To go window shopping doesn’t mean you are literally going shopping for windows. It is an idiom, meaning the phrase has a different meaning than its initial, literal use. In this case, to go window shopping means to look upon the various wares stores have placed in their storefront windows to entice a sale.
People who are window shopping might simply pass the time, check out which stores to visit later, or compare selections and prices before committing to an actual shopping experience. The display of items in a window has been around as long as picture windows have been in existence. However, the term window shopping wasn’t officially recognized until the 19th century despite the practice being in use for a few hundred years before that.
What Is the Meaning of Window Shopping?
Window shopping is an idiom used since the late 1800s, though the activity has been enjoyed since the sixteenth century. Window shopping is a recreational activity that involves looking in store windows or showcases for fun without intending to buy what one is examining.
- I enjoy passing my lunchtime window shopping at the high-end storefronts in New York City.
- Although we were only window shopping, I definitely found a few different options to try on for the upcoming wedding.
- All I could afford to do was window shop since I was saving money to buy a new car.
Window Shopping Origins
Window shopping, as an activity, came into being in the sixteenth century with the rise of the middle class in Europe despite it not being recognized as an actual pastime until the early 20th century. Merchants installed clear glass in their storefronts and displayed goods in these windows to entice customers. This was good business and allowed potential buyers to view their wares in advance.
Store owners quickly recognized this practice as a way to highlight more desirable items or to show off new, fashionable styles. Window fronts quickly became competitive in nature to garner attention from those passing by.
Window shopping habits were finally recognized in writing in the social columns in the early 1900s. In this excerpt from Motor Age in January 1916, window shopping is described as akin to an outdoor sport:
“Window shopping, according to the women, is the king of outdoor sports. Whenever a woman gets downtown and has 2 or 3 hours and no money to spend, she goes window shopping. She gives the Poiret gowns and the thousand dollar furs the double O and then kids herself into believing she’d look like Lillian Russell or Beverly Bayne if she had ’em on….“
Window shopping is the official term for somebody “shopping” the storefront windows without making purchases. True window shopping has been practiced since merchants and store owners first began to show off their wares in their picture windows, but the term wasn’t officially coined until the early 1900s.