Consumerism increased as a result of the British Empire. Goods from around the globe found there way into the shops of busy and prosperous cities and towns up and down the country. As professional classes grew in number, so too did the number of people with a disposable income to spend on more luxury items. Imports from the Empire appealed in part as they were exotic and new. They also provided choice and the spate of inventions that took place during the hey-day of the British Empire led to a new kind of consumer experience. Examples such as the Great Exhibition show how the wares of the Empire were advertised to the British public.

Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. An example of how consumerism was promoted alongside celebrating British Imperialism.

Consumerism was not the result just of colonisation. The emergence of a middle class and the onset of the Industrial Revolution contributed. As more produce was available at affordable prices, demand rose. As the number of middle classed people rose, demand for more luxury items rose. This led to higher demand for goods produced in British factories. It also meant that there was a market for produce from the empire.
Trade in items such as spices and fabrics was at the heart of imperial commerce. Food and rarities such as ivory were also popular. Imports of sugar, coffee and tea had as early as the 17th century begun to change the way that socialising was undertaken and the taste buds of Europe were transformed irreversibly. These combined with the middle classes newfound wealth led to societal changes. Spa towns became popular and luxury shops began to find their way onto a modernising high street.
The classic example of the combination of these things is perhaps Harrods. A department store once famed for its proud boast that it could procure any item, at a price, from anywhere in the world.

Consumerism in the British Empire

The British Library have a section dedicated to the rise of the consumer during the Empire era. It highlights the range of things that were imported into Britain, from glasswares to fabrics.
Love Learning?

Subscribe to our Free Newsletter, Complete with Exclusive History Content