In Cold-Blooded Myrtle (October 5), some of the main action takes place at the local village shop. Shopping was hardly a new concept in the 19th century, but the Victorians took it to levels never before seen, turning a necessity into an enthusiastic pastime. Let’s take a look at the origins of modern shopping.
The industrial and colonial expansion of the 19th century meant new goods—and cheaper goods—were coming to England all the time, from all over the world. Shoppers were no longer limited by what was grown close to home: railways and advances in food preservation meant that products could be shipped much longer distances, arriving safe and sound at your local market.
In addition to large open-air and covered markets popular in cities, there were smaller shops selling everything you’d buy today: chemists (pharmacies), ironmongers (hardware), haberdashers (sewing notions in the UK, men’s accessories in the US), along with those that carried clothing, furniture, toys, chocolate, tobacco, reading material, or all of the above.
New department stores catered to the middle-class with posh decor and helpful staff:
Middle-class shoppers were bombarded with advertisements for every product under the sun. Learn more about 19th century advertising hoopla here.
Of course, the convenience and variety were only one side of the story. Consumerism had (and has) environmental, economic, and social consequences. Some middle-class Victorian Britons recognized this, and began to push for changes to labor laws and more consumer protection. Read more here: The Fashion For Shopping at Historic England.
But the cult of convenient and entertaining shopping was here to stay. Our Victorian ancestors would hardly be surprised by modern mega-stores and online shopping.