A History of Glamorous Window Displays Worth Traveling For

While glamorous window displays exist all year round, the ones around the holiday season are an imagination apart. They flock the cosmopolitans from Harrod's to Bergdorfs every season. Over the holidays in particular, the sheer work and detail that goes into them stretches about a year in advance with a group of collaborators building storyboards. The holiday season, despite its one eve of festivity, absorbs anywhere from weeks to months of our time as shoppers. It attracts one and all with the glitterarti of lights that brighten up the night sky for miles, attracting shutterbugs and stories for lifetimes.

Although nowadays, in the swipe world of online shopping, we look at the displays from the glass of our phone, and less from the eyes. And yet they continue to exist in a digital world, which in itself is a victory. How so? And how did they come about?

Tracked back to the 1800s, the idea of window-shopping was born when glass plates began to be used by the likes of Macy's in New York City. Together with Philadelphia’s Gimbel Brothers Department Store, it also hosted the first in store Santa sighting in 1920 post Thanksgiving. By the 1900s, many American cities began luring in shoppers with window displays. As L Frank Baum wrote in the Show Window Magazine in 1899“the recent holiday displays have thoroughly demonstrated the progress of the art of window trimming. Every village and hamlet in the land has had some sort of a window display of unusual merit to attract the public and further the sale of Christmas wares.”
The Lord and Taylor flagship on 5th Ave opened in 1914, followed by Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman near Central Park, all of which continued the tradition. The fact that electricity was prevalent meant that stores could display items at windows far beyond store hours, thus making these site seeing destinations for tourists versus simply retail efforts. This gave birth to a new form of tourism, magnified only recently by the ability to click pics instantly via smartphones.
Several holiday marketing traditions were consequently born. Harry Gordon Selfridge who founded British department store Selfridges, was the first to promote Christmas sales with the phrase "Only __ shopping days until Christmas" in 1909. Affluent retailers followed the holiday window decor trend worldwide, including Harrods in London and De Bjienkorf in the Netherlands. Stores began to employ artists, architects and designers specifically for stores, seeing that the return on the investment was one of retail, tourism and branding.
Some favorites are New York's Bergdorf Goodman, always a winner, year after year, with their attention to detail and storytelling.

Saks Fifth Avenue has been a legacy in keeping it flamboyant, year after year.

And its fun to see neighboring Fifth Avenue stores showcasing their own case of holiday spirit, relevant to their brand. All with more attention to detail than their predecessor.

Not forgetting our international favorites, like the iconic Harrod's of London.

Statistics have it that million of individuals flock to look at store decor. If anything, the competition on social media for the best window displays keeps retailers in the reckoning in a world of online shopping.

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