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“But a job in a department store or a laundry gave anyone opportunities to become well versed in the signs of wealth.” To that end Shopgirls studied their well-to-do female customers seeking to imitate their look, which led the business world to pounce on this new type of consumer who sought little but to impress.
After “petting” came into vogue in the 1920s, for example, Weigel cites a Times article from 1922 with the title, “Mothers Complain That Modern Girls ‘Vamp’ Their Sons at Petting Parties.” Those evil, evil modern girls.“In the early 1900s, vice commissions across the country sent police and undercover investigators to check out spots where people went to make dates,” Weigel writes.“As early as 1905, private investigators hired by a group of Progressive do-gooders in New York City were taking notes on what we can now recognize as the dating avant-garde.” She recalls the report of one such special agent, staked out at the Strand Hotel in Midtown, who noted that the women he was spying on did not seem like prostitutes, per se, but were concerning nonetheless.In a column about “working class lives,” he told of a clerk named Artie whose girlfriend was losing interest in him and beginning to see other men socially.
When Artie confronts his fading love, he says, “I s’pose the other boy’s fillin’ all my dates?
‘I’m going to be an executive secretary and marry the boss.’ ” The other alternative was for women to take jobs in high-class department stores where rich men were likely to shop.