Retail Stores Handling Boys' Clothing: The Department Store

Figure 1.--.

Department stores are one of the many phenomenons that developed in the 19th century Victorian era and is in large measure a result of the rise of the middle class. The rise of large department stores represented a entirely new era in commercial retailing. But much more was involved. Department stores accompanied the developent of industrial mass production techniques for consumer goods. The stores also had a major imapct on the way in which men and women spent leisure time. They made shoping much more convenient. But department stores were than a huge emporium for purchasing a wide variety of goods. The stores strove to create an attractive if not glamorous environment in luxurious spaces that fundamentally changed the shopping experience making it much more enjoyable. Department stores came to epitomized the rise of the middle clas and the consumerism of modern life.

Clothing Industry

A variety of techhnological and sociological trends coverged in the 1860s to mark a major change in the clothing and fashion industry. Before the 1860s boys tended to wear rather formless poorly fitting clothes. After the 1860s boys tended to wear much better fitting stylish clotges--in fact to stylish for the tastes of most boys. The impact on clothing can not be overstated. Fashion changed significantly in the 1860s. The change can be seen by comparing the generlly poorly fitting clothes seen in 1850s photographs which the much better fitting and more stylish clothes that adults and children were wearing by the 1870s. A variety of factors were involved here, such as rising income levels, the increasing popularity of fashion magazines, the invention of the Singer sewing machines (1850-51), expanded production of ready to wear clothes, and other factors. Expanded publication of fashion magazines was especially important. Subtanial improvements occurred in the ability to publish illustrations during the late 19th Century. The cost of reproducing illutrations declined. Thus publications were able expand the number and the detail of their illustrations. Many


Some of the same technical and social changes were affecting retailing in the 19th century and helped give rize to the modern department store. The appearance of mass produced ready made goods almost required a large retailer that could but and sell in quantity. Not only did readymade garments began to appear at mid-century, but important advances in mass transit was making travel for ordinary people easier. The new industrial economy was expanding the purchasing power of ordinary people and the mass production of clothing and other goods was loweing the costs of a wide range of goods, including clothing.


The modern department store originated in France--of course in Paris. The first establishments resembling department stores appeared during the reign of Louis-Philippe who reigned from 1830-48. The first large stores were really separate shops just trading under one roof, somewhat like a modern mall. These efforts did not prove very ssuccessful. Various entrepreneuers came up with a new appraoch, a store divided into departments but under one single management. Most historians claim the Magasin au Bon Marché in Paris was the world's first true department store (1852) While originating in Paris, deparment stores soon appeared in other countries, especially England and America. Some of the first English stotes were Jolly of Bath, Bainbridge's of Newcastle, Kendal Milne of Manchester and Whiteley's. American department stores such as Macy's in New York (1858) and Marshall Field in Chicago (1865) were early pioneers. By 1900 there were department stores in every large American and Canadian city. The department store concept was appearing throughout the major European capitals and larger cities. The stores primarily focused on dry goods, as opposed to wet goods (liquor) with which some stores began.


It is worthy of note that the creators of these great department stores have arisen from the ranks of small shop assistants; they have succeeded because of their ability. The commercial organism shaped by them runs true to one type: strongly concentrated general authority, division of labour by departments and responsibility by each departmental head, individual effort of each employee in buying and selling stimulated by profit sharing or commission, etc.

Early Stores

The first department stores, large stores organized in discrete sections or departments. The first stores offerd primarily fashion goods and dresses. Most also carried a large stock of fabrics as clothes in the early were still made by mothers or seamstresses and not bought ready made.


The rise department store in France was one of the notable commercial developments of Louis Napoleon and his Second Empire and went on to become an important component of the French economy during the Third Republic. These stores steadily increased in number. Several become extremely large. The original mixture of clothing and fabric rapidly expanding. By mid-century the stores commonly offered departments with all articles of clothing, toilet articles, furniture and many other types of goods. the stores sought to bring together in one place, combining a large range of goods so as to attract and satisfy customers who will find conveniently together an assortment of a mass of articles corresponding to all their various needs. They sucessfully attracted customers by permanent display, by free entry into the shops, by periodic exhibitions, by special sales, by fixed prices, and by their ability to deliver the goods purchased to customers' homes, in Paris and to the provinces. The same phenomenon took place throughout Europe.

New Merchandizing System

The department stores turned themselves into direct intermediaries between the producer. Eventually some of the larger stores even began producing ome of their articles in their own workshops. They bought at the lowest possible prices, primarily because of their large volume of sales. Thy were also in a position to profit from bargains, working with large sums, and selling to most of their customers for cash. All of this afforded advantages to the department stores which enabled them to lower prices for their custimers. The stores could even sell at a loss, as an advertisement or to get rid of out-ofdate fashions.


The success of these department stores is only possible thanks to the volume of their business and this volume needs considerable capital and a very large turnover. Now capital, having become abundant, is freely combined nowadays in large enterprises, although French capital has the reputation of being more wary of the risks of industry than of State or railway securities. On the other hand, the large urban agglomerations, the ease with which goods can be transported by the railways, the diffusion of some comforts to strata below the middle classes, have all favoured these developments.

Life Style

One historian maintains that as department stores like Le Bon Marché in Paris first opened their doors in mid-nineteenth-century, shoppers not only had access to racks of ready-made frock coats and crinolines. The modern shoper was created giving them the chance to acquire a whole new lifestyle as well--that of the bourgeoisie. The rise of the ready-made fashion industry and the department store in France shows how clothing can not only mirror societal trends, but also influence this trends. Men at the mid-19th century rejected the decadent, gaudy colors of the early 19th century and adopt the uniform black frock coats appropriate for the masucline, serious world of business and commerce. Their wives, on the other hand, adorned themselves and teir children in bright colors and often uncomfortable and impractical fancy clothes to show the change in their family status. The modern shopper was born. Women spent their time adopting and mainataining middle-class appearance. [Perrot]

French Development

According to the tax records of 1891, these stores in Paris, numbering 12, employed 1,708 persons and were rated on their site values at 2,159,000 francs; the largest had then 542 employees. These same stores had, in 1901, 9,784 employees: one of them over 2,000 and another over 1,600, their site value was doubled (4,089,000 francs). A French resercher points out some of the results of these early department stores as published in the Revue des Deux-Mondes.

The Bellejardini&e

The Bellejardini&e, starting as a modest shop set up by Mr. Parissot near the Petit-Pont, was moved to the Cit6 in 1856 near the Pont-Neuf on a plot of 3,400 metres: in 1893 it did business of 38 millions, realizing a net gain of 6.3 per cent.

Le Louvre

Le Louvre, dating to the time of the extension of the rue de Rivoli under the Second Empire, did in 1893 a business of 120 million at a profit of 6.3 per cent.

Le Bon-Marche

Le Bon-Marche, which was a small shop when Mr. Boucicaut entered it in 1852, already did a business of 20 million at the end of the Empire. During the republic its new buildings were erected; Mme. Boucicaut turned it by her will into a kind of co-operative society, with shares and an ingenious organization; turnover reached 150 million in 1893, leaving a profit of 5 per cent.

La Samaritaine

La Samaritaine, which had its most modest beginnings in 1869, today occupies the third rank among department stores of this kind by the number of its employees; it seeks its customers principally among the small consumers and makes great use of credit coupons.

French Fashion Industry

France was the center of fashion for 18th century Europe. The magnificence of the French court was certainly a major factor here. France's flamboyant Louis XIV, known as the "the Sun King," began to draw attention to France and establish Paris as the center of fashion in the late-17th century. The French fashion industry was adversely affected by the French Revolution, but had began to recover under Napoleon Louis Phillipe. The rise of the departnment store first in France was one indicator of the stength of the country's fashion industry.

American Development

American department stores began appearing in major cities after the Civil War (1861-65). Normally a site was chosen on the city's primary shopping street. In New York after the Civil War, this was Broadway. As the elevated line was built on 6th Avenue to 23rd Street the shopping district gradually shifted to this area. Soon department stores were appearing in every important American city. Each city had its own individual department store, normally named after the founder. Larger cities woulf have several such stores. The American wholesale company Butler Brothers claims to have played an important role in the development of many of these stores.

Modern Trends

Many American department stores in the 1970s followed Sears and Wards in spreading around America as chain stores. These included Bloomies (New York), Macy's (New York), Nemon Marcus (Dallas), and sevveral others. Similar trends occurred in other countries. Most really gave up any pretence of being a full-line department store, dropping toys along with furniture and hardware. Even Macy's once famous toy department has been disopensed with. The Macy's toy department was imortalized in the classic film Miracle on 34th Street. Actually toy stores have since evolved into mini-department stores. Department stores in America and other countries now mostly specialize in clothing and accessories.


Perrot, Philippe. Translated by Richard Bienvenu. Fashioning the Bourgeoisie: A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century (Princron University Press: 1996), 286p.


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Created: January 6, 2002
Last updated: April 25, 2003