New Book Explores How One of the UK's Biggest Mail Order Catalogues Helped Shaped Our Views and Ideologies

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Kays Catalogue was one of the largest mail order firms of its time, bringing pages of products into the homes of millions from the 1920s to the year 2000. It sold everything from clothing to homeware, but it was also selling a lifestyle to many.

Now, two Worcester academics have penned a new book exploring how the catalogues portrayed men, women and children, and the stereotypes and ideologies that were disseminated through its glossy pages.

Gender construction in Kays Catalogues: 1920 to the New Millennium, is edited by Dr Barbara Mitra, Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Worcester and Dr Rachel Johnson, Associate Researcher in the University’s International Forum for Research into Children’s Literature.

“This book examines the ideologies disseminated through Kays Catalogue, through advertising for fashion, toys, household items and various images within the Catalogue,” they said. “Moving from the 1920s to the end of the Catalogue's life in 2000, different aspects and ideologies are examined. Overall, this book can be read as one comprehensive analysis of mail order catalogues, focusing on Kays Catalogue, or as individual chapters focusing on specific themes. This book adds to the body of knowledge investigating ideologies in mail order consumerism.”

The book was the result of a conference that produced the World of Kays Website ( and community engagement which tapped into local memories of Kays and provided 1,500 images for researchers and other interested parties.

Chapters within the book include, Construction of Childhood Gender Identity through Advertising in Kays Catalogue; The construction of feminine and masculine gender identities through advertising in Kays Catalogue; Shopping for Identities and purchasing fantasies of domesticity in post-war Kays Catalogues; Worlds within Kays: British Modernity and Representations of Place in the 1960s; Resistance to Commodified Girlhood in Two Young Adult Novels; and Catalogues, advertising, gender and the future.

Dr Kate Sang, Associate Professor of Management at Heriot Watt University said: “This collected edition takes something which will be familiar to many of us, The Kays Catalogue. Through an interdisciplinary approach, this text reveals how the Kays Catalogue both reflects and creates narrow gender stereotypes, especially a domestic femininity. We learn that this has changed over time, while retaining a focus on the importance of women’s appearance. The analyses presented will be of interest to researchers and students across a range of disciplines, including marketing and sociology.”

A full collection of Kays Catalogues, along with business records relating to the Worcester firm, are held within the Research Collections of the University of Worcester.