chapter  1
22 Pages

Consuming modernity

WithPenny Sparke

In the nineteenth century the British middle classes expanded in number and their capacity to consume grew significantly. The impact of modernity on American society was expressed through consumers’ choices of their material environments. Although the idea of modernity existed before architects and designers had created a visual, material and spatial representation of it, the first signs of a man-made shift in the look of the city itself – London, Paris, Vienna or New York, among others – emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. The fascination with the department store emanated from a desire to capture the experience of modernity and to uncover the roots of contemporary consumer and commodity culture. Fashion and modernity developed hand in hand with each other in the urban context, especially in the formation of identities. Modernity’s key characteristic, therefore, as it was presented to the inhabitants of the industrialised world, was its inbuilt ambivalence.