Shoppers in Post-War America

Export was a very important aspect of post-war economic recovery in the UK. And in the 1940s and 1950s, Otto Weisz – Pringle’s well-known designer – made several trips to the US. The reports he made of these trips – for the Pringle Board of Directors – provide a valuable insight into who the American consumer was and what they wanted.

Photograph of a department store interior with a customer sitting at a counter being served by a young woman
US department store, Boylan Pierce, 1942 (Image courtesy of State Archives of North Carolina)

Although Otto Weisz recorded observations about fashion trends, retail strategies and buyers’ comments – he also engaged in an early form of customer profiling. His reports captured details about consumer lifestyle, shopping habits, earnings and aspirations.

In 1948, he noted that:

Impressions in localities and in hotels are that women are well dressed. They have well kept hands, good hair styles, and they adapt themselves to the fashion picture of the day. The American woman, and man for that matter, is fashion conscious, keeping very much up to date in their clothes. The younger generation is self assured, not shy and backward, and always very certain of their own capabilities and very sure of their facts.

And after a trip in 1950, he observed that:

American women, and college girls “collect” Sweaters, particularly for colour…The importance of an attractive name for each new colour must not be overlooked. I am not exaggerating when I say that the names such as Burnt Heather, Carnival Ruby, and Arizona Gold are literally adored by Buyers and sales staff alike. This is purely psychological reasoning but very important indeed and easy to achieve

He even inquired about salaries and discovered that the earning potential of most Americans was considerably higher than their UK counterparts.

I have made some extensive enquiries as to the salaries that are being paid… a salesman can earn anything between 100 and 160 dollars a week, and a salary of 75 or 85 dollars is considered very low. Secretarial jobs for women are being paid from 50 dollars upwards, and can reach the figure of 100 to 120 dollars for the private secretary.

He estimated that someone earning £1,000 in London would have to earn £1,750 in a major city in the US to achieve the same lifestyle. He also observed that credit was commonly used by many American consumers to acquire goods and to create the lifestyle to which they aspired.

All excerpts taken from the Pringle Company Minute Books, Hawick Heritage Hub.