Abstract: The Show Must Go On: Department Stores and the Making of Fashion in Shanghai during World War II

Ling-ling Lien


This paper discusses how department stores in Shanghai promoted the notion of "fashion" during the World War II. Thanks to the availability of new source material and analytical framework, the development of consumer culture and fashion has received scholarly attention in recent decades. However, most research has focused on peacetime, overlooking the impact of war on consumer mentality and behavior. In fact, historians have noted the growth of department stores in wartime Shanghai, but merely attributed it to "peculiar prosperity" (including speculation) without recognizing the store managers' acumen in business. Grounded on the journal published by the Wing On Department Store, this paper intends to explore the company's marketing strategies during the war. The journal, the <i>Wing On Monthly</i>, was founded in May 1939 and continued through the war until the Chinese Communist Party took over in 1949. It not only advertised merchandise sold in the store, but also sought to promote the ideas of "modernity," including choices of products, lifestyle, attitude, and even marriage. In particular I explore the construction of gender identity through consumption: how did such a leisure or consumption-based journal articulate "manhood" and "womanhood" in response to wartime chaos and emergency calls for national salvation? This research helps us reassess the effects of war on people's daily life, in both a material and an emotional sense. The war hardly suspended desires for a better self while redefining the content of fashion that in turn reshaped self identity.