I’ve been trawling online for lighting and after hitting on Littlewoods, was charmed to find that they have an archive tracing 7 Decades of Catalogue Home Shopping. This sets out to be a social history and starts by describing 'woman’s lot' in the 1930s. You can bet your boots that home shopping is going to feature as a major improvement in women’s lives. There was of course less new about it than Littlewoods would have you know. Mail order was well established before the 1930s; how else would people in far flung corners of the empire have received their home comforts? Many novels refer to orders from ‘The Stores’ ( The Army & Navy Stores ). John and Mary (in John and Mary at Riverton) buy 'an old Store’s List' which they intend to cut up for a scrapbook. What about Blackadder and his love of the 'Harrods lingerie catalogue' (in Blackadder Goes Fourth)? I’ve just been reading yet again The Proper Place by O Douglas (1926) in which Barbara asks Lady Jane if she has 'decided on the chintz', because if so, she’ll write for it straight away. This was middle class shopping though; the revolution came in selling by mail to ‘the ordinary housewife’.
The first Littlewoods catalogue came out in 1932, aimed at people who had previously bought through ‘tallymen’, often paying far too much for their credit (no change there). ‘We intend to help the homely folk of this country help them to obtain some of the profits made by manufacturing and trading... to save money on things they must have.’ was one of the company’s lines. This site tracks retailing trends and prices from the 1930s to the present and is quite fun to look at. I’d have liked more pictures, though!