Negotiating Fashionability: Second-hand Dealing, Seconds Trading, Jumble Sales and Street Markets in 1930s London.

  • Cheryl Roberts (Presenter)

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


Second-hand outlets, seconds trading, jumble sales and street markets, disobedient and unruly spaces of consumption, have long occupied the literary and visual panorama of everyday life. Walkowitz describes them as ‘messy, unhygienic […] they have been historically defended as the shopping centre[s] for the poor and culturally prized as liminal, carnivalesque places where journalists and writers can find good copy about the pulsating social organism of “Living London”.’

London, in the 1930s, was brimming with these kinetic, physically interactive, non-class stratified retail spaces. Purchasing garments through the market, wardrobe dealer, second-hand dealer or jumble sale suggests that the used clothing trade went some way toward providing access to otherwise unattainable garments for those with a limited budget. Yet the buying of second-hand and low quality clothing required negotiation, not only with a specific trader but also with fashion itself. Although the casual observer might assume that women who patronized these transitory spaces of consumption were driven by practicality rather than style, there is no clear indication that women viewed their procurement of used dress as a process lacking in taste or mode. In fact, the opposite could be noted, as it required a discerning eye to select quality garments from a seemingly worn out bundle of cloth or cheap, badly made apparel.

Llewellyn Smith writes that there were 10,492 street market stalls in London in 1930-1931, selling a range of wares including fruit, flowers, fish and livestock. Central to this study are Caledonian Market for the Friday ‘peddlers’ market or ‘rag fair’, ‘where 1300 stall holders, selling an extraordinary variety of second-hand wares, compete for a sale from the sea of bargain hunters; and Berwick Street, a hub of traders (mostly Jewish) of stockings and ready-made dresses in the heart of London’s West End,’ set in the foreign quarter of Soho behind the glamorous, modern shops of Regent Street and Oxford Street. From the budget-driven housewife to the fashion conscious young, working-class woman to the tourist compelled to breathe in the rich, if slightly decrepit, nostalgic air, this paper will discuss how these dealers created a world of cross-class communication as women purchased ‘smart’ clothing at low prices.
Period5 Sept 20197 Sept 2019
Held atDesign History Society, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational