Fashioning Consumers : Ackermann’s Repository of Arts and the Cultivation of the Female Consumer
Consumption has served as one of the key explanatory frameworks for economic and social change in eighteenth-century Britain. The influence of consumption on debates surrounding political and moral economy has been undeniable, inspiring the application of transformative phrases to characterise the century. Yet, amidst the rich and interdisciplinary literature on the growth of a ‘consumer society’, little attention has been paid to the figure at the heart of this debate: the consumer. Key questions remain regarding who this figure was, how they were perceived, and how they were cultivated. In particular, the female consumer, who was the subject of extensive contemporary comment, has been obscured by a veil of disapproving, and at times misogynistic suspicion. This gendered stereotype of the consumer has simultaneously been painted by contemporary commentators as an idle browser, an extravagant spendthrift, and a careful housekeeper. Yet, towards the end of the long eighteenth century, this contradictory consumer character gained clarity and definition in the public eye. These decades bore witness to the emergence of a new, productive consumer character, who epitomised patriotic spending and polite fashionability.