Culture History of Shoplifting

The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting

The Steal

The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting by Rachel Shteir came out in 2011. She starts out with the fact that in 2009 there was a dramatic rise in shoplifting.  Why?  Economic downturn perhaps.  But shoplifting has a long history.

There was a pamphlet in 1591 about it.  Moll in the novel Moll Flanders was a cut purse as they called her.  In 1778 someone was caught shoplifting paintings.  In the 1880s Jane Leigh Perrot was caught.  She was rich and didn’t need the money so why did she do it? The psychologists thought she had kleptomania and couldn’t help it. It was an illness. The same reasoning might be used for the most recent incident with the rich and famous Winona Ryder being caught shoplifting as well.

In 1962 they department stores started putting electronic tags on items and creating alarms to catch shoplifters. As shoplifters kept figuring ways around these precautions, stores had to increase their technology.

Dept Store

It seems as if shoplifting is something that mostly women do.  They usually hit department stores for cosmetics, jewelry, clothes and perfume.  Men caught up to women in the 1980s though.  They began stealing mostly electronics like TVs, VCRs, DVD players and power tools.

In the 1990s, psychologists connected female appetite diseases such as anorexia and bulimia to the tendency to shoplift.  They came up with the term CRAVED. It stands for Concealable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Enjoyable and Disposable.  The item stolen usually fits one or all of those categories.

Five Finger Discount

The top 10 Items Stolen:

1)    Gillette Razors and Cartridges

2)    Toiletries and Alcohol

3)    Clothing

4)    Lingerie

5)    Batteries

6)    CDs and DVDs

7)    Vitamins and Pregnancy Tests

8)    Luxury Toothbrushes

9)    Instant Coffee


If a loaf of bread is stolen because someone is hungry it is often overlooked. However, when people start stealing steak the stores get really pissed offAbbi.

 Steal This Book

There is also something called Bibliomania which is specifically the stealing of books.  “A Gentle Madness” by Nicholas Bashbanes says that Bibliomania is more like hoarding than actual stealing since it is usually done as a hobby and not with intent to resell.  Oddly, the bible is the most stolen book in the bible belt of the USA.

Why do people do it?  Sometimes it is out of genuine need.  Sometimes it for the sheer thrill of it. Sometimes it is a “catch me if you can” kind of attitude. Other times it is an illness or compulsion.  Sometimes it is even a political statement—like Abbie Hoffman’s book entitled Steal This Book.

 The Steal 2

About carilynn27

Reading and writing and writing about reading are my passion. I've been keeping a journal since I was 14. I also write fiction and poetry. I published my first collection of short stories, "Radiant Darkness" in 2000. I followed that up with my first collection of poetry in 2001 called "Journey without a Map." In 2008, I published "Persephone's Echo" another collection of poetry. Since then I've also published Emotional Espionage, The Way The Story Ended, My Perfect Drug and Out There. I have my BA in English from The Ohio State University at Mansfield and my MA in English Lit from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I also have my Post BA Certificate in Women's Studies. I am the mother of two beautiful children. :-)
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1 Response to Culture History of Shoplifting

  1. Myrtis says:

    This site was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something
    which helped me. Thanks a lot!

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