, linens, shawls, furs,underwear, ribbons, laces, clothing, hats, gloves, haberdashery, carpets, trimmingsand furniture – achieved a remarkable success and quickly growing profits.13Both department stores also featured a thriving mail order business. In 1879 theBocconis opened their own publishing house capable of printing 30,000 cataloguesper year. Starting from June 1880 two catalogues per year were published (for theAutumn/Winter and Spring/Summer collections) for a total of 40,000 yearly copies
In 1890 the mail-order office received 38,000 coupons used to place orders while100,000 packages were dispatched from the company's shipping department.14Already before 1874 Au Printemps made it possible to purchase via mail throughoutFrance (including Alsace Lorraine) as well as from Switzerland, Belgium, Londonand northern Italy.15 In 1874 the scope of Au Printemps’ mail order business waswidened and included the Netherlands, the German empire, Luxembourg as well as12 According to Amatori, Proprietà e Direzione. La Rinascente 1917-1969., p. 29 each of the branchesemployed some 100-150 domestic workers for the production of custom-made clothing
13 Ibid., p. 24
14 Ibid., p. 31. The catalogues provided information on shipping costs outside Italy, suggesting that theBocconi market was not exclusively a domestic one
15 Caracalla, Le Roman Du Printemps
As a main source, this article draws on the mail order catalogues from both the Milan-based Alle Città d’Italia and the Parisian Au Printemps. They not only reflect the choice of products, and especially of women’s garments, available in both outlets; they also, and probably more importantly, as this paper will argue, constitute a way to
Here’s a comprehensive alphabetical list of stores that you can request free catalogs from to be mailed to you, (you can then order online after looking through them). Updated to now show current and up-to-date totally free mail-order catalogs available in 2022.
Are there any free mail-order catalogs available?Updated to now show current and up-to-date totally free mail-order catalogs available in 2021. Note some catalogs like the seasonal Amazon Toy Catalog can only be accessed in PDF format unless you are an Amazon Prime Member .100+ Free Mail-Order Catalogs for Delivery (2021)
Browse the latest catalogue to shop smarter! Here is a selection of the latest catalogues from Department Stores: Catalogue (from Thursday 14/07/2022), Even More Toy Mania! (from Thursday 14/07/2022), Catalogue (from Thursday 21/07/2022), Catalogue (from Wednesday 13/07/2022), Catalogue (21/07/2022 - 03/08/2022). Paper catalogues are obsolete!
Tiffany’s Blue Book Tiffany’s Blue Book was first released in 1845, making it the oldest mail order catalog in the world. Although the Tiffany’s catalog came out long before the other catalogs on this list, it’s not often considered the first mail order catalog because luxury goods were (and still are) inaccessible to most people.
The category Department Stores contains offers and deals from popular stores, such as Big W, Harris Scarfe, Harvey Norman, Innovations, Kmart, Kogan, Myer, Radio Rentals, Target, The Reject Shop, but you can also discover other stores not yet explored. Browse the latest catalogue to shop smarter!
While there are still some brands that offer physical catalogs, most retailers have moved their catalogs online. Prior to the popularity of online shopping, mail order catalogs made a wide ranges of goods accessible to people around the world, even those in the remote/rural places.
The LTD Commodities Catalog. For over 50 years, LTD Commodities has been one of America's premier catalog companies. Each of their catalogs features a wide variety of affordable products, including a fantastic selection of unique home and garden decor, women's clothing and fashion accessories, bedding, kitchen storage and so much more!