“Window Shopping” at Brandies was a vital part of the downtown Omaha experience for many families. The windows drew much attention with lighted displays and, at times, “living models,” particularly during the Christmas season. We’ve gathered some of of our non-holiday favorites for this online exhibit from The Durham Museum Photo Archive.
If you shopped at an Omaha department store in the 20th century chances are you shopped at Brandeis. The Brandeis name was to Omaha what Bergdorf’s and Macy’s are to New York City. The purveyor of high fashion goods, a source of entertainment and spectacle and every new season bringing the public out to see the new window displays. The flagship store on 16th and Douglas Streets in downtown Omaha had 10 floors, restaurants, an auditorium, and the owner’s penthouse on the top floor. This image depicts a window display during the Brandeis fall opening in 1913.
When Brandeis first opened the original store called ‘The Fair’ in 1881 the idea of department stores was still in its infancy. Individual storefronts remained the most popular though by the turn of the century the department store hit its golden age. One of the best advertising tools wielded by the industry that helped its meteoric rise were windows. Technology behind glass production allowed for large full piece windowpanes giving a greater scale of marketing. This image from 1921 shows how cloth would be displayed in large draping folds to give off the impression of how it might look in a dress form. This type of display is impossible without a larger window.
The rise of the department store coincided with the art deco influences of the 1920s. They are “windows” into the changing times. This window from 1920 shows a display that combines the two most popular methods of using the window as marketing. The earliest form of window advertising was to emphasize quantity by stocking the window in a way that customers might see stocked shelves inside. The second was to create a visual scene featuring human forms and relatable contexts. By the early 1920s department stores had professional window trimmers who focused solely on creating visual displays.
By 1921, Brandeis had a head window dresser name Phil Armour who managed all design needs of the store displays. This image with its intricate designs of hanging umbrellas and colorful flowers evoked the rainy days of blooming springtime. Crowds came out for this season opening to see the windows but also go up to the second floor of the store to see the full-scale car show. The opening of the season window displays were main events frequently reported on in the local papers and incorporated into city programming.
In the 1920s, downtown stores joined for great mass openings of their new seasonal looks. The whole downtown would be part of the event. One newspaper reported, “Bands, will play, three of them traveling from point to point within the district.” Stores had “… living models to set off fashions latest decree for milady… and mere man will not be neglected, for the stores that cater to him will show what the Prince of Wales and other arbiters of fashion are wearing.”
In the 1930s Brandeis participated in the “Know Omaha Week” and used its storefront windows to showcase other businesses. Here a living model, a cake decorator from Omar’s Bakery, is something like live television for passersby. Undoubtedly some of the materials being used are available to purchase inside the store.
A close-up of Brandeis using a living model to showcase the Omar Baking Company during the 1930s “Know Omaha Week.” This is the golden age of department store windows and it is a time for showmanship as well as selling merchandise. The Durham Museum’s Photo Archive is lucky to have these early photographs because it shows us the growth that Omaha saw in its early days.
The Durham Museum Photo Archive contains over 1 million images that document the fascinating history of Omaha from its early days as a young frontier town to a unique and sophisticated city.