Gender and Consumer Culture in France from the Late 1800’s Through the 1920’s

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Today when consumer culture in France is thought of the first thing that come to mind is high end clothing, fancy jewelry, expensive boutiques, and who could forget Louis Vuitton. The consumer culture of today in France is geared towards high-style, well dressed women but this was not always the case. This culture has been many years coming. Many changes in this consumer culture came about in the time periods surrounding World War I. In this essay I will be tracing the change in women in the consumer culture in France in the late 1800’s to through the 1920’s, using the works of Mary Louise Roberts Samson and Delilah Revisited: The Politics of Woman’s Fashion in 1920’s France, and Judith G. Coffin’s Credit, Consumption, and Images of Women’s Desires: Selling the Sewing machine in late Nineteenth- Century France.

1880’s and 1890’s mark an important turning point in the history of advertising and credit. In the larger cities in France such as Paris this new way of buying and selling took off. Paris was a city that contained large department stores and was host to world fairs, ushering in new ideas about consumerism (Coffin 764). Dufayel was one such department store that played a pivotal role in developing credit and advertisements. The department store would conduct surveys to the target consumers could be accurately identified. It was found that buying public was predominantly female. “Money spend on or channeled through the home was the emergent economy’s lifeblood, and it flowed through an unmistakably gendered vessel” (Coffin 765). This new idea of women being the dominant gender in consumer culture shaped countless markets.

The sewing machine was a vital stepping stone in women’s entrance to consumer culture in France. In 1880 the Singer sewing machine company began advertising a sewing machine for sale that was to be used in the home. Sewing was thought of as women’s work and the advertisements of sewing machines exemplified this stereotype. Singer used...
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