Schleppers and Shoppers: Jews, Street Markets, and the Selling of Ready-to-Wear in Interwar Soho
Speaker: Judith Walkowitz (Johns Hopkins University)
“Schleppers and Shoppers” draws on one of the chapters from Judith Walkowitz’s new book, Nights Out (Yale University Press, 2012) . It spotlights Berwick Street Market, a Jewish street market selling fashion and produce, located just behind the glitzy streets of London’s central shopping district. Between 1918 and 1936, Berwick Market emerged as the cutting edge retail space for mass market ready-to-wear fashion in the West End. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the media zeroed in on the combative encounters between working-class female shoppers and the smartly-dressed, fast-talking shop assistants or touts locally known as “schleppers,” who pulled female patrons into gown shops lining the market. Journalists treated both sides of the exchange as counterfeits and upstarts, ready to stray from the class codes and styles of established English culture.
But Jewish Sohoites saw this urban scene differently. In their hilarious tales of the schlepper, they summon up memories of a Jewish street character, who sometimes resembled a red hot mama, sometimes a flashily dressed fellow who emulated the dress of celluloid gangsters. By remembering the schlepper, they recall a safe and modern space of ethnic settlement that was simultaneously at the center of things and tied to Soho’s irregular world of sex, crime, and entertainment.
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