First Modern Department Store Opens in Paris

The first department stores radically changed retail marketing and linked commerce, culture, and social activity. Department stores epitomized the nineteenth century’s culture of consumption, changed attitudes toward buying and selling, and created the idea of shopping as a pleasant activity, especially for women.

Summary of Event

Retail marketing and, consequently, consumerism underwent a drastic change with the creation of department stores. Before these new stores, keepers of small shops specialized in a single item or type of item. Milliners sold hats, tailors and dressmakers sold clothing, and drapers sold cloth. Customers entered stores only when they needed and intended to make a purchase. Prices were not marked on goods, and shopkeepers often set prices according to what they believed the individual customer could pay, resulting in a considerable amount of haggling over prices between buyer and seller. There were no refunds, reduced-price “sales,” or home deliveries. Department stores
Paris;department stores
[kw]First Modern Department Store Opens in Paris (1869)
[kw]Modern Department Store Opens in Paris, First (1869)
[kw]Department Store Opens in Paris, First Modern (1869)
[kw]Store Opens in Paris, First Modern Department (1869)
[kw]Opens in Paris, First Modern Department Store (1869)
[kw]Paris, First Modern Department Store Opens in (1869)
Department stores
Paris;department stores
[g]France;1869: First Modern Department Store Opens in Paris[4280]
[g]United States;1869: First Modern Department Store Opens in Paris[4280]
[c]Marketing and advertising;1869: First Modern Department Store Opens in Paris[4280]
[c]Business and labor;1869: First Modern Department Store Opens in Paris[4280]
[c]Social issues and reform;1869: First Modern Department Store Opens in Paris[4280]
[c]Fashion and design;1869: First Modern Department Store Opens in Paris[4280]
Boucicaut, Aristide
Jaluzot, Jules
Cognacq, Ernest
Stewart, Alexander Turney
Wanamaker, John
Wanamaker Stores
Field, Marshall

During the 1830’s and 1840’s, Paris Paris;department stores saw the development of a new kind of store that paved the way for the department store and served as a transition from the small specialty shops to the multi-item stores. These new stores were called magasins de nouveautés (dry-goods stores) and carried wider varieties of goods than did the traditional shops. However, their stocks were limited, primarily, to cloth, clothing, and similar items. The proprietors of these new stores did some experimenting with the innovations that would become associated with modern department stores.

The history of the department store, however, begins with Aristide Boucicaut, Boucicaut, Aristide who would build the first true department store in 1869. He arrived in Paris in 1835 and found employment at Le Petit Thomas, magasin de nouveautés, where he rose to the position of department head. In 1852 he left Le Petit Thomas and became co-owner of the Bon Marché with Paul Videau. Here he began to put into practice the innovative retailing techniques that would become characteristic of department stores: extensive varieties of merchandise attractively displayed in specialized departments, prices marked on items, entry without obligation to buy, return and refund, special sales at regular intervals, and home deliveries. He bought out his partner in 1863 and by 1869 had acquired enough space adjacent to the Bon Marché to build a much larger new store with the same name, which is considered the first department store.

Boucicaut Boucicaut, Aristide was not the only merchant implementing new retailing techniques. On July 9, 1855, Les Magasins du Louvre opened with a salon and buffet and soon added household items to its stock. In 1856, Xavier Ruel expanded the shops of the corner of the Rue de Rivoli and Rue des Archives into Le Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville and introduced the prix fixe (fixed prices). In 1865, Jules Jaluzot, Jaluzot, Jules a former employee of Bon Marché, opened Le Printemps. The store was an immediate success. By 1872, Le Printemps had extensive mail-order sales from seven different catalogs, which included a general catalog and six specialized catalogs. In 1869, Ernest Cognacq Cognacq, Ernest and his wife, Louise Jay, who were trained at Bon Marché, opened a small shop near the Pont Neuf. Madame Cognacq’s experience with Boucicaut served her well, as she and her husband successfully built their shop into the department store La Samaritaine.

This retailing phenomenon was occurring at the same time in the United States. In 1846, Irish-born merchant Alexander Turney Stewart built a store in New York New York City;department stores that was referred to as the Marble Palace. Faced in Tuckahoe marble, with imported French plate-glass windows on the ground floor and a construction of cast iron, Iron;cast iron the innovative building became the model for American department stores. Stewart employed many of the French retailing techniques in his own store, including fixed prices, free entry, and returns. In 1862, Stewart Stewart, Alexander Turney built a new store, which occupied a full city block; it had eight floors and nineteen departments. His store was soon followed by other stores. In 1858, Rowland Hassey Macy Macy, Rowland Hassey moved Macy’s from Haverhill, Massachusetts, to New York. By the 1880’s, there were so many retail stores along a stretch of Broadway in New York City that the stretch became known as the Ladies Mile New York City;Ladies Mile .

Interior of Marshall Field’s flagship department store in Chicago, around 1910.

Department stores flourished in other areas of the United States as well. John Wanamaker Wanamaker Stores
Wanamaker, John , usually considered the founder of the American department store, converted an abandoned railroad depot into his first such store in Philadelphia, Philadelphia;department stores Pennsylvania, in 1875. He established a second store in New York in 1896. Chicago Chicago;department stores became the home of what was to be the world’s largest department store, Marshall Field and Company Marshall Field and Company . In 1881, Marshall Field Field, Marshall , a former employee and later partner of Palmer Potter, the store’s founder, became sole owner of the store and named it Marshall Field’s.

The nineteenth century provided the perfect climate for the thriving of department stores. It was a time of economic prosperity, growth, and urbanization. Improved transportation systems, mass production of goods, and the rise to prominence of the bourgeois, or middle class, all contributed to the success of the stores. The department store in turn affected every aspect of life: economic, social, cultural, and intellectual. These large stores stimulated the economy, providing a significant number of jobs and an outlet for an enormous quantity of goods. Store owners such as Boucicaut, Boucicaut, Aristide who provided an emergency fund for employees and free medical care, contributed to social reforms that benefited workers.

Department stores were more than just places to purchase goods. With their elaborate storefronts and ornate interiors such as Stewart’s marble and cast iron facade, Boucicaut’s skylights, and Field’s Tiffany Dome, they set the standard for the architecture Architecture;department stores of commercial buildings in general. The stores had restaurants, separate lounges for men and women, and reading rooms, which encouraged socialization. They catered particularly to women, providing them with more “public” space. Courtesy and pleasing the customer were the first concerns of employees. Fashion shows and full-length mirrors in the ladies’ lounge at Stewarts and a bridal registry and the option to take merchandise home on approval at Field’s Marshall Field and Company were meant to entice female clients. The stores also encouraged and supported the arts. Evenings saw concerts in front of Bon Marché; both Bon Marché and Le Printemps had art exhibits, and Macy’s held its first Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1854, a parade that continues into the twenty-first century.


The department store was a great innovation of the nineteenth century. The new commercial institution represented the essence of the culture and lifestyle of the time. It reflected the period’s materialism, consumerism, and practices of consumption.

Focusing on pleasing female customers, the stores established women as experts in selecting quality goods: The idea of women-as-shoppers has become commonplace. French novelist Émile Zola’s Zola, Émile
[p]Zola, Émile;The Ladies’ Delight[Ladies Delight] contemporary naturalistic novel about commerce during the nineteenth century, Au Bonheur des dames (1883; The Ladies’ Delight, 1957), depicted women’s pleasure in shopping. The practice of free entry and the emphasis on courtesy to customers opened the activity of shopping to all social classes.

With their insistence on storefronts of enormous size and a selection of the widest variety of goods possible under one roof, department stores paved the way for twentieth century mass marketing, shopping centers, and superstores.

Further Reading

  • Crossick, Geoffrey, and Serge Jaumain, eds. Cathedrals of Consumption: The European Department Store, 1850-1939. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 1999. A comprehensive collection. Discusses store architecture, training of personnel, the cult of shopping, the culture of consumption, and how stores permitted women more public space. Explores the expansion of department stores from France and Britain to Germany, Belgium, and Hungary.
  • Lancaster, William. The Department Store: A Social History. London: Leicester University Press, 1995. Chronicles the development of department stores in Great Britain, the influence of Parisian grand magasins, the importance of Harry Gordon Selfridge (who left Marshall Field’s in 1906) to British department stores, the role of women, and the paternalistic attitudes of store owners toward workers.
  • Leach, William R. Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. Leach examines entrepreneurs such as Field and Wanamaker, who turned shopping into a religion, and the merchants’ interactions with religious leaders to make buying a celebration of happiness.
  • Madsen, Axel. The Marshall Fields: The Evolution of an American Business Dynasty. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. The story of the Marshall Field’s department store, from its founding to the twenty-first century. Also chronicles the personal life of Marshall Field, his success as a businessman, and his failure as a family man. Traces five generations of Fields family.
  • Miller, Michael Barry. The Bon Marché: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981. A history of Bon Marché, its role in French commerce, and its social and cultural influences.
  • Schwartz, Vanessa R. Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. An excellent recounting of the social and cultural atmosphere in which department stores and the cult of shopping developed and thrived.
  • Tamilia, Robert D. “The Wonderful World of the Department Store in Historical Perspective: A Comprehensive International Bibliography Partially Annotated.” An eighty-nine page bibliography on the history of the department store, compiled by a marketing professor at the University of Quebec, Montreal. Available as a PDF document. http://faculty.quinnipiac .edu/charm/ Accessed January, 2006.

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Paris;department stores