The fact that the sale of merchandise is furthered by a display of some sort or other has always been recognized, but the application of art to window dressing and the recognition of this work as governed by the rules of publicity and design is comparatively recent. In 1890 there were but twelve professional window dressers in the United States, while there are now probably twelve hundred, besides thousands of clerks and proprietors who spend a portion of their time getting up a window display.

The Window

To permit of dressing to advantage the window should be large and have a bas6 which extends some distance back in the store and should be set off from the store by a background, to concentrate the attention of the passers-by on the window and not distract them by anything beyond.


In dressing a window the first thing to be planned is the background, which must be in keeping with the display, bringing it out and emphasizing the parts of which it is made up. The test of a background is, "Does it bring out the articles shown in strong relief, and harmonize with them in tone?" A background may harmonize with a display either by blend or contrast, the former being the more pleasing, the latter, however, having the advantage of being more noticeable and hence more likely to attract attention. The harmonious effect of a display is the same as in a painting and should be governed by the same rules. Displays of velvets, plushes, rugs, etc., naturally take to harmony by blend, while a display calling for observance of detail would call for harmony by contrast. A background when properly managed does not detract attention from the goods displayed, but directs attention to them, which is the result aimed at.


It is impossible to overestimate the importance of proper lighting in window displays. No matter how careful the arrangement or harmonious the coloring, the work of the dresser is wasted, unless properly lighted. An ordinary gas light in the center of a window is bad, as it intervenes between the eye and the objects shown, dazzling rather than illuminating.

All properly constructed windows have a group of several burners at the top and in front of the window, with a large reflector so arranged as to throw the rays of light backward and downward and concentrate them upon the display. No other arrangement of light is equally satisfactory.

At night the window shades should be drawn to a point within about four feet of the bottom of the windows, so that the only light that can be seen is reflected light. This makes the upper part of the window very dark and intensifies the light at the lower part, giving a more brilliant display.

Colors Affected By Light

The effect of the light used in a window- whether gas, electricity, kerosene, etc.- on colors should be carefully noted and observed. For instance, gas light will rob certain colors, as purple, lilac, dark blue, violet, and green, of their brilliancy. Displays having a harmonious color effect in the daytime may look garish and flashy by artificial light.

Color Blending

Color is by far the most obvious means for attracting the eye, and the window dressed in colors secures the attention of the passer-by at once, far more readily than any mere ingenious arrangement in which color is absent. Good color effects are difficult to obtain where goods of a variety of colors are used, and good taste seems to prefer the use of but two or three colors complimentary to each other, and as a rule grouped in large masses.

Where the primary purpose is to display as many goods as possible without much regard for color-effect or harmonious agreement, it is advantageous to dress the window close up to the front, and fill it full enough to entirely cover the space. Where color and form are to be considered, fewer articles may be used; they may be more widely spaced, and should be placed further back.

Loose plush coverings of a color to harmonize with the general color scheme are often used for the bottom of windows. This permits drapery over small boxes or stands, the elevations and waved lines so produced adding greatly to the effect of the goods displayed.

Objects Of Window-Dressing

A window should be decorated keeping in mind three principal objects: First, to serve as an index to the class of goods kept in the store; second, to attract the attention of people to the store; third, to show goods which will excite in the people the desire of possession- these rules being in fact similar to the rules governing all publicity.

Special Features

Besides the conventional dressing usually given a window, showing goods carried by the store making the display, special features are often resorted to, sometimes bearing some relation to the stock, and sometimes not. It seems to be an axiom with window dressers that something moving will attract a crowd and this idea is carried out by means of animals, mechanical toys or effects, persons performing some operation or process, etc. Particularly good special features, as now used, are: A typewriter working automatically, the keys being depressed by means of an electrical connection; an exhibition of oriental rug weaving by a native in costume; an automatic candy-pulling machine, and others along the same line, particularly when directly advertising the thing to be sold. Whether incomprehensibility, when resorted to, aids or detracts from a display, is a mooted point among authorities. A cage of monkeys in the window of a hardware store might draw a large crowd, but whether it would aid trade appreciably in the long run is open to discussion.

Distinctive Displays

One phase of special features given more attention than formerly is in the matter of having displays distinctive. The blue penciled cards of Tom Murray, marking every window display of his store, have become classic in advertising circles. A Madison street clothier letters a daily talk on his windows, both the language and the lettering being characteristic.

Appropriateness of Displays- To secure the best possible results the trimmer should constantly keep in mind the appropriateness of his daily display to the public. The class of people passing daily, the probability of drawing others by his store to view his display, the need of novelty, change and distinctive touch in his word, and an observance of the rules of art as well as the well-known rules of advertising will all aid in augmenting the returns from his displays.