The fantasy of window shopping in New York City

When Ashcan artist Everett Shinn painted this woman seemingly spellbound by the stylish mannequins behind a department store window, the concept of “window shopping” was a relatively new phenomenon.

Shinn completed the painting, simply titled “Window Shopping,” in 1903. It perfectly captures the consumerism ushered in by the rise of the Gilded Age city’s magnificent emporiums, where the latest fashions were on display on the Flatiron and Chelsea streets that once made up Ladies Mile.

“Shinn may have appreciated the way shop windows, like the vaudeville stage, created a fantasy space that functioned also as a site of cultural exchange,” art consultant Janay Wong explained on a Sotheby’s page focusing on the painting.

“Moreover, he may have been drawn to the ‘modernity’ of the shop window, which had only recently come into being, the result of new technologies that made possible the production of plate glass, colored glass, and electric light.”

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11 Responses to “The fantasy of window shopping in New York City”

  1. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    A clever hoydenish girl looking at the window while a WC Fields character is about to have his cunning line reversed. Ah, life in the big city…

  2. bloomingdaler Says:

    What popped into my head upon seeing this picture? “Is this a subtle inference that the woman is a streetwalker about to picked up by the W.C. Fields-like man walking by?” I can’t help but wonder if there are messages implied in this work of art we are too far removed from to get.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    You both read this differently than I did, but I like the way you think, and I imagine Shinn thought the same way….

  4. Harold Mindess Says:

    the painting brings out my “inner little boy”.
    Have been window shopping for a Suzanne Black doll, but no
    luck so far.
    Cute little Harry.

  5. Tom B Says:

    I would of never thought they had window shopping back in 1903. I figured it started after WWII,

  6. bloomingdaler Says:

    Tom B – There are references to window shopping going all the way back to the mid 19th-Century. As plate glass technology took off and New York became a retale superpower, so did window dressing.

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, and then when electricity came along, store displays really took off. I love the look of gaslight, but nothing makes merchandise move like full-on electric light!

  8. Alexi Harding Says:

    It’s a timeless tradition. And a great way to spend an evening. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Kewho Min Says:

    One of America’s greatest past times.

  10. The 19th century remains of a fabled Grand Street department store | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] story begins in the mid-1800s. Decades before Ladies Mile became Gilded Age New York’s premier shopping district, browsing and buying fashionable goods […]

  11. Roosevelt Island Historical Society » Wednesday, December 15, 2021 – A CELEBRATION OF NELLIE BLY AND WOMEN Says:

    […] story begins in the mid-1800s. Decades before Ladies Mile became Gilded Age New York’s premier shopping district, browsing and buying fashionable […]

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