A Milliner’s Shop in 1787

This 1787 print, entitled A Milliner’s Shop, satirises Queen Caroline haggling over fashionable trinkets. The image shows a bustling and sociable space.

The lady in green, positioned at the right end of the counter, is trying on a bum roll over her gown, comparing the silhouette achieved to that of her companion. The absurd impracticality of trying on under garments over an outfit reveals a significant drawback of these public shopping spaces, as there is no private area (as we have in the modern changing room) in which garments may be experimented with.

Men, women, animals and children all inhabit this shop space. They chat, socialise, work, play, manufacture and purchase within one room. Even the group of employees, who are creating new goods around the table to the far right of the print, are placed to emphasise the sociability of the scene. The three figures are composed as if in the middle of taking or tea, playing cards, or some other social activity. The male figure, who raises his needle and thread, is theatrical and entertaining in his movements, rather than industrious. Their industry appears secondary, as their gaze is absorbed by each other rather than their work.

While this social hubbub occupies the shop floor, bum rolls and hats, hung like paintings, adorn the wall behind the counter. The items are displayed following a clear, central line, recalling the gallery displays of the Royal Academy. The customers simultaneously socialise and absorb visual information on the fashions and products available.

The central figure in yellow, who represents Queen Caroline, examines the clothing of her fellow clients. Her attention has drifted from the ribbon samples which the shop boy has placed before her, one of which she holds in her hand. Her pose demonstrates the mesh of sensory and social interaction which characterised the shopping experience.

Visiting shops was an opportunity to be culturally entertained by the latest fashions, and to be able to haptically interact with available products. Shoppers expected to be able to meet friends and acquaintances, and to use the shop as a platform for social display. The desire to be seen categorised the shopping experience as a collective and public leisure event, with the resulting consumption being influenced by general opinion as well as by personal taste.

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This entry was published on November 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm and is filed under Eighteenth Century, Men's Dress, Nineteenth Century, Prints and Images, Shopping and Retail History, Women's Dress. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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