Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Staircase

There were not escalators, but majestic staircases, some of them crowned in impressive domes, where the most fashionable women of those times went up and down moving their sumptuous dresses in search of something more for their wardrobe (like an old soul, going shopping had been wonderful back in the 19th century *insert long sigh). You could imagine those feather hats reclined on the wooden counters of those department stores, barely crowded with people and where elegance was breathed. The magnificent silhouettes moved around upholstered floors, huge crystal chandeliers and spectacular coffered ceilings, even there were seats to take a break (we already know those clothes were not lightweight and you could end up exhausted after many hours).

Les Galeries Lafayette en 1900

Selfridges store interior (1910).
They say that the first big department store was Harding, Howell & Co’s Grand Fashionable Magazine located in London. Its doors opened in 1796, but it was not until the mid-nineteenth century when a boom took place and they began to appear in the rest of Europe and the United States. One of the best known was Marshall Field's in Chicago, where one of its partners, Harry Gordon Selfridge, coined the well-known slogan "the customer is always right" (it sounds familiar to you, right?) that it is still used today. The women from upper-middle class found a place in these large department stores where they can feel free without the need to be accompanied by another person of the opposite sex, these ones became a meeting point where they could also socialize. Thanks to this a culture of consumption started (the men had the money and the women spent it on getting pretty, not said with bad intention), a culture away from the streets in which the women did not feel safe. Shortly after the window displays appeared as a primitive form of merchandising (we will talk about them in another blog). The first ones to take the step were Harrod's stores in London and the Au Bon Marché in Paris, and then it was when the ladies took to the streets.

Wrights Department Store (Colorado, 1900).

My mind wanders thinking of how many stories the staircases of those imposing department stores saw (who could look through a hole and take a look!). They were, so to speak, the center from which everything worked, and around them the desired jewels, the delicate hats, the playful fans or the puritan lingerie waited patiently. Then the doors opened and life came in with a blow of silk.

See you next week, vintage lovers!

1 comment:

  1. Department stores are such a staple of fashion and shopping culture! To see them dying off and disappearing is so disheartening. The experience of being in a truly grand store (Harrod's, Macy's, Le Printemps)is unique, and I mourn the increasingly quick loss of these treasures. Thanks for the history lesson!