Selfridges: Large, Luxury UK Department Stores

Selfridge in Birmingham, West Midlands, England
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Selfridges is something of the ultimate one-stop shop for well-heeled, fashionable shoppers. What few modern consumers know is that this venerable English store was an important early supporter of women's rights.

A small chain of enormous and comprehensive UK department stores, Selfridges is what you might get if you crossed Harvey Nichols' fashionista style with the kind of shoppers' encyclopedia of merchandise that the Sears & Roebuck catalog used to be.

The stores, all in architecturally extraordinary buildings, used to aim at the middle market. These days designer merchandise has pushed prices steadily upward and made the annual sales worth watching out for.

What to Buy in Selfridges Department Stores

Selfridges emphasizes luxury and designer goods, exotic foodstuffs, and top-end brands in its UK department stores. It highlights the latest UK and international fashion designers alongside well-established fashion names.

But clothing is just the start. This is the kind of store that is a day trip all by itself, with fashions for men, women, and kids, jewelry, toys, housewares, several beauty salons and nail bars, home accessories and lifestyle products, technology, and small appliances.

At 540,000 sq feet, its flagship Oxford Street store is one of the largest stores in the world, where you can buy a few pounds of potatoes, see a cutting-edge art exhibition, or invest in the world's first diamond-encrusted Bluetooth headset.

All that and the food halls are to die for. With everything from elegant French takeaway, spicy Thai and Indian dishes, Krispy Kreme donuts, even New York-style corned beef sandwiches (they call it salt beef over here). And of course, if you'd rather cook yourself, you can buy all the ingredients you need in one of Selfridges food halls - fish, meat, poultry, pasta, game, fruit and vegetables, seasonings, you name it.

Surprising Services

Selfridges Department Store has all the services you might expect in a top department store: personal shoppers, alterations, beauty Salon - actually several hair salons for men and women, plus a nail bar and a skin spa. But a quick whip down their alphabetical list of in-store services reveals:

  • Bicycle repairs
  • Catering
  • Walk-in back rub
  • Psychics
  • Made to measure jeans

And...

...forgot to change money? Not a problem, all Selfridges tills, in all the company's stores accept:

  • US Dollars
  • Swiss Francs
  • Euros
  • Japanese Yen

Where to Find Selfridges Department Stores

This much retailing takes a lot of effort. There are, therefore, only four branches. But any Selfridges is worth a visit - even if all you can afford to do is look around and have a snack in one of the restaurants or bars. You can find them in:

Leave it to the North Americans...

...to come up with this over-the-top yet winning mix. Selfridges was founded in 1909 by Wisconsin native, Harry Gordon Selfridge, who trained at Chicago's Marshall Field. For years part of Sears Holdings, another North American company, Selfridges is currently owned by the Weston family of Canada who also own Holt Renfrew and Ireland's Brown Thomas stores.

Miss Selfridge, a spin-off of the department store, with branches all over the place, is no longer part of the same company.

Women's Rights

Mr. Selfridge founded his store just as the women's suffrage movement was getting into full swing and the Central Line of the London Underground was bringing ladies from the middle class, western suburbs into London. Shopping as a respectable leisure activity for ladies was new. Selfridge supported independent women because he knew that, ultimately, they would be his best customers.

It may seem odd, today, but womanly fashion and feminine dressing were considered important to such prominent suffragettes as the Pankhursts, who frequented Selfridges. Selfridge was an important supporter of the movement. He even refused to press charges when a suffragette broke one of the store's 25 plate glass windows - then the biggest in the world.

To make shopping easier and more pleasant for women, Selfridge opened the first in-store cafes and restaurants and had the first in-store, public ladies rooms. It was all designed to make a day of shopping in the city something a respectable, suburban lady would look forward to.