Demand Pull: The Humble Class Gets a Taste for ‘‘Gaiety of Dress''
The world's first factories were cotton textile factories, and it was entrepreneurial developments in the production of cotton cloth and yarns that launched the Industrial Revolution in eighteenth-century Britain. A rapid-fire series of technical improvements in both the spinning and weaving of yarns made large-scale production possible and opened the way for the manufacture of textiles to move from the home and workshop into the factory. The exploding productivity of the English cotton industry dramatically lowered prices, so that for the first time, the poor could dress attractively. A consumer class was born. Edward Baines, a nineteenth-century historian, described the consumer pull of cheap cotton clothing:
It is impossible to estimate the advantage to the bulk of the people, from the wonderful cheapness of cotton goods ... the humble classes now have the means of as great neatness, and even gaiety of dress, as the middle and upper classes of the last age. A country-wake in the nineteenth century may display as much finery as a drawing room of the eighteenth.1
As technological innovation increased productivity, higher productivity in turn lowered prices. The lower prices spurred demand for textiles, which then left England starving for raw cotton. Once the British masses had a taste of ‘‘gaiety of dress,’’ there was no turning back. The ...