This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
The relative merits of white and dark backgrounds are the subject of much dispute. The real test is : Does the drapery bring out the articles shown in strong relief and harmonize with them in tone? For most articles, colored draperies of plush are undoubtedly most effective, as they give greater brilliance and warmth to the window, and they are doubly effective when nickel or brass fittings are used. On the other hand, for very delicate colors, such as pink, pale-blue, mauve, heliotrope, etc., white backgrounds are most effective ; and black or nearly black articles show to better advantage in white windows. In many cases mirrors form effective backgrounds, as they concentrate the light, sharpen the outlines of objects displayed, and greatly increase the apparent size of the window. The women are few indeed who do not look at themselves in a mirror when a good excuse offers. The window furnishes this excuse, and in this way after a woman has inspected herself, she is naturally attracted to the goods she would otherwise pass by.
Dark drapery, especially of plush, forms a most desirable background, affording the best possible foil for articles relieved against it. A rich and desirable effect may be secured by arranging a metal rod or curtain-pole at the top of the window, and suspending with rings a background of plum-colored or dark wine-colored drapery-silk, of the light, flowing texture now so much used for the purpose. These harmonize admirably with almost any bright color placed in front of them. But, in case very dark goods are to be displayed, care should be used to place them close to articles or fabrics of a much lighter tone, in order to furnish the required foil.
In regard to light, it may be said in general terms that all light must come from in front, and that any admission of light from the rear, or directly behind the articles shown, completely ruins the effect of the trim by confusing and dimming the outlines and colors. It is important, therefore, epecially in an openly-dressed window, that a background shall be provided for the double purpose of excluding light from the rear and sharply defining the outlines of the articles displayed ; and, moreover, such a background, if judiciously selected, can be made to supply an important color element in itself.
No light whatever should be allowed to come into the window except that which comes from in front; otherwise a perfect chaos of form and color will result. The window display should be as jealously guarded from rear and side lights as from dust and dirt. One might spend days of toil in arranging articles with due regard to form and harmony of coloring, and yet have nought but failure for his pains, if there be lacking the element of proper light. By day, what has been said about the exclusion of light from the rear and allowing the full flood to come from the front, will answer all purposes ; but at night there is only one way to get a light that will do justice to an artistic arrangement of beautiful goods. It must come from the top and front of the window, so arranged by means of a polished reflector surrounding the lamps or gas jets, that the rich, warm glow is deflected downward and backward, taking in its embrace every thing included between the plate-glass and the background. No other arrangement of light is equally satisfactory.
The colors should be selected with regard to harmony for this design, and the fans and gloves should also match in shade, or at least be of pleasing contrast. The background of window is formed of light colored China silk. The lace is draped from swinging arms.