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Carried Away

Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Carried Away
    Book Description:

    Asserting that a history of shopping was, until recently, a history of women, Rachel Bowlby trains her eye on the evolution of the modern shopper. She uses a compelling blend of history, literary analysis, and cultural criticism to explore the rise of department stores and supermarkets of the United States, France, and Great Britain.

    Bowlby recalls the fascinating early days of these institutions. In the mid-nineteenth century, when department stores first developed, their fabulous new buildings brought middle-class women into town, where they could indulge in what was then a new activity: a day's shopping. The stores offered luxury, flattering women into believing that they belonged in a beautiful environment. It is here, Bowlby argues, that the idea of the modern woman's passion for fashion and shopping took hold.

    Developed in the twentieth century, supermarkets took an opposite tack: they offered functionality, standardization, and cheapness. However, Bowlby claims, despite their differences, the two institutions belong together as emblematic of their respective eras' social developments: the department store with the growth of cities, the supermarket with the proliferation of suburbs. With their dazzling lights and displays, both supermarkets and department stores were thought to produce in females an enhanced or trance-like state of mind.

    For readers who regard shopping as a spectator or participatory sport, and for those who wish to understand our culture and the psychology of women, or those who simply enjoy a witty, literate romp through the aisles, Carried Away is the perfect purchase.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50444-7
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. 1 The Haunted Superstore
    (pp. 1-16)

    It is late in the afternoon and the lines of wide carts loaded up with flatpacks of future furniture stretch back from the row of checkouts. Back and back, right into the warehouse section, they bump up against the people still trying to pick out their own cardboard packages and happily oblivious, as yet, to the fate in store for them.

    But gradually the news is getting through. The computers are down; all the purchase transactions are having to be done manually. The prospect of a handwritten receipt from IKEA seems quaintly unreal. Nobody, nothing moves, forwards or backwards. Nobody...

  4. 2 The Mobile Shopper
    (pp. 17-29)

    In a fictional diary published in 1913, there is a passage that could claim to be the last word in shopping:

    I did however make numerous purchases in the little shops of Florence. Shirts, walking sticks, items for travel, leather goods, luxury stationery. The whole lot is displayed on the tables and armchairs of my two sitting rooms. (I have, at the Carlton, a suite with ten windows overlooking the Arno, dining room, smoking room, bathroom as big as the bedroom; the number of staff has been doubled, on my floor.)

    Spent the afternoon and the evening undoing these parcels,...

  5. 3 The Silent Salesman
    (pp. 30-48)

    So said Paul Nystrom, in 1925, in an American book on retailing. He was right, and he was wrong. True, no mechanical device does what a real salesman does. If you take away the presence of the salesman from the process of buying, you change the nature of shopping out of all recognition because you remove the element of interaction between two people. Such a change did happen. But the alternative to the living salesman was not, in the end, the machine; it was self-service.

    Self-service was the great retailing change of the twentieth century. The first big self-service food...

  6. 4 The Passer-by and the Shop Window
    (pp. 49-78)

    In the middle of a car journey through London in the mid-1930s, towards the end of Virginia Woolf’s novel The Years (1937), a shop window is seen, as shop windows almost always are, in passing. Eleanor and her doctor niece, Peggy, are together:

    They were driving along a bright crowded street; here stained ruby with the light from picture palaces; here yellow from shop windows gay with summer dresses, for the shops, though shut, were still lit up, and people were still looking at dresses, at flights of hats on little rods, at jewels.¹

    It is first of all a...

  7. 5 The Package
    (pp. 79-110)

    There’s a classic ‘before and after’ story about how progress in packaging went together with changes in foodstores. Here is a British version from 1927:

    Tea, cocoa, and oatmeal, for instance, are no longer shovelled out of dusty bins, weighed in insanitary scales, poured into bags blown open by the breath of the shopkeeper, the last crumbs being swept in with scrupulous honesty, if doubtful cleanliness, from off a littered counter: they are packaged in hygienic, air-tight containers, as fresh and clean and wholesome as when they left the factory.¹

    After the dirty, dawdling build-up, the long sentence moves with...

  8. 6 The First Shoppers
    (pp. 111-133)

    What became of the Pretty Girl after she was summarily removed from the chocolate box? Perhaps she crept off into chocolate heaven, there to consume in confectional bliss that divine substance from which several layers of luxurious paper had tantalizingly separated her before. Perhaps she lies unseen, unbranded and long decayed, amid the rubbish-heaps of packaging history. At any rate, it is clear that in this chocolate-buying world, she is now no more.

    But what of the Pretty Girl off the chocolate box? Did she too disappear, now deemed identical in her tastes to every other kind of consumer? According...

  9. 7 The Supermarket’s Beginnings
    (pp. 134-151)

    The first supermarkets came hastily into the world, with little planning, an impulse sell prompted by the circumstances of the Depression. Big Bear was the brainchild of two businessmen, Robert Otis and Roy Dawson, who had visions of what could be done with an empty manufacturing plant, and joined forces with a local wholesale company to try them out.

    It was not only ‘the food world’ that took an interest in the new arrival. The event was reported in national newspapers under melodramatic headlines like ‘Big Bear Crashes into New Jersey’. Writing a few years later, M. M. Zimmerman, an...

  10. 8 The Dayton Connection
    (pp. 152-166)

    In the 1940s, supermarkets were well on the way to being established as the dominant food-selling form in the United States. But until after the war, the rest of the world dreamt on, ruffled only by the occasional rumour brought back by foreign visitors to America such as Jack Cohen, the founder of Tesco’s, who prided himself on crossing the Atlantic twice in the 1930s to have a look at this new phenomenon called self-service.

    The main source of the Big Bear stories, M. M. Zimmerman – ‘Zim’ to his preface-writer — was both perpetual propagandist and perpetual historian of new developments...

  11. 9 The Jungle and Other Post-war Supermarkets
    (pp. 167-186)

    ‘Every customer presents a minor problem of psychology.’ So reads the first sentence in a British book on starting a shop of your own published in the late 1940s.¹ Its presence in such a textbook, for would-be small shopkeepers, shows how far a consciously scientific and psychological approach to selling had made its way since the beginning of salesmanship theory at the turn of the century. Placed under the heading ‘Personal Relationship with the Customer’, which might suggest the local picture of two people who know each other talking across the counter, the statement implies that the personal relationship should...

  12. 10 The Reader in the Supermarket
    (pp. 187-210)

    In Ian McEwan’s novel The Child in Time (1987), a physicist speaks of the multiplicity of models of time in her subject: ‘There’s a whole supermarket of theories these days. You can take your pick. They’re all written up for the layman in books of the “fancy that” variety.’¹ Where once there were readers, now there are consumers; and where once there was a field, academic or agricultural, now there is a supermarket. In it, choice is false choice, all the books on the same lowered level, and all presented with the same superficial appeal, represented by the knowing use...

  13. 11 The Shopper in the Survey
    (pp. 211-234)

    In the 1930s, as we saw in Chapter 6, the American trade literature about the present and future arts of food merchandising was speculative and optimistically anticipatory. After the war, the sense of change was gone, other than as an expectation of perpetual growth: more of the same. The supermarket was a settled institution, and food stores a subject for policy and planning rather than for curiosity. At the same time, the sheer scale of the enormous store selling thousands of lines was out of all proportion to its predecessors. In light of both these differences, customers ceased to be...

  14. 12 The Deviant, the Checkout and the Future
    (pp. 235-254)

    ‘At 9.36 one morning an average woman customer walked into a five-checkstand Super Market. Each step she made was watched by a market research man from a vantage point that overlooked the whole store. He had instructions to record her every action.’¹ The year is 1957 and the lady’s crime, it turns out, is well hidden: ‘What showed up was a seemingly aimless shopping route whose purpose was apparent only to the shopper.’ And there are thousands like her: ‘a group of research people all turned up similar “erratic” patterns of shopping’.²

    Nothing better illustrates the post-war relationship of distance...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 255-264)
  16. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 265-266)
  17. Short Bibliography
    (pp. 267-276)
  18. Index
    (pp. 277-282)