Tuesday, July 19, 2011

American Consumerism in 1927

So, as I have mentioned previously, I recently purchased a reprint of the 1927 Fall/Winter Sears Roebuck Catalog. It is an absolutely fascinating read! I have always said that if you want to understand a culture at some point in history, research what they were buying! 1927 was the height of the Sears industry. It was like Walmart on steroids and then some!

Two years before the Great Depression, America was at its height. The "flapper look" had now taken off, there was a determined trend toward the pursuit of leisure (with the help of the automobile!) and the accumulation of materialistic goods (also along this same line, the "buying on credit" trend - a contributing factor to the Great Depression (well, one of
many) and something you will note being constantly offered as a payment option in the Sears catalog).

However, keep in mind that this was still a bit of a transitional period: in the Sears catalog, you can buy accessories for your automobile as well as your horse-drawn buggy! This was also the time period for the big push for household electricity. You will note in the catalog that hand-powered is still offered on many items (even your fake Christmas tree comes with candle holders instead of electric lights!), but there are constantly full-page ads throughout toting the benefits of electric appliances and devices. Keep in mind that many rural communities didn't receive electricity until the 1930s (when the Rural Electrification Administration - a New Deal agency - was created in 1935), so manually-powered devices were still a necessity for some Sears customers. Just to give you an idea: in 1934, less than 11% of farms had electricity (statistic obtained from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_Utilities_Service)

This was the time period when radios were beginning to gain in popularity, but were still a "new" device. In its radio section, the Sears catalog had to write in big block letters "No radio knowledge necessary" (for installation and enjoyment). To promote radio sales, Sears created its own radio station.

Now, a word about pricing:
$1.00 in 1927 had the same buying power as $12.38 in 2011.

It is interesting to note how the prices of certain items in 1927 compare (once adjusted for inflation) to the prices of those same items today.

For the feminine side, this was the transitional period between the thick corsets of the 1800's and the bra's of modern times. You can see that corsets have morphed into a thinner, more flexible article of underthings, and while brassieres are available for sale, they are relegated to a very small portion of the page.

"Sanitary" items had not reached their modern equivalents yet either. You had the options of a "chastity belt" type of set-up where you could essentially clip on your Kotex sanitary cotton pad, or slips with rubber "guards" in back.

As I said, all in all a fascinating look at America's past.

1 comment:

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