The influx of these wonderful goods lead to the development of a shopping culture. Strips of shops with large glass bay windows displayed their goods for all to see and window shopping became a social event. They were even lit by candles at night – it must have looked magical as it is commented on in several European travellers writings.
Shoppers also became discerning, knowing where to get the best deal, who gave the longest credit and most impotantly who had the best manners. Retailers got the short end of the stick as they were always in danger of offending their clientele and often had to chase them for payment. Credit was a way of life for several reasons, firstly there was a shortage of physical money and secondly wages and incomes were paid quarterly and/or annually. No weekly pay cheques! If the retailers didn’t extend credit they would never sell anything.
The question is though how did everyoine afford these luxury items? There is much debate on the matter: was it a reduced birth rate, an increase in the average age of marriage, women choosing to remain single and childless, less time spent in production of food and goods, the desire for luxury and fashion often through sacrifice, longer working hours, the emulation of the upper classes or a combination of all facilitated by a growing urban London? I vote for the combo deal. I think that most paradigm shifts in history occur through a synchronistic interweaving threads of change.
Here’s my bay window shop in Charing Cross: