As the 20th century creeped on, women found new work opportunities in department stores offering attentive service to a discerning crowd of affluent shoppers. These shopgirls, while certainly below their clients in social and economic class, were expected to be impeccably dressed without outshining the women who came there to shop.

The results are that shopgirls of the 1910s-30s, the era in which department stores became an integral element of commerce, were understatedly stylish. These ladies had an arguably refined appearance. Even when compared to the upper crust of the day, these ladies were quite fashionable and often were obligated to furnish their own work attire.

Holmes Department Store staff, 1913. Via/ Library of Congress
Dreka’s Department Store, 1930s. Via/ State Archives of Florida
Dreka’s Department Store, 1930s. Via/ State Archives of Florida
Murphy Gamble Department Store. Via/ Wiki Commons
Eaton’s Department Store millinery section, 1908. Via/ Wiki Commons
Schlenck Department Store, 1910s. Via/ Flickr

Once considered the domain of men, as department stores popped up in growing numbers women were employed more and more as clerks and assistants- even as elevator operators. Into the 1970s and ’80s many female department store employees were entailed to wear their best clothing. Even female K-mart employees were required to wear heels to work! Of course so much has changed since then and most stores today don’t offer the kind of service that department stores offered back then.