The impact of the purchasing power of young, employed, modern working-class women on the design, mass manufacture and consumption of fashionable lightweight day dresses, 1930-1939

  • Cheryl Roberts

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    “The Impact of the Purchasing Power of Young, Employed, Modern Working-class Women on the Design, Mass Manufacture and Consumption of Fashionable Lightweight Day Dresses, 1930-1939” is a significant and largely untold history of the demand for cheap, more fashionable clothing for young working-class women. This is an interdisciplinary, material culture analysis that investigates the design, manufacture, retailing and consumption of fashion for and by young working-class women in Britain
    the 1930s. It concentrates on new mass developments in the design and manufacture of lightweight day dresses styled for younger women and on its retailing in the secondhand and seconds trades, in street markets, new chain stores, department stores, independent dress shops and in home dressmaking as well as discussing the specific impact of this new product within the emerging mail order catalogue industry in England. These outlets all offered venues of consumption to the young, employed, modern working-class woman which is freshly analysed here in the context of old and new businesses practices.

    The actuality of the garments worn by these young women is paramount to this research and will be at the forefront of all findings and developed discussions in this study. The mass manufacture of lightweight ready-made day dresses 1930-1939 is therefore the focus of this thesis, although other integral clothing items in the wardrobe of the young working-class woman must be briefly considered to build a clear picture of what clothing was available and what she could afford. The complex issue of garment fashionability, as seen through in the eyes of this young woman consumer, is also probed here.

    Pulling together a wide range of disparate original sources: oral testimony, photography, business archives, press reports, fashion periodicals and analysis of surviving garments in museum collections, this study proves for the first time that examination of the dress habits of young working-class women in Britain in the 1930s opens up an unexplored but significant material culture research field. This clarifies the central role of these young female consumers and their fashion demands as a key trigger for the major industrial development of a new product: fashionable, lightweight clothing in Britain and its mass consumption.

    The term ‘agents of change’ is of deep significance to this study that argues and proves that the close analysis of the consumption choices and the wearing of lightweight day dresses of this specific social group also became a significant reflection of major cultural and technological developments in mass modernity and social change in Britain in this period.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorLou Taylor (Supervisor) & Paddy Maguire (Supervisor)

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