The Origins of Black Friday

How did you spend this past holiday weekend? As American Thanksgiving stereotypes would say you either A.) Ate turkey and mashed potatoes until you couldn’t see straight. B.) Argued with family over politics/avoided uncomfortable questions about your future C.) Watched football D.) Spent Friday in a retail version of the Rat Race. OR D.) All of the above. If marked C or D on this quiz you are one of 137 million Americans who pushed through crowds (and their food comas) on the day of the year that kicks off holiday shopping season.

So how exactly did Black Friday come about? Did it just pop up out of nowhere? Was it a sneaky way to get Americans off the couch and get some exercise in the spirit of consumerism? Actually, the commercialization of the Christmas season happened slowly with origins dating back to the late 1800’s as the industrial revolution began, according to Fashionista. Let’s take a look at the history of the day that has become almost a holiday in and of itself.

Early Beginnings

Up until the !880’s gifts given during the holidays were handmade, if they were even given at all. As people began working in the city, purchasing gifts began more common place. In the early 1900’s the U.S. Consumer’s League created the “Shop Early Campaign,” reports Slate. This was actually meant to take burden off of factory workers manufacturing the goods to be sold, for retail workers in the stores and for postal workers who delivered them. It was actually to help the supply chain, not just push people towards more spending.

Then consumerism starts to rear its head around 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving a week early to kick off the holiday shopping season. This time it was at the pressure of merchants to make the shopping season longer. It wasn’t until the eighties that Black Friday was spun into a full-fledged event that holds as much anticipation as Thanksgiving itself. It was rebranded as a family affair, something to make into a post Turkey-Day tradition. Although, it took a public relations effort to put a positive association with it due to past meanings behind the name, Black Friday.

Origins of the Name

Ever since the Great Depression of the 1920’s and “Black Tuesday,” “Black Friday” had been used for negative events that transpired. Even so, the first documented origins of the name is in reference to when retail workers would call off or not show up to work the Friday after Thanksgiving. In the same Fashionista report, it stated that a decade later police used the same moniker for the horrible traffic and crowds that swarmed the city to shop that day. Even more fitting, is how the record-breaking sales from the day cause retailers to be “back in black” or out of the red if you will, in terms of profit margins.

Now, the name Black Friday draws up mixed feelings. Some people look forward to it as much as they do dinner the day before. They’re grateful to get up early with their family and friends and make a day of it. Others, opt out looking at it as a display of greed and profit. Either way, Black Friday is here to stay as retailers and bargain-hunters will hold on to it (and that 50% off flat screen TV) for dear life.  They say Christmas shopping season comes earlier every year, when in fact, it’s been this way all along.


Author:  Christine Duff

Christine wants to live in a world filled with cutting edge fashion, beautiful words and and an endless supply of leather jackets and boots. A product development grad of FIDM, she was the Editor-in-Chief of MODE Magazine where she reignited her love of storytelling. She has diverse experience within the industry with trend research, art direction and styling editorial spreads. She gained her most notable experience working in Los Angeles at the satellite operation for GQ and Vogue Thailand. Christine is passionate about social science and the role it plays in the consumer goods industry and apparel in particular.


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