Are you one of those people who walks past a department store window and is in awe of the beauty of the display? Do you marvel at the arrangements of the products, rather than the products themselves? Then maybe you are the type of person who could have a great career working as a window dresser. Take a look at this quick guide which should get you off to a great start.
What is a window dresser?
Window dressers, also known as visual merchandisers, are people employed by retailers to create displays either within window spaces or on the shop floor. Whilst to the untrained eye it may appear that the work of a window dresser/visual merchandiser is an exercise in artistic expression, the underlying purpose of the displays they create are to attract, engage and encourage the customer towards making a purchase.
The role of window dresser emerged as a career towards the middle of the 19th century though only really began to take off during the first 2 decades of the 1900’s with the rise of fashionable department stores in London, Paris, New York and other major cities.
Today they are an indispensable part of the retail industry with many large department stores employing full-time window dressers to ensure that their retail space and storefront remains fresh and dynamic. Some are employed through specialist consultancy firms who provide bespoke services to smaller retailers that do not have the necessity for an in house window dresser.
Whilst the vast majority of visual merchandisers in the UK are employed in the retail industry, training and working within this field will provide you with skills which can help with career progression within other similar environments such as art galleries and museums.
The role demands a high level of creativity and artistic vision, and whilst it would be impossible to create a step-by-step guide to what your job would entail, here are a few of the things that you could be expected to carry out on a day to day basis;
- Working with a broad range of people throughout the planning and implementation of displays
- Liaising regularly with clients and employers to remain constantly up to date their their requirements
- Making sure that all of the displays within the store remain up to date and ‘on-trend’
- Undertaking market research to gauge reaction to your own work and that of others
- Creating plans for future displays and presenting these to all relevant parties
- Making sure that your displays support and are in sync with sales strategies being implemented within the retail space
- Sourcing props, hardware and lighting to be used within the displays
- Making sure that the displays remain within budget
- Using your creativity and artistic flair to find the best utilisation of space and create the most engaging displays
- Using various computer software packages throughout the planning and implementation of your designs
Skills and Attributes
Not everyone is cut out to be a window dresser / visual merchandiser, since it is a role which requires a ‘natural flair’ for artistry and creativity. If you reckon that you hold these qualities then some of the other things which may help you in your career include;
- Creative vision and the ability to bring a project from idea to reality
- The ability to be creative within a high pressure environment which will often involve working to tight deadlines
- The ability to look at your work objectively and see it through the eyes of customers – making amendments where necessary
- Excellent team working skills. These are particularly important for this role because you will normally find yourself working in an environment with many other people who all have a vested interest in the display that you are creating. You must be the person who can collate their ideas and requirements for the finished display and create a piece which adheres to the demands they have outlined
- Great organisation skills are essential in ensuring that you can simultaneously carry out the specifics of the role
- The desire to remain up to date with the latest fashions and trends
- Outstanding communication skills
- Solid administrations skills and a good knowledge of IT systems
As you would imagine there is no minimum standard of qualification or education which is required to work as a window dresser / visual merchandiser. However most businesses will expert that you hold a certain level of professional experience, and increasingly specialised qualifications which underpin your ability to carry out the role to the highest possible standards.
Most people who wish to work in this field will begin their career with the choice to carry out a related degree at university. Given the highly specific nature of the work this degree could be within a range of different areas connected to the role including fine art, fashion design, interior design, textiles and 3D design.
It is also worth nothing that there has been a significant increase in the number of courses being offered which are more specially geared toward the development of a career within this field. These are only really suitable for those who are very much decided upon the work they wish to carry out and include courses like fashion retail branding, visual merchandising and promotional design.
A degree is certainly not a prerequisite though, and many visual merchandisers have begun their career working within other retail roles, gaining experience of the retail space before working their way up the ladder. Some businesses also offer visual merchandising apprenticeships which will allow you to gain ‘on the job’ experience which is essential to the role.
If you still reckon that the life of a window dresser is the life for you then good luck, we hope this quick guide has got you off to a smashing start. If however all that attention to detail sounds like a pain, then why not take a look at some of the other great careers featured in our career directory.