Posts Tagged ‘Cultural History’

Worshipping at the ‘cathedral of modern commerce’: going shopping in the nineteenth century

15 December 2009

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

As Christmas approaches and Grafton Street gets more and more crowded each Saturday and Sunday, it seems like a good time to examine the history of one of our most popular modern pastimes: shopping.  It is only in more recent decades that most people have enough disposable income to shop for pleasure rather than necessity.  However, Grafton Street was already becoming the playground of the rich and fashionable in the nineteenth century when two new department stores opened their doors there: Switzers in 1838 and Brown Thomas in 1849. Switzers began as a fairly modest enterprise, but had more than doubled its size by 1860, occupying much of the site of the present-day Brown Thomas. John Switzer soon had a rival on the opposite side of the street when Hugh Brown and James Thomas opened their fashionable premises in 1849. By the 1850s, Brown Thomas was fast becoming Dublin’s most fashionable shopping destination.

However, it was in Paris that the department store as a ‘cathedral of modern commerce’ as Emile Zola described it, was born. Read More

The lowering of morals and raising of hemlines: the Charleston

3 December 2009

Contributed by Ciara Meehan

For those of you who are fans of Strictly Come Dancing, you’ll know that the Charleston was attempted by the contestants for the first time ever on a recent show. Viewers were transported back to the 1920s through fast paced dancing, flapper dresses and the sounds of ragtime jazz. This was the dance that launched Ginger Roger’s career after she won the Texas State Charleston contest at the age of fourteen. It took American popular culture by storm, and a new generation and mentality emerged.

When the First World War ended in November 1918, it was hoped that the post-war era would bring with it better times. The pattern of life in America did change: the working week was not as demanding, there was more disposable income for things like entertainment, and in general the standard of living increased. Women of the wartime generation had generally not dated, waiting instead to marry a suitable partner. However, almost an entire generation of young men had lost their lives in the Great War. The next generation of women wanted to enjoy life and had what was considered a casual attitude towards men.  Gaiety and youth became the themes of the new decade, and the Charleston epitomised the roaring twenties. Named after a city in South Carolina, it also lent its name to a song performed by ‘Ruth Little’ in the Broadway show Runnin’ Wild, which opened in October 1923.

Identified by hip swaying, leg swinging, and the crossing and uncrossing of hands against moving knees, the Charleston was about having fun. Read More