Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Browsing and Shopping

During the years between the two World Wars M&S transformed from Penny Bazaar to department store. Customers were still welcomed into stores and encouraged to browse and inspect goods before they purchased, but now they were greeted by polished wooden floors and gleaming counters crammed with items. These new 'superstores' were a whole new concept in shopping. Some of the household goods were cut out and replaced by clothing and foods, a gradual changeover which continued through the 1930s.

Birmingham M&S Department Store 1933
Birmingham M&S Department Store 1933

The inside of a store would have looked very different from today - lit by gas lamps and with wooden floors, which had to be coated in linseed oil every week (the oil was essential to protect and preserve the wood, helping the floor to last longer and keeping it clean and smart).

M&S Menswear Window 1937
M&S Menswear Window 1937

The importance of having merchandise well displayed was understood, resulting in very grand window arrangements. The new style stores had wider counters and Art Deco styling. The aim was to make shopping a more enjoyable and aspirational activity.

M&S Magazine, Christmas 1932 Womenswear advert
M&S Magazine 1932

Advert for M&S Tango China range 1932
Advert for M&S Tango Ware

What else was happening in the world in 1933?

  • Hitler ordered a boycott of German Jewish-owned department stores
  • Ramsay MacDonald was British Prime Minister
  • Albert Einstein arrived in the USA as a refugee from Nazi Germany
  • 'The Great Depression' was at its height
  • 'The Dust Bowl' inspired John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
  • Winston Churchill made his first public speech warning of the dangers of Nazi Germany
  • All non-Nazi parties were forbidden in Germany
  • Gandhi began a hunger strike because of the mistreatment of lower caste people in India
  • First alleged modern sighting of the Loch Ness Monster
  • The Gestapo was established in Germany
  • Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany was built
  • The film King Kong was released
  • The word Pakistan came into being
  • The Chocolate chip cookie was invented 
  • The Board Game Monopoly was invented 


Art Deco -  a style of architecture, interior design and jewellery most popular in the 1930s that used geometric designs, bold colours and outlines
Aspirationalbeing ambitious and desiring success
Bazaar - market, souk, marketplace
Boycott - reject, shun, stay away from
Decimalisation - change over from old British money to a system based on units of 10
Haberdasher - a person who sells small articles for sewing such as buttons, ribbons, zips, and needles
Innovation - original, modern, novelty
Merchandise -  goods, products, stock
Window dressing - what is known today as visual merchandising, making window displays attractive to customers