shopping, old school


It is often said that shopping in the modern meaning of the word – that familiar combination of economic exchange, voyeurism and leisure pastime – is a relatively recent invention. The English verb ‘to shop’, for example, in the sense of retail activity (rather than its earlier – now slang – meaning of ‘to imprison or inform on someone’), is not attested until the mid-18th century; and the noun ‘shopper’ not until a hundred years after that. But this poem about a ladies’ outing to the shoe emporium seems to show that a very similar kind of activity, with some of the same pleasures, took place in the ancient Mediterranean. In fact it is not so different from another (fictional) shopping trip, more than two thousand years later, also in Alexandria. In the middle of Evelyn Waugh’s Officers and Gentlemen, Mrs Stitch goes off to the bazaar with Guy Crouchback, visits the shoemaker’s shop, is given a stool to sit on, listens to the sales pitch while she inspects the stock – and then goes away, the proud possessor of a lovely pair of crimson slippers.

more from Mary Beard at the LRB here.