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Synergy and Dissonance of the Senses: Negotiating Fashion Through Second-hand Dealing, Jumble Sales and Street Market Trading in 1930s East End London

Roberts, Cheryl (2022) Synergy and Dissonance of the Senses: Negotiating Fashion Through Second-hand Dealing, Jumble Sales and Street Market Trading in 1930s East End London. In: Shopping and the Senses, 1880-1970. Palgrave Macmillan/Springer Nature, Switzerland, pp. 145-168. ISBN 9783030903343

Type of Research: Book Section
Creators: Roberts, Cheryl

Chapter 8. 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 [that] were 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 fashion and with a specific trader but also with a synergy of senses. David Howes considers that even if visual appearance was the “primary sensory mode of consumer culture” the other senses were always important. The business of fashion, in fact all consumer capitalism, engages in many of the senses to seduce the customer yet it can also repel, disrupt and inform the practice of shopping.

The London Observer commented on the markets “comfortable dirtiness […] and garlic aroma.” These claustrophobic, confining spaces were filled with odorous, verbal and tactile encounters that created a magnetic appeal. Mary Benedetta warned in 1936 that “you have to be very strong minded to visit Berwick Market”, yet the drive for fashionable garments propelled women with confidence into these dissident spaces to fulfil their desire for affordable style. Building on Constance Classen’s observation that “sensory perception is a cultural as well as physical act”, this chapter will explore and reflect on Howes consideration of how sensory modes are integral to consumer decisions. Although the casual observer might assume that women who patronized transitory spaces of consumption were driven by practicality rather than choice, there is no clear indication that women viewed their procurement of cheap new and used dress within these places as a process lacking in taste or mode.

These arenas of Bakhtin’s carnivalesque and Turner’s liminality disrupted the safety of high street retail spaces for mass market ready-made fashion yet enticed classless bargain hunters seeking a momentary encounter with the ephemeral senses. 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 chapter will discuss how dealers and traders created a world of cross-sensory communication as women purchased ‘smart’ clothing at low prices.

The book, Shopping and the Senses, 1800-1970, demonstrates the primacy of touch, smell, taste, sight and sound within the retail landscape. It shows that histories of the senses, body, and emotions were inextricably intertwined with processes and practices of retail and consumption. Shops are sensory feasts. From the rustle of silk to the tempting aroma of coffee, the multi-sensory appeal of goods has long been at the heart of how we shop. This book delves into and beyond this seductive idyll of consumer sensuality. Shopping was a sensory activity for consumers and retailers alike, but this experience was not always positive. The book is inhabited by tired feet and weary workers, as well as eager shoppers. It considers embodied sensory experiences and practices, and it represents both a celebration and interrogation of the integration of sensory histories into the study of retail and consumption. Crucially, the book places breathing, feeling human bodies back into the retail space.

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: multisensory persuasion, cultural and physical, liminal, pleasure and dirtiness
Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Palgrave Macmillan/Springer Nature
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Communication
Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: 2022
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2023 14:24
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2023 14:24
Item ID: 20633
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/20633

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