An History of Consumption in Post-War France
By Faith Duval –
After the Second World War, France experienced three decades of extraordinary economic growth.
That period came to be known as Les Trentes Glorieuses, ‘the thirty glorious years’. Similar growth occurred in countries throughout the Western world during what economists dubbed ‘the long boom’.
Western Europe and Japan saw extraordinarily high growth and full employment in these years. Between 1947 and 1973 France experienced an average of 5% growth per year. The new leisure civilisation which came into being is reflected in many of the vintage ads of the period which we have collected on our site.
In France as in other Western European nations the boom was expedited by the American Marshall Plan. This Plan was an aid programme intended to support European capitalist economies as they rebuilt after the turbulence of the war.
During the boom the ownership of household appliances and amenities rose dramatically. In 1954 only 7.5 percent of French homes had a fridge and 8.5 percent a washing machine. By 1968 the respective figures were 72.4 percent and 50.1 percent. Amenities which had been luxuries before the War such as inside toilets, central heating, hot running water and electrical appliances, were now seen as essential to a normal standard of living. The new standard was called ‘le comfort moderne’.
Partly as a result of the Marshall Plan, French consumption patterns and culture were Americanised to a degree as the US ideal of domesticity caught the imagination of the public.
France spent the boom period catching up with US prosperity. Whilst in 1950 the average income of a French citizen was 55% that of an American, by 1973 this number was 80%. Of all the major nations only Japan grew faster than France in this period. Between 1950 and 1975, the real purchasing power of an average French worker’s salary went up by 170%, whilst overall private consumption rose by 175% between 1950 and 1974.
This piece of vintage art from 1949 created to advertise a mixer from Electromagic reflects the mood of the times:
This piece of vintage advertising art represents not only the affluent consumer society that was coming into being but the ideals of domesticity and the gender norms which were common currency.
In the 1950s the French home was transformed and domestic appliances became widely available. An ideal of domestic comfort was promoted through 1950s advertisements and magazines. This was part of a national drive for productivity which entailed an increasing rationalisation of both factory and domestic work. Household appliances were advertised for their value in rationalising work by making the housewife’s job easier.
As the country embarked on national industrial plans, regional development was a political priority. Visible too in many ads of the time is a localism- text often indicating to the town or region in which the product is manufactured, touting the company’s role in its development.
From television to automobiles, consumer goods were being purchased by the French working class on an unprecedented scale. There was a dramatic rise in home-owning among families and an increase in holidaymaking.
As incomes rose, consumers spent proportionally less on necessities like food and clothing and more on housing, transportation, health and leisure. The authentic vintage posters on our site are evidence of these changing, optimistic times.