Historic Department Stores

The concept of ‘shopping’ as we now know it did not exist before the nineteenth century. Goods were sold at markets and fairs, by street traders or by shops specialising in one type of product only, such as cobblers, blacksmiths or butchers.

During the Victorian period, however, a new type of shop began to emerge – the department store. Shopping was transformed from a daily chore to a pleasurable past time, with different departments and products all under one roof.

Advancements in technology meant that all kinds of products could now be mass manufactured quickly and cheaply, and a new ‘ready to buy’ culture emerged. This appealed in particular to the rising middle classes, who were enjoying the spoils of their newfound wealth as a result of the Industrial Revolution. It was common for wives of successful businessmen to demonstrate their status through their fashionable dress, and so women became department stores’ biggest customers.

Wylie & Lochhead, Paisleys, Pettigrew & Stephens, Copland & Lye and Anderson’s Royal Polytechnic were just some of the many department stores that lined Sauchiehall Street, Buchanan Street, Argyle Street and Jamaica Street. Today, only two famous department stores from the past – Frasers and Watt Brothers – survive in their original form to give a sense of what shoppers in the nineteenth century might have experienced.