The steadily growing bourgeoisie in late-nineteenth-century Paris had a great deal of leisure time, which it devoted to the consumption of all manner of goods and entertainment.
More and more items were being cheaply mass-produced in factories, bringing them within reach of working class people. And even if the products in the glittering shop windows were too expensive, you could always look and dream…
The abundance of industrial products for the masses sparked a reaction among the social elite. The aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie now sought to surround themselves with unique, hand-crafted products. They began, for instance, to collect original fine-art prints, which combined the uniqueness, artistry and craftsmanship they were looking for.
The female consumer
Women who did not have to work for a living had lots of time on their hands.
The author Octave Uzanne described how they would temporarily ward off their boredom and loneliness by shopping for dresses and accessories they did not really need.
Women also played a leading role in the posters and advertisements that promoted these goods.
Not only were they representatives of the most important group of consumers, their beauty also enhanced the attractiveness of the product.
Octave Uzanne, La femme à Paris, nos contemporaines. Notes successives sur les parisiennes de ce temps dans leurs divers milieux, états et conditions, Paris 1894
Rosalind H. Williams, Dream Worlds. Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France, Berkeley 2001
Haejeong Hazel Hahn, Scenes of Parisian Modernity. Culture and Consumption in the Nineteenth Century, New York 2009