A woman’s heaven on Earth became the department store in 1838 in Paris. The department store became a haven where women of the wealthy middle class and the Bourgeois could spend their free time there and feel safe, much like they did at church. It also became an expansion of a woman’s sphere in both her work life and in public. But since the department store was first erected, it begs the burning question: why would the women of Paris feel safe in the department stores? Why would the lower middle-class girls work in the department stores where the hours were long and the salary was minimal? The department stores changed the way women were viewed in both society and by each other because they became “modern women” rather the “traditional women” that they’d been seen as before.
In his novel, The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola published in 1883, Zola said that the department store was a “giant fairground display, as if the shop was bursting and throwing its surplus stock out into the street” (Zola, and Nelson 5). The department store in Zola’s novel was based off Le Bon Marche, founded by Aristide Boucicaut in 1838 and it became the most famous department store in Paris. By 1852, Le Bon Marche or “the good market” offered a wide variety of goods under one roof that were sold at fixed prices, low markup and there was a guarantee for exchanges, and refunds.
The department store was known for selling goods at fixed prices and even the store workers were given a “percentage on the smallest bit of material, the smallest article they sold: a system which had caused a revolution in the drapery trade by creating among the assistants a struggle for survival from which the employers reaped the benefit” (Zola, and Nelson 35). The managers of the department stores begin to love their jobs because they could control everything that happened in their store, they were similar to a king and the store was the king’s domain. The managers would unleash “passions, brought different forces into conflict, let the strong devour the weak, and grew fat on this battle of interest” (Zola, and Nelson 35). The stores revolutionized the market of commerce because the goods that were being sold were being sold cheaply and that angered the manufactures. The small trade stores began to lose most of their costumers to the department stores, causing them to go out of business and the competitors of the department stores would groan in fury. The main thing that the department store was trying to do was excite people’s interest, and “for that you must have an article that delights them—which causes a sensation. After that you can sell the other goods at prices as high as anywhere else, and they’ll still think yours are the cheapest” (Zola, and Nelson 39). The department stores excited anyone who entered the doors. It started a revolution among the women of Paris because the stores excited their interest.
The department store became a haven for women in Paris, where they could...