You are currently viewing Take Clues from Retail Design to Save Time Shopping Your Style

Read how you can take clues from retail design of window displays and online stores to save time when shopping for their personal style.


  1. Brief History on Buying Fashion 100 Years Ago
  2. What Is Retail Design?
  3. Why Is Retail Design Important?
  4. What Role Does Retail Design Play in Fashion?
  5. How Can You Assess from the Design whether a Store Might Offer Your Style?
  6. Clues from Fashion Retail Design of Window Displays and Online Stores
    • Minimalist Design
    • Maximalists and Dreamers
    • Affordable Luxury
  7. Fashion Retail Design in a Nutshell


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Brief History on Buying Fashion 100 Years Ago

Until the invention of the sewing machine, only tailors were allowed to sell new clothes. However, the industrialization of the textile industry let new ways of selling clothes. More than a century ago, you would go to the General Store, and browse catalogues to buy a new garment. After the Great War, department stores opened in big cities. They offered clothing, among other things. Consequently, their windows displayed a mix of their merchandise.


Sears catalog page displaying clothing for retail
Page in the Sears catalog displaying various outfits for purchase in 1940/41. Photo taken by me from Olian, J.A., 1992. Everyday Fashions of the Forties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs, Dover Publications, Garden City, New York



What Is Retail Design?

Retail design refers to a very specialized branch in marketing. This discipline creates window displays, designs online and real store layouts, advertising, branding, etc.. These creative tasks include lightening, music, furnishings, and lighting to create specific appeal. The goals of retail design, among others, are to attract the right customers, create an enjoyable, hassle-free shopping experience, while exposing the customer to all the store’s merchandise, and motivate the customers to come back.


Why Is Retail Design Important?

Today, retail design is an important part of brand identity. It delivers a clear, credible and memorable message at an emotional level. A great shopping experience, for instance, motivates customers to come back, and a strong brand can reinforce their loyalty.


What Role Does Retail Design Play in Fashion?

It wasn’t before department stores and boutiques became popular that retail design became an essential part of the marketing strategy in fashion. Retail design can help customers to identify fashion boutiques or department stores for their needs. Therefore, retail designer, among other things, create window displays with a vibe that matches the style of the clothing, and the lifestyle of the retailers desired customers.

Even online stores apply this concept to attract the right customers and to keep them on their store site. The design of the website serves to lead the customer to all merchandise with just a few clicks.


How Can You Assess from the Design whether the Store Might Offer Your Style?

Obviously, when the window display features only science fiction books, you won’t find a science textbook in that store.

In fashion, the window displays feature the style of clothing they offer. A boutique specializing in work clothing may display nurse attire, blue overalls, safety jackets, lab coats, business casual or corporate style attire. The display will have a conservative, professional vibe.

Department stores like Macy’s, for instance, offer a variety of personal styles. Their window displays show a mix of styles. Other department stores, for instance, Harrods, dedicate windows to a certain clothing brand. Boutiques often specialize in one or two personal styles.


Clues from Fashion Retail Design of Window Displays and Online Stores

When the window displays or home page resonance with your taste, odds are high that they may have fashion in your personal style. When you dislike the first impression of a store, browsing the store in person or online is most likely a waste of time.


Minimalist Design

Store displays feature nothing but the product. The background is very simple, often one color solid walls or geometric or abstract shapes in neutral colors. On websites there is a lot of white space and no embellishment. Links and displays are limited to navigation and featuring the merchandise. Adding or taking something away would break the design.

Since minimalist design works well with all kind of personal styles, everyone might find pieces.


Maximalists and Dreamers

When you like to dress in Bohemian Style, stores with unconventional, unorthodox looking displays with a vibe of freedom, travel and/or foreign countries may carry clothing you may like. Think of Taj Mahal, Tropical beaches, a camp fire in the Tropics as examples for backgrounds.

Window displays with or flowers, blooming trees, 19th century benches or lanterns, sleds on fake snow, fake snow on twigs, for instance, are signs of Romantic Style.


example of retail design creating a romantic vibe with a wintery scene
Winter Window Display by Allison Harger is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. Example of a romantic vibe.



Affordable Luxury

Displays trying to attract modern, open-minded, eco-conscious customers show high quality or designer brands at an affordable price. The style of the mannequins looks attainable for everyone. Backgrounds/decoration are often unrelated to the merchandise and serve as just that. Displays are simple, straightforward, inspirational, trendy, yet a bit mysterious.


H&M window display in downtown Washington DC
09.Downtown2.WDC.11dec05” by Elvert Barnes is licensed under CC BY 2.0


The window display above, for example, shows outfits in classic cuts and fabrics typically associated with quality (tweed, loden). The looks are easy to copy (aka achievable). The belting and ways of the wearing the scarves add an open-minded urban spirit. The background creates mystic. The accessories and sweaters in other colors inspire. When your personal style is American Classic, posh casual, preppy style, or free spirit, you have good chances to find clothes you like.

The Glam Style woman might find the traditional elegant basic pieces needed for her wardrobe, but not the pretty, fancy, and extravagant accessories and statement pieces.


High-End and Haute Couture

Displays scream luxury, wealth and abundance like the store display for Dolce and Gabbana accessories below. The only relationships between the decoration and the products are associated with being Rich and upper class and unaffordable for the average commoner like Jane Joe. It’s all about Haute Couture. More on Alta Moda collections for the VIPs, and on D&G’s Alta Moda luxury lifestyle brand.


retail design of a window featuring the luxury brand Dolce and Gabbana with opulent decoration
The window of Dolce & Gabbana in Old Bond Street, London. Garry Knight from London, England, CC BY 2.0



Fashion Retail Design in a Nutshell

In fashion retail design can provide you hints on the kind of personal style available in the (online) store. The site or window display create an appeal that matches with taste of the desired customers. Consequently, browse the stores that resonance with you on first sight to save time shopping for your personal style.


© 2013-2022 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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