1920 - 1940

In the decades between the wars, Britain moved into the Great Depression. There were shortages of goods, unemployment was at nearly 3 million and many companies closed. However, it was the period that sharpened the business and helped us focus and strengthen our strong foundations.

M&S was now facing competition from affordable variety stores. Adapting to keep ahead of the game we changed our pricing system, now selling goods up to 5 shillings. We also reduced the dazzling array of items offered, placing emphasis on two departments: food, which M&S had always sold to some extent, and clothing, which was new for us.

We made ourselves unique by offering clothing that was well made but affordable. M&S was the first retailer to have a research laboratory to pre-test the quality of our goods and develop innovative new fabrics. Higher quality at lower prices proved very successful.

As more houses were built, the demand for affordable household goods grew. So we sold items like tea sets, and domestic chores were jazzed up with our bright, art deco jumpsuits.

This period really saw our products start to blend in with the changing lifestyles of our customers.
Underwear first appeared in Marks & Spencer in the 1920s

Miss M Simpson donated this manicure set. It cost a third of her weekly wages as a sales assistant, so she was allowed to pay in instalments.

This tea set is one of many in the archive and was donated by Doreen Newlyn. It features a beautiful art deco design.

M&S started selling records in the 1930s. We had our own brand record line, featuring the ‘Marspen Band’, our in-house musicians.

In the 1930s M&S sold many electrical household goods, including heaters, irons and light bulbs, which were described as lamps.

M&S food departments opened in 1931 selling fruit, vegetables and canned goods.

New houses were being built in the 30s and there was a demand for household goods


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Elise, Doncaster
Tuesday 1 October
Intresting how they had to reinvent themselves to keep business after world war one.