Unique to Western business practices, fashion merchandising was a theatrical strategy par excellence that embodied the quest for the new. Like window display and the toy store, it democratized desire; it carried exciting meanings and introduced the mass of consumers to everything from the aristocratic glamour of Paris to the exotic allure of orientalism. “Fashion,” a 1908 retailer said, “imparts to merchandise a value over and above it intrinsic worth” and “imbues with special desirability good which otherwise excite only languid interest.” Its intent was to make women (and to a lesser degree men) feel special, to give them opportunities for playacting, and to lift them into a world of luxury or pseudo-luxury, beyond work, drudgery, bills, and the humdrum everyday. Its effect was often to stir up restleness and anxiety, especially in a society where class lines were blurred or denied, where men and women fought for the same status and wealth, and where people feared being left out or scorned because they could not keep up with others and could not afford the same things other people had.
William Leach, Land of Desire, 91-92.