There’s a lot of truth in the cliche “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Frequently digging into local history reveals that truth. We got the latest glimpse of that Tuesday night (April 17) with Citadel professor Amanda Mushal’s fascinating presentation “A Handsome Assortment of the Newest Fashions: The Businesswomen of Antebellum King Street”.
What was it like to do business in 1850’s Charleston? One of the similarities to today was King Street as a retail focal point. Another similarity was the importance of a good credit rating. Yes, amazingly enough, there were credit bureaus 160 years ago and your credit rating went a long way toward having a shot at a successful retail business.
1855 city records show many women in business focusing on dry goods, dressmakers and millinery. At that point there were 144 white and 51 free Black women listed.
Charleston businesswomen frequently traveled to New York City to replenish their stock with fashions from Paris. Then, as now, “connections” were an important component of business success.
Dr. Mushal also talked about how evolving technology had an impact on retailing. Over a few decades leading up to the 1850s newspaper ads evolved from strictly type to include graphics, more expressive fonts and more dramatic presentation. Another impact of evolving technology was the development and wider availability of lithographs which move more expressive home decor into the reach of more families.