Vancouver Island Events Website

The Store for Young Canada: Fashioning the Teenaged Consumer at Eaton’s Department Stores

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Friday, November 26th, 2021
10:00 AM to 11:30 AM

It seems that almost every day, we are introduced to a new generational label - Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, Generation Z, Zoomer, etc. - but did you know that the venerable "teenager" is a relatively recent invention too, at least in terms of its popular usage? According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the noun "teen" (meaning a teenaged person) has been around since 1818, while the obsolete (but pretty neat) "teener" was used in American English in the 1890s. The more familiar - initially hyphenated - "teen ager" and "teen-ager" didn't make an appearance on the linguistic scene until 1922, and even then, the terms' prevalence remained low; the "use over time" line graph that accompanies a Google search for the words basically flatlines for the first half of the twentieth century. Indeed, in his 2007 book Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, British music journalist Jon Savage notes that it was only in around 1944 that people, particularly in North America, really "started to use the word 'teenager' to describe the place of youth in their society." Moreover, as Savage argues, right from the start, "teenager" was a "marketing term that recognised the spending power of adolescents." In this upcoming Colloquium Series presentation, VIU historian Dr. Katharine Rollwagen will explore this constellation of generational change, nascent youth culture, and consumerism from a uniquely Canadian perspective. For much of the twentieth century, the T. Eaton Company - Eaton's, as it was more commonly known - was Canada’s “big store”; with outlets across the country and a large mail-order business, the retailer wielded great economic and cultural influence in English Canada. In the 1940s, Eaton’s began courting a new and exciting customer – the teenager. Dr. Rollwagen will examine Eaton’s ambitious marketing strategies in order to illuminate a fascinating aspect of Canada’s business history, as well as to help us to understand the commodification of youth culture - a process that, of course, continues in today's world networked world of "influencers," TikTok, and gig economics. Dr. Katharine Rollwagen's research examines the social and cultural influence of corporate entities, from her current work on the economic and social impacts of consumer culture on youth to earlier research on notions of gender, class and community in Canadian company towns. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Ottawa and an MA in History from the University of Victoria. Previously, she was an L.R. Wilson Assistant Professor at the Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University, and a SSHRC post-doctoral scholar. You can follow her on Twitter: @KTRollwagen.

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