Consider any movie you’ve ever seen that dates back to pre-1970s, and we’re willing to bet there was probably a scene where the main character, accompanied by a friend or two and many bustling extras, are strolling downtown, probably carrying department store bags and perhaps a hat box or two. As they’re strolling your eyes are inevitably being drawn to the store windows in the background. Why? Because they’re jam-packed with store merchandise, arranged so beautifully and meticulously that well, you can’t help but be drawn to them. Now do us a favor and consider the store windows at stores you currently shop at; they seem pretty dull, huh? Sure, they may have some basic setup; a couple of on-brand outfits if we’re talking clothing, maybe a generic living room set if it’s furniture, but what about the art of visual merchandising? We were curious ourselves, so today we present to you the rise and fall of the art of shop windows.
Here’s a fun fact you may not know: plate glass became widely available in the late 1800s, which gave shop owners the ability to build large windows and display their merchandise; thus creating the beginning of, you guessed it, shop windows.
The early 1900s saw some fierce competition among retailers, especially in the heart of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. In fact, by the 1910s window shop displays were so huge that retailers were hosting unveilings just to show off their most recent window displays.
Throughout the early to mid-1900s the window displays kept getting grandeur and grandeur, to the point of there being a shift from the goal being to show off merchandise, to the goal being to see which retailers could create the most over the top display to draw spectators into their stores.
If this was still the case you wouldn’t be here reading about the lost art of window displays now would you? Unfortunately, as we’re aware, in more recent years we’ve seen windows being vastly underutilized. Sure, they feature a mannequin or two and maybe a sign hanging from above advertising the most recent blowout sale, but what happened to visual designers and shop owners doing what they do best? And why the sea of sameness? Think about it, technology, innovation, and creativity have come a long way since the early 1900s, so consider if you will just how extravagant, not to mention interactive, window displays could be today. The takeaway? As consumers, we love a good reason to visit a local shop, and seeing a person’s creativity, care, and compassion go into a unique window could be just the thing to reel us right through your doors!