Consumerism: Times Past

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I hope everybody had a chance to read the responses to the last prompt. Most of us have had a weather event that has left lasting memories whether it be Hurricane Sandy or as a child testing why you shouldn’t put your tongue on cold pipes in Alaska. This months prompt comes as a result of a conversation that generated from the last prompt and is brought to us courtesy of D.Avery@shiftnshake  where she says:

Catalogues were pretty exciting, especially the Christmas catalogues. Sears was probably the biggest but Montgomery Ward was strong and even JC Penny. These were essential for people in remote and rural areas. (And now that I think of it, was a means for children to interact with print, early literacy, if you will.)
Maybe this has to do with your next prompt… remembered purchases or presents, given or received. What special thing did we all save up for, what whetted our consumer appetites in that catalogue?

Please join in giving your location at the time of your memory and  your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in can be seen at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments or by creating your own post and linking. Looking forward to your memories.

Silent Generation

City UK

Catalogue buying from Argos became one of the joys of my early working life prior to emigrating to Australia. I did not purchase from a catalogue perused at home but rather by personally shopping at the store it had on the High Street. I could look through the catalogue placed on slanted long counter along with many other people. The big draw for me was that I wasn’t accosted by salesman trying to talk me into buying something that I didn’t want (or I did want but hated the invasion of my privacy to decide by myself). I would use the pencil attached to write on the scrap of paper the number of the item I wished to buy having read the detailed description of the item which was often complete with…., take it to the counter and more often than not, walk out the store with it. Sometimes it had to be ordered in but it only took a few days to get.

Prior to Argos I used to read the newspapers where there were advertisements for everything imaginable , from Swiss chalet houses that you could put in your back yard to watches. This early joy has translated for me as a buyer from the internet. I can find anything I want on the net and the excitement of having oodles of parcels arrive is consumerism at its best. My latest purchase were some toothbrushes for our dog Muffin.

Baby Boomer

Rural Australia

Despite living in rural areas whilst I was growing up catalogues as a means of buying items was not, to my knowledge, commonplace. My mother did subscribe to both Myers and David Jones catalogues which were sent to her by post but she did not make her purchases until we were in Sydney on holidays and she would purchase instore. My Father did have a James Thin catalogue arrive several times a year and he was always very excited to have his order of books arrive all the way from Scotland. I was just as excited when I saw the James Thin shop in Edinburgh as it was such a part of my childhood memories of my Father. Dad also bought stamps from catalogues and I will never forget his disappointment that the stamps he purchased from Honest dealing Farouk  failed to arrive.

An early present I recall was a Snow white fluffy bunny that when wound up hopped. Unfortunately my Dad, who was not very mechanically minded, demonstrated how to wind the hopping mechanism, only to over wind and break the rabbit’s ability to hop forever.

In my youth we saved to buy anything we wanted. We received pocket money and normally I spent all of mine on sweets. Two things I can recall saving for however, were  an instamatic camera and a Barbie doll. Both were achieved and were all the more special for having to sacrifice instant short term gratification.

Catalogues probably entered my world in the 90’s with Ezibuy (predominantly clothing) and another, Innovations, which sold nifty items such as the book light and other supposedly fantastic gizzmos. I bought one dress and something which I can’t remember from each catalogue, was disappointed in the item and didn’t dip my toe in any further. I guess that is why I am not that keen on buying sight unseen from the internet, which has to be the ultimate in catalogues.

Now for your memories……

City UK

Rural UK

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About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
This entry was posted in Memoir, Past Challenge, Times Past and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Consumerism: Times Past

  1. Annecdotist says:

    Another interesting prompt, Irene. We had big chunky catalogues with a strong smell of the coloured ink (UK, baby boomer) but my mother was far too canny to buy anything at the inflated prices, preferring to save up for what we needed than to buy on credit. But we enjoyed flicking through the pages and cutting out the models to use as paper dolls.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I always loved looking through the beautiful Spiegle catalogue but I think they no longer exist in paper format.

    As a kid, shopping was a rare experience. We lived in Trenton, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Pennsylvania. There were no malls yet but about once a year my mom took me out of school for a day and we went to a Philadelphia (Pennsylvania city) store called Pomeroys. She wasn’t much for indulging me but this was always a wonderful experience. I don’t remember her buying anything for me but looking was free and fun.

    My most favorite place to shop, which always meant to look without purchasing anything, was a Pennsylvania village called New Hope. It was an artsy-crafty place, full of galleries and souvenir shops as well as artist workshops. I loved it, just looking and dreaming and wanting both to buy something and to go home to create something.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oops – boomer here.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t heard of any of the names you mentioned Sharon but I think you have hit on a difference I see between generations. We too used to window shop and we thought it was great fun. I especially liked night window shopping as it gave us a chance to stand for awhile and watch a TV going. This was long before we had one and they seemed amazing items to me in those days. I doubt that too many of the newer generations would be as happy to window shop as we were. We didn’t have expectations to buy. Necessities took precedence over luxuries and we just accepted that happily.
      It is lovely to hear that your current favourite place to window shop brings out your creativity.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Hello Irene. Your Times Past posts interest me because of the braid of generation and geography. Is setting for stories not both time and place?
    Once upon a time, in a land remote or rural, it was common to order from catalogues. Maybe it happened in urban areas too, I would not know. But where I was, when I was, and who we were, function was more important than fashion, and you could rely on basic work clothes and play clothes to not change from year to year. The quality of fit and materials was reliable, and anyone’s uniform was available. Farmer’s overalls, engineer coveralls, even a train conductor’s uniform could be mail ordered. And toughskins jeans, built to last.
    Catalogues were generally read in the bathroom. Jokes would be made about how the catalogues used to also be used as toilet paper. But there one could multi-task, peruse the items you wished for and dog-ear the pages that were a need. The world wasn’t at our fingertips, nor even an easy phone call away, but the US Postal service got the orders placed and the packages delivered. Most of these deliveries originated from the Christmas catalogues and the spring catalogues.
    Seed catalogues are a whole other category. Timing is everything. The catalogues need to get to the consumer on time, after the hype of Christmas, maybe when winter is beginning to seem endless, and then come the promises of color and abundance. Plan ahead, even as the garden is buried under a few feet of snow, and get the order in in time to get the seeds started in time for setting out. Along with packets of seeds, the peeping of mail order chicks enlivened the post offices of Vermont in the springtime.
    Once upon a time, in the land where I was, wants and needs were carefully considered, purchases made at a more cautious and thoughtful pace. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we usually got what we needed.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for supplying the prompt and adding to the place of catalogues in rural USA. We were much more uniform in our dress also compared to today. Just thinking of nursing – In my day the uniforms were fairly consistent between hospitals with only slight points of difference. Now I can’t tell a nurse from a ward clerk or a physiotherapist as we have gone to the unrecognisable corporate dress that can be totally different within the one organisation.
      I had to laugh about using the catalogues as toilet paper. We said the same thing about newspapers and I have to admit I have been to toilets in the country where squares of newspaper were hanging to be used. People weren’t as affluent as many are today and used what they could.
      It must have been exciting when the orders arrived. All those packages to unwrap, even if they were only functional jeans. I wonder how many of the present generation are happy to only get what they need. I have never heard of mail order chicks before. Springtime in Vermont must see the mailman busy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Charli Mills says:

    Another interesting topic, Irene! I look forward to reading more forum everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jeanne229 says:

    Boomer, Phoenix, AZ
    Haven’t stopped in for a while but popped over from Anne Goodwin’s post. (And now I’ve subscribed!) Living within city limits, we certainly weren’t rural people, but catalogues were a way of life I suppose for my parents, and the only time we went to the “mall” in town (one out of two) was at Christmas and Easter to buy new outfits. I think we got the Wards and Sears catalogues. My strongest memory is of my mother giving us kids a catalogue before Christmas and letting us circle the toys we wanted. (Not sure how I reconciled that with my belief in Santa Claus…) One toy I remember choosing and actually getting was a snow-cone machine. Flipping through the catalogue after circling my desired Christmas presents, I remember being fascinated with the women’s underwear section–all those slips and girdles and garter belts and bras with stiff cones for the breasts. I still look forward to getting a few now, from Travel Smith and L.L.Bean. But, alas, they are not the fat door-stop catalogues of yesterday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeanne, lovely to see you and get your memories of early days of catalogues. It is certainly appearing that the USA were shopping from catalogues (both city and country) earlier than most other places, particularly for staples such as clothing. What did the snow cone machine do? I’d forgotten those stiff cone bras (or at least the pictures of them). We get a bevy of catalogues delivered each week from all the local shops. They too are thin — I think the internet has replaced many of the mail order catalogues of yesteryear.


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  8. Pingback: Times Past: Consumerism | Musings of a Retiring Person

  9. Nicolai says:

    great perspective. Thank you for your post!

    Liked by 1 person

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